I arrived at Lauren’s for Lambic Night 2014 yesterday evening to a chorus of barking dogs. The first annual Lambic Night was last year, to toast my recovery and a few books we’d both fallen hard for. This year, though, when we raised our glasses of cassis lambic, Lauren shared the news of Gabriel García Márquez’s death. We toasted his long life, his works, and his words, among other things, and by the end of the evening, I had an enchanted chihuahua sitting on my lap.
Many people outside of what I would consider serious readers have generally not heard of Márquez. I first encountered his work through some of his short stories, probably in college, and then moved on to No One Writes to the Colonel. I finished that on a camping trip in the White Mountains of Arizona, and it still haunts me, twenty-odd years later. The experience of reading that book was not unlike seeing – truly seeing – a painting by one of the Dutch masters. It left me with the feeling that art, while a representation of life, could somehow be truer and more accurate than life itself.
In each of his works is the mystery of words. I am still completely blown over by the understanding that Márquez’s words are words that I know and use, but in his hands, the construction is far superior and far more elegant than anyone else’s. How the hell did he write like that? And I have to remind myself that what I’ve read of his is in translation, so as the saying goes, something is lost.
Last year, I read Love in the Time of Cholera for the first time. I say ‘for the first time’ not because I’ve read it again since, but because I know that I will. It’s a love story that puts Romeo and Juliet’s moody, impulsive adolescents in the corner. Love in the Time of Cholera is quite possibly the most well-crafted book I’ve ever read. As I reflect on the legacy of Gabo, I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes, from Picasso:
When I was a child my mother said to me, 'If you become a soldier, you'll be a general.
If you become a monk, you'll be the pope.' Instead I became a painter and wound up as Picasso.
The death of Gabriel García Márquez is not the death of Latin America’s insert-comparison-to-someone-else. It is the death of García Márquez, inimitable, luminous, and rare.