September E book Membership Choose: A Farewell to Gabo and Mercedes


From A Farewell to Gabo and Mercedes

I go upstairs and look in my father’s room. The day nurse takes notes while the helper reads a magazine. My father is completely silent, in a kind of sleep, but the room feels different from the rest of the house. In spite of the calm, time seems to pass faster here now, as if in a hurry, impatient to take time for more time. It’s unsettling.

Standing at the foot of the bed, I look at him diminished as he is, and I feel like both his son (his little son) and his father. I know that I have a unique view of his eighty-seven years. The beginning, the middle and the end all lie before me and unfold like an accordion book.

It’s a dizzying feeling to know someone’s fate. Of course, the years before I was born are a mixture of things that were told to me about him or his siblings or my mother, or told by relatives, friends, journalists and biographers and embellished by my own imagination: My father as a boy of six players who Playing goalkeeper at a soccer game and feeling like he’s playing very well, better than usual. A year or two later when he was watching an eclipse without proper glasses and forever lost sight in the center of his left eye. To watch from the door of his grandparents’ house as men passed carrying a man’s dead body and the woman who followed them holding a child in one hand and the man’s severed head in the other. Spit in his fruit gelatin or eat plantain chips out of his shoe to keep his many brothers and sisters from poaching his food. During puberty, a trip up the Magdalena River to the boarding school where you feel miserably alone. From his time in Paris he was visiting a woman one afternoon and tried to extend the visit to be asked for dinner since he was broke and hadn’t eaten in days. Afterwards, they failed to rummage through their garbage and eat from it on the way out. (He told this to others before my eyes when I was fifteen, and I felt as embarrassed as an adolescent by his parents.) There was a melancholy Chilean girl in Paris, Violeta Parra, whom he occasionally met at Get. met – meetings of Latin American expatriates. She wrote and sang beautiful, heartbreaking songs and eventually took her own life. One afternoon in Mexico City in 1966 he went to the room where my mother was reading in bed and informed her that he had just written the death of Colonel Aureliano Buendía.

“I killed the Colonel,” he said desperately.

She knew what that meant to him, and they sat in silence at the sad news.

Even in the long period of great and rare literary acclaim, wealth, and access, there were of course ugly days. The death of Álvaro Cepeda at the age of 46 from cancer and the murder of the journalist Guillermo Cano by drug cartels at the age of 61. The death of two brothers (the youngest of sixteen siblings), the alienating aspect of celebrity, the loss of memory and the associated inability to write. Finally, in old age, he read his books again and it was like reading them for the first time.

“Where in the world does it all come from?” he asked me once. He read them through to the end and finally recognized them by the cover as familiar books, but understood very little of their contents. Sometimes when he closed a book he was surprised to find his photo on the back, so he opened it again and tried to read it again.

Standing there at the foot of his bed I would like to think that despite the dementia (and perhaps aided by the morphine) his brain is still the kettle of creativity it always was. Broken perhaps, unable to return to thoughts or maintain storylines, but still active. His imagination was always tremendously fruitful. Six generations of the Buendía family make Hundred Years of Solitude, but he had enough material for two more generations. He decided not to record it for fear that the novel would be too long and tiresome. He considered great discipline to be one of the cornerstones of writing a novel, especially when it came to shaping the shape and boundaries of the story. He contradicted those who said it was a freer, and therefore simpler, form than a script or short story. It was imperative, he argued, that the novelist devised his own rigorous roadmap to traverse what he described as “the treacherous terrain of a novel.”

The journey from Aracataca in 1927 to the present day in Mexico City in 2014 is about as long and extraordinary as a person can go, and those dates on a tombstone could never include it. From my point of view, it looks like one of the happiest and most privileged lives a Latin American has ever lived. He would be the first to agree.

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