A Review (of sorts) of an Obituary.
A Farewell to Gabo and Mercedes by Rodrigo Garcia.
This book came today and I finished reading it in one sitting, not just because it is a small book but also because I thought it deserved to be read in one go. It’s a book of memories, not an obituary, but it felt like one and an extremely personal one too. Rodrigo Garcia is extremely aware of the thin line he has to tread while writing about the days leading to and after the death of one of the greatest literary geniuses of his century, albeit it’s his father. He knows that ‘whatever he writes concerning his last days can easily find publication, regardless of its quality’.
It was always a given that the death of Marquez would be a public affair and that will be something which the famously private family would have trouble dealing with. However there is one scene which Rodrigo mentions which gives us an insight of how well respected and loved the couple were. On the days leading to Marquez’s demise, there were people always waiting outside his house. The family used to get in and out by a garage gate which was a bit more private. However, on this day that gate was stuck and Mercedes Barcha, Marquez’s wife, had to use the more public front door. ‘As she stepped out of the car, the street fell dead silent in a spontaneous and remarkable show of respect’.
Marquez’s work is not alien to death, misery and darkness. In fact a lot of his books deal with sombre themes. But for someone who writes long winding pages about seemingly trivial stuff, he always wrote death in his stories in sudden and inconspicuous passages; probably like death itself. In one Hundred years of Solitude, he talks a lot about how Jose Arcadio Buendia (the patriarch) was going about during his final days, but then you might miss the sentence which spoke about his death if you were skimming through the novel. In Chronicle of a Death Foretold, the story starts with the death of the character and in the novella everything except the death is meticulously explained. Rodrigo remembers asking his eighty year old father how it’s like being eighty. Marquez replies that he feels that the end is near, and that it makes him immensely sad. While Marquez was researching for his memoir, he found that quite a lot of his friends have died in the recent years and he jokes that, “A lot of people are dying that weren’t dying before.”
I remember sitting in a railway station and reading an article about Marquez’s dementia and how he has a tough time acknowledging that. For him his memories are his raw materials and without them he has nothing to write. There are passages in this book about how he was coming to terms to this cruel truth. At one point he mentions, “I’m losing my memory, but fortunately I forget that I’m losing it”. Another time when his secretary asks him why is he standing alone in the middle of the garden lost in thought he says, “I’m crying but without tears. Don’t you realise that my head is now shit?”.
There is this anecdote about how during Marquez’s memorial the Mexican President mentioned about Mercedes as the widow, which pissed her off. She tells her sons that “I am not a widow. I am me”, and that she would tell the first available journalist that she is planning to re-marry as soon as possible. The books paint a beautiful picture of not just Marquez but Mercedes and how independent and feisty she was, how she loved her life and how strong her opinions were.
Watching the never ending line of mourners who had come to pay their respect at the memorial, Rodrigo realises that the author belongs not just to the family but also to many many fans (whom his father might have called ‘readers’ and not fans). He is aware that his parents would not have wanted their personal stories to be published. He mentions that he would not be publishing the book until his mother would not be able to read it. Mercedes died in August 2020, the year which Rodrigo calls the year of the plague. As the title suggests this book is not just a farewell to Marquez but to Mercedes too, and in many ways for a son and to most people who knew Marquez and Mercedes, there was no way of telling their story apart, in life and in death.
P.S.:- I always thought a well shot movie is one that which you can pause at any moment and the resultant still image is a well framed photograph. The same goes for a well written book. You open the book and read any random passage and it should be beautiful in itself; and here’s what I found when I opened One Hundred Years of Solitude:
“That night, at dinner, the supposed Aureliano Segundo broke his bread with his right hand and drank his soup with his left. His twin brother, the supposed Jose Arcadio Segundo, broke his bread with his left hand and drank his soup with his right. So precise was their coordination that they did not look like two brothers sitting opposite each other but like a trick with mirrors.”