R. I. P. Gabriel García Márquez
[I wrote this elegy today for another blog that I post at, but with so many literature fans here at Bad Left Hook, I thought I would cross-post.]
Today I am aware that I am poor--and poorer yet--for the loss of Gabriel García Márquez. Not to underestimate literal poverty (I have some mild experience with that), but today's poverty seems sadder. I am poor in that I have only really read two of his novels. I am poorer now that I know for sure that only a fixed number remain and that their creator is no longer with us.
Is Márquez the greatest novelist of the twentieth century? It seems pretty likely. He probably would have cited Faulkner, and I can understand that. I might even agree with it depending on whether I had read One Hundred Years of Solitude or Absalom, Absalom! more recently. You can make a strong case that Márquez exceeded his master, just as Faulkner to my mind exceeded James Joyce. But there is no doubt that Márquez directly affected more people than Faulkner, touched more hearts and minds, and inspired people in the best possible sense, more so than Faulkner. For a writer of his weirdness and stylistic ambition this was a heroic achievement. Indeed, it is neither elegiac nostalgia nor subjective overstatement to describe his balance of literary ambition and public appeal as one of the greatest achievements in the history of art.
My love of One Hundred Years of Solitude has somewhat inhibited my appreciation of his greater oeuvre. While I have read One Hundred Years three times and skimmed it a couple more, the only other novel that I have read by Márquez is Autumn of the Patriarch, which I read while traveling through southern Mexico with a woman I had once been in love with. Throughout the trip we fought meanly, and Márquez was my escape. There was something darkly thrilling about reading Autumn of the Patriarch in my hotel room after visiting Teotihuacan and Xochicalco in a romantic fury. But for me, like so many others, it is One Hundred Years of Solitude that carved a permanent place in my imagination. So many of its characters populate me that just thinking of Melquíades, Colonel Aureliano, José Arcadio, Ursula, Remedios, Pilar Ternera, poor Pietro Crespi, Amaranta, Meme, and (my favorite obscure character of all time), Francisco the Man makes me feel a bit Whitmanesque. While the novel has been as influential as anything written in the twentieth century and Márquez's style has led to an international movement and revolution in how we think of storytelling, reading One Hundred Years of Solitude is ultimately a deeply personal experience that no one should deny herself.
Gabriel García Márquez has died. I like to imagine that what really happened is that he floated up to the Heaven of Genius, like Remedios the beauty, the calmest presence in the crazy world he inspired, the eye of our storm, but I know that the truth of surviving cancer (or rather of not surviving it, having watched my father succumb to melanoma) and of living with Alzheimer's disease (an uncle on my mother's side) is no one's idea of paradise.
In December of 2008 Márquez told some of his fans at a book fair that writing had worn him out. While it is somewhat comforting to know that his superhuman creativity did at least test his mortal reserves, it was also sad to hear such an admission from a human being whose imagination while writing seemed boundless. I insist on believing that Márquez, even when his Alzheimer's was at its worst, could still count himself the king of infinite space. "This is the great invention of our time," José Arcadio Buendía said. Not ice, but the world making powers of Gabriel García Márquez.