I was a late-comer to García Márquez, having never been assigned his seminal One Hundred Years of Solitude in high school, as so many others had been. I first picked him up a handful of years ago when I was browsing a bookstore in a fit of indecision, unsure what to read next but yearning for something new. I’d recently finished Dostoyevsky’s House of the Dead, and while I was too exhausted to try more Russian fiction, I felt like I still needed something both non-American and classic. Which is when I found the García Márquez shelf. That store didn’t have his most famous work, but they did have Of Love and Other Demons, so I bought it and took it home and curled up in bed on a hot afternoon to see what all the fuss was about.
I fell in love.
I don’t mean that in the conventional sense of “I love this writer” or “I love that book.” I mean I felt connected to the book, as though the text and I were in communion with one another, some secret bond of unspoken understanding. Reading the book felt like the beginning of a romance. At the time, I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why this translated prose was impacting me this way, why I was so consumed by it, but later I came to realize that it was about the density of the work, the precision of García Márquez’s images and characterizations and insights that transcend translation. In many ways, it reminded me of Chekhov, another non-English writer whose work I love in almost any translation, except García Márquez was writing in much longer form.
Faulkner (another dense and florid writer) once quipped in an interview that the difference between short fiction and novels is that short fiction must be precise, whereas in novels the writer can get away with all sorts of sloppy experimentation. I’ve often used that line to criticize the worst of Faulkner’s novels — he really was at his best in short form — but it was hard to argue with him when you look at novelists who also write short stories: sure enough, most novels do start to feel drawn out, lazy, and indulgent, though I love novels anyway. And yet I continued to argue with Faulkner, because I had the examples of short-story writers like Chekhov or Alice Munro, writers who, in relatively short works, managed to build whole novels worth of character and setting and backstory. I read writers like that and I feel like a story that spans 20 or 30 pages took years of my life to experience. Why couldn’t a novel have that same degree of compression and depth?
But in García Márquez, I’d discovered the true potential of long-form fiction. García Márquez does with the novel what Munro or Chekhov does with the short story — that same degree of intensity and compression — so that when I finish reading a García Márquez novel, I felt as if I’ve lived lifetimes. The last novel of his I read, Love in the Time of Cholera, is utterly epic in scope, recounting generations of family and national histories, sending characters on grand voyages and profound self-discoveries and life-changing romances . . . and when I first set the book aside to catch my breath and collect my thoughts, I realized I’d only read about 60 pages. I still had almost four-fifths of the novel to go!
This is how absorbing García Márquez’s prose is, and, I think, it’s why his death has given me such pause. If you read even one book, you become so possessed by García Márquez’s vision that you feel he’s become a relative, someone you know and grew up with even if you only just met him. If you read more than one García Márquez book, you start to become his lover, your soul embracing his soul, your vision becoming his vision.
And now he is gone from this world.
But our greatest comfort — the greatest comfort any reader could hope for — is that he is not gone from this world. His works remain, and if we can manage to read them all, their time will unfold before us, within us, and with García Márquez, we will live forever.
It was a memorable death, and not without reason.
~ Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera