Friday, April 18, 2014

The Magic Dims But Will Never Go Out

We all knew Gabriel Garcia Marquez was very old and very sick, but news of his death yesterday hit us all. It was like Joyce or Faulkner or Hemingway dying. I remember when the latter two passed away, though I was only 12 when Faulkner died and 11 at Hemingway's passing.

Now, I have grown into age bearing witness to the joy and depth--let's go ahead and call it rapture--that great writers can give us. And Garcia Marquez brought intellectual fervor and unparalleled talent to the task.

Saying that makes me ashamed to say what follows for so many of us: I cannot read Spanish. French was my "other" language in school, and so I can only read my beloved Garcia Marquez in English. I'm not very good at languages, but in the life I wish I could have lived, I would be fluent in dozens, to be able to read Tolstoy and Pushkin in Russian, Mann in German, and, of course, Garcia Marquez in Spanish.

It seems to me there are writers whose greatness transcends language. Surely--surely--Garcia Marquez was one of those. Just as all of us alive then remember where we were when JFK was killed, I remember when I first finished reading One Hundred Years of Solitude. I closed the book, leaned back in the sunny alcove where I sat, and whispered, "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God." I was changed, lifted, charged with a creative energy that lit me like a strand of Christmas lights for weeks.

Love in the Time of Cholera is one of the most beautiful love stories ever written.

I don't really think we can love a person we never met. But we can come damned close, and for me Garcia Marquez always felt like a beloved uncle, the one with the best stories, the greatest wisdom, and the strongest passion for life. I loved him.

Millions of others across the globe loved him, too. The only sane responses to his death, then, should be joy and praise. But I'm just sad that he is no longer in the same world I am, that he has gone on to a different kind of Macondo--and if you don't know Macondo, go read One Hundred Years--you will never leave it again.

Here is what The New York Times said about him, and I can't come close to improving on it:

"Mr. Garcia Marquez once wrote that, as a young man, he believed his bad luck with women and money was 'congenital and irremediable,' but he did not care, 'because I believed I did not need good luck to write well,' and 'I did not care about glory, or money, or old age, because I was sure I was going to die very young and in the street.' He learned, in reading the works of the masters like Faulkner and Joyce, he said, that 'that it was not necessary to demonstrate the facts,' that it 'was enough for the author to have written something for it to be true, with no proofs other than the power of his talent and the authority of his voice.'"

Whenever I feel stuck as a writer, I go back and read that staggering first sentence of One Hundred Years of Solitude. For many writers, it is no less than our declaration of independence.

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