Gabriel García Márquez has left us. His was also a death foretold, but no less shocking, because we resist saying farewell to our heroes. And García Márquez, the immense writer, was a superhero of literature.
His inexplicable political love affairs were something else, unforgivable weaknesses for strongmen like Fidel Castro that made manifest his poor judgment when it came to diagnosing the ills of Latin America.
Which in the long run demonstrates that a colossal writer is also an individual of flesh and bone, with flaws and failings. But at this time of farewell, the memory I carry of García Márquez — one that I shall hold on to as a relic — is the shine of his prose in my youthful years.
Adolescence is the stage when we absorb, like sponges, the readings, the trips to the cinema, the first loves. The whole of life experiences that form us, which, on the road of life, we carry on our shoulders like an essential rucksack.
For those of us who, as youths, allowed ourselves to be hurt by the incurable malady of books and movies, the first literary loves were as real as our budding romances.
The adventure of discovering Mark Twain, Dickens, Austen, all that mixed with the sentimental education projected on the big screen. A Bertolucci or a Visconti was enough for a whole evening of discussion at the Cafe Ruiz.
Along with the exploration of books and movies came the discovery of the literary boom forged by a group of Latin American writers who had gone through Madrid, Barcelona and Paris. Not-so-distant cousins of Faulkner’s, structure gone to pieces and Julio Cortázar’s La Maga breaking hearts.
Going from Sense and Sensibility to Vargas Llosa’s Conversation in the Cathedral. A leap into the void. To share in the women’s insomnia in the saga of the Buendias, reading One Hundred Years of Solitude.
To understand with total humility that only one person in the world could write, “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”
Gabriel García Márquez dazzled the world by knockout with One Hundred Years of Solitude and the Macondo universe, whose genesis was the tales that his grandparents told him as a child.
I remember having first read García Márquez while going to high school at the Lope de Vega Institute. We were all in love with the young professor of literature who explained to us the phenomenon of “the boom.” We were enamoured with Gabo’s prodigious novel, with Vargas Llosa’s The City and the Dogs, with the stories by Cortázar, with José Donoso’s The Obscene Bird of Night. We were in love with the teacher, the novelists, the cinema sessions at the Fine Arts. We were deliriously alive, scandalously young.
Gabriel García Márquez lived a long and fruitful life. Because, while he snared us with the Buendias, he thrilled us years later with Love in the Time of Cholera. Who else could begin like this?: “It was inevitable: The scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.” Only he — trailing the love triangle of Juvenal Urbino, Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza. A flutter of butterflies in the stomach and heart.
García Márquez was a journalist by trade, a novelist by vocation, a teller of tales, a rake who could tell all. We allowed ourselves to be seduced by his fantasies because few are the chosen ones, the superheroes who can make us shudder with emotion as we re-read: “The Captain looked at Fermina Daza and saw on her eyelashes the first glimmer of wintry frost. Then he looked at Florentino Ariza, his invincible power, his intrepid love, and he was overwhelmed by the belated suspicion that it is life, more than death, that has no limits.”
The flutter of leaves brings back the memories of youth. That moment when we first opened the book and entered Macondo, like Alice in Wonderland. Many years later, hearing the news of his death foretold, we remember that distant afternoon when he took us to discover ice.
Gina Montaner is a Cuba-born author and Miami journalist.