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Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Liz, and me.

April 26, 2014

Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Some random memories and free associations on the news of his death…

The opening and closing scenes of One Hundred Years of Solitude are the most entrancing and haunting scenes of any novel I’ve ever read. I happened that I finished reading the last pages of the book during a violent summer thunderstorm in a mountain town with thunder and lightning and wind hammering the room I was in as I read the final pages. I felt I was living through the final scene. If you’ve read the book you know what I mean. ”He was so absorbed he did not feel the second surge of wind as its cyclonic strength tore the doors and windows off their hinges, tore the roof off the east wing and uprooted the foundations. Only then did he discover…”

The book became an international bestseller in dozens of languages and touched off “El Boom” in the worldwide popularity of dozens of other Latin American writers, including Mario Vargas Llosa, Jose Donoso, Jorge Luis Borges, Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes, Ernesto Sabato, Julio Cortazar, Jorge Amado, Marcio Souza, and (my personal favorite) Aledo Carpenter. Even the works of older, now deceased literary luminaries like Asturias, Machado de Asiss, and Mistral now were translated into twenty or thirty languages and read around the world.

I lived in Bogota, Colombia for fifteen months, from October 1975 to March 1977. Gabriel Garcia Marquez was already world famous and Colombia’s most distinguished native son. However, I sensed it rankled Colombian sensitivities that Colombians most distinguished citizen chose to spend most of his time living abroad in Mexico and Spain.

I was thrilled when “Gabo” won the 1982 Nobel Prize for literature. I wanted to celebrate with someone. But who? I was back in the U.S., living in small-town Montrose, Colorado where nobody else had ever heard of Garcia Marquez. I had to phone Liz in Albuquerque, several hundred miles away, to connect with someone who knew who he was and would share my excitement.

I had met Liz in Bogota in late 1975 when we were fellow teachers of English as Foreign Language, first at one shady “institute” and later at one more reputable one. She was the only non-native speaker of Spanish I ever me who was assumed to be a native speaker by other native speakers. While always minimizing her achievements and was chronically self-deprecating she was also the moss enthusiastically well-read person I knew. Confined to bed once with an illness, her Colombian boyfriend bought her a boxed set to Balzac’s novels in the original French to keep her busy. They did, but not for long as she whipped right through them in less than a week.

We developed a lengthy correspondence that lasted decades, until her death in 2001, focusing often on our dissatisfactions with work, what we were reading and sometimes what we sere smoking. She once told me I was “a member, albeit unwittingly. of my Club Bohemio, a group that gathered only in her mind, composed of those friends she considered bright, interesting, off-beat, and slightly crazy.

In a 1979 letter she wrote:
“I read Cien Anos de Soledad again, too—twice, one in Spanish and then in English. The English translatation is excellent, very literal. The edition I read had 2 errors (how erudite, no?), but I suppose they’re printers’. Not translator errors. One, when Jose Arrcadio went into Pilar Ternura’s dark room and bumped into a man’s hammock, the man rolled over and said with a kind of “disillusion” (not delusions, as written in English) “It was Wednesday.” The other error (are you interested?) was the omission of a “not.” Meme didn’t’ tell her father about Mauicio Babylonia because her father would not laugh and say “What would your mother say?” I read these 2 one immediately after the other, so since I had the Spanish really fresh in my mind, I saw the mistakes. I wonder how many I missed.”

I was stunned by this casual achievement. I can read newspaper and magazines in Spanish but I go straight to the English translation for any novels after it took me two months to get t through Ernesto Sabato’s El Tune l which was only 142 pages. Presumably, it still is 142 pages.

My old Bard/Avon Books paperback edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude runs 383 pages. The 2014 Harper Reissue runs 512. Gregory Rabassa, the translator, has worn international awards and is held in high esteem as an outstanding translator. When Garcia Marquez wanted Rabassa to the do the translation of one of his later novels, and was told Rabassa was busy and could not start for at least a year, replied, ‘I’ll wait.”

Not everything Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote was great but in achieving international fame at a certain time and place he opened the doors, even if unintentionally, to a truly international audience for a myriad of wonderful Latin American writers who never had the opportunity before and wondrous world of unknown literature enriched the sensibilities of readers around the globe. I honor his memory for that. Liz opened my eyes and heart to an entire genre of delightful literature and I still honor her memory for that, as well as well as for so many years of friendship.

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