The rumors have been swirling around for the last few years, like the stink of an undiscovered corpse. Over this past weekend those rumors seem to have been confirmed by his brother Jamie that the maestro, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, is indeed suffering from dementia. We shouldn’t be surprised, since even the news of his death has been erroneously reported on more than one occasion, most recently last month from a Twitter account claiming to belong to Italian novelist Umberto Eco. Thankfully this turned out to be just another rumor. False news of Marquez’s death, combined with the amount of rumors flying about seem to coincide with the marvelous worlds of Gabo’s fiction, so replete with magic and ghosts, shifting realities and multiple dimensions. One thing is certain: Gabo is deep within the winter of his life.
Reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez is like lingering over a cup of bold black coffee. The taste is rich and complex, and so good that one does not want to rush through it, but sip at it to prolong the exotic experience as long as possible. Reading GGM is also like sitting at the kitchen table listening to one’s grandparents tell stories of the past. We don’t dare interrupt with questions for fear of breaking the spell. I know of no other writer who can transport me in the way that Marquez can. For example, from the opening line of Love in the Time of Cholera (1988), the reader is transported to some tropical dream-land where the scents and flavors of the landscape mingle with emotions and memories. “It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.” The spirit of those lines is undeniably Proustian.
One Hundred Years of Solitude (1970) is not only GGM’s masterpiece, it is the masterpiece of twentieth century literature. (I am aware that the Joycean cult may take issue with this, and I do acknowledge that Ulysses can be considered the masterpiece of twentieth century literature in ways that One Hundred Years of Solitude is not. But be that as it may.) One Hundred Years of Solitude gives us something new in regards to narrative structure. It’s far too complicated to go into here, but let’s just say that One Hundred Years of Solitude constitutes a novel (the novel is a western concept) that breaks with what we comprehend a novel to be.
For my money, Gabriel Garcia Marquez is the world’s greatest living writer, which makes news of his sickness so much more tragic. Dementia not only robs the sufferer of his or her memories and dignity, the disease also robs those close to the sufferer of the person they once knew.
Thirty years ago GGM was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. His work, especially, One Hundred Years of Solitude changed the face of fiction. Although Ernest Hemingway was an early influence, GGM would seem to have more in common with William Faulkner, whose use of stream of consciousness in his writing also revolutionized fiction. In his autobiography, Living to Tell the Tale, GGM does touch on the influence of Faulkner, but GGM’s early career as a reporter, as well as his near apotheosis of journalism, also gives us insight into his theory (s) of fiction.
A writer’s ties to memory are essential. When Hemingway underwent shock treatment at the Mayo Clinic for depression, a side effect was the disappearance of the writer’s short-term memory. In fact, one could speculate (and we are always in murky waters when we speculate) that this loss of memory contributed to Hemingway’s decision to take his own life one morning in 1961. Although there is no evidence to suggest that Hemingway was suffering from dementia, the loss of memory is a shared symptom. Garcia Marquez’s brother tells us that Gabo is no longer writing, and this is indeed a tragic loss for the world. His last published novel was the slim Memories of My Melancholy Whores in 2005. This novel is not one of his better works, and the writing seems labored at times. Two years ago rumors began to spread that GGM was working on a new novel and putting together a book comprised of his speeches and political writings. How true those rumors are is impossible to say at this point. One can only hope that we will see new writing in some form or another in the not too distant future.
In one of his earliest stories, “Leaf Storm,” GGM describes the coming of a banana company to Macondo, Marquez’s fictional world. The opening lines read: “—Suddenly, as if a whirlwind had set down roots in the center of town, the banana company arrived, pursued by the leaf storm.” I can think of no better description of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s own arrival on the scene of world literature and into the lives if countless readers.