September Book Book Club: Farewell to Gaba and Mercedes


From Goodbye Gab and Mercedes

I go upstairs and look at my father’s room. The day nurse takes notes while the assistant reads the magazine. My father is perfectly quiet, in something like a dream, but the room feels different from the rest of the house. With all the silence, time seems to move faster here, as if in a hurry, eager to find time for more time. That’s disturbing.

Standing at the foot of the bed, I look at him, diminished, and I feel both like his son (his little son) and like his father. I am aware that I have a unique overview of his eighty-seven years. The beginning, the middle and the end are all there in front of me, unfolding like an accordion book.

It is a dizzying feeling to know the destiny of a human being. Of course, the years before I was born, the things that he or his siblings or my mother told me, or were told by relatives, friends, journalists and biographers, were fabricated, and my imagination brightened: My father as a boy of six playing goalkeeper at a football game and they feel he is playing very well, better than usual. A year or two later, watching a solar eclipse without proper glass and forever losing sight in the center of his left eye. Watching from the door of the grandparents ’house as the men walk carrying the dead body of the man and the wife walking behind them holding the child in one hand and the husband’s severed head in the other. Spitting into his fruit gelatin or eating plantain chips from shoes to discourage his many siblings from poaching his food. In adolescence, traveling along the Magdalena River to a boarding school, feeling miserable alone. After staying in Paris, one afternoon he visited his wife and tried to extend the visit by asking her for dinner, as he was broke and had not eaten for days. After that failed, rummaging through his trash at the exit and eating from it. (He told others in front of me when I was fifteen, and I felt ashamed of how much an adolescent their parent could feel.) There was also a melancholy Chilean girl in Paris, Violeta Parra, whom he occasionally ran into — together with Latin American immigrants. She wrote and sang beautiful, heartbreaking songs and eventually took her own life. One afternoon in Mexico City in 1966, he approached the room where my mother was reading in bed and announced to her that he had just written the death of Colonel Aureliano Buendie.

“I killed the colonel,” he told her, distraught.

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

Even in a long period of great and rare literary accolades, wealth, and approaches, there have been ugly days, of course. The death of Álvaro Cepeda at the age of forty-six from cancer, and the murder of a drug cartel at the age of sixty-one by journalist Guillermo Can. The death of two brothers (the youngest of sixteen siblings), the alienating aspect of celebrities, the loss of memory and the inability to write that came with it. Eventually, in his old age, he read his books again, and it was as if he was reading them for the first time.

“Where the hell did all this come from?” he once asked me. He continued to read them to the end, eventually recognizing them as famous books by their covers, but he understood very little of their contents. Sometimes, closing the book, he would be surprised to find his photo on the back cover, so he would open it again and try to read it again.

Standing there, at the foot of his bed, I would like to think that his brain, despite dementia (and perhaps aided by morphine), is still the cauldron of creativity that it always has been. They may be broken, unable to come back with thoughts or keep stories, but they are still active. His imagination has always been extremely fruitful. Six generations of the Buendía family make up One hundred years of solitude, but had enough material for two more generations. He decided not to include it for fear that the novel would be too long and boring. He considered great discipline to be one of the cornerstones for writing a novel, especially when it came to framing the form and boundaries of a story. He disagreed with those who said it was a freer, and therefore easier, form than a screenplay or short story. He argued that the novelist was imperative for the novelist to create his own rigorous roadmap to cross what he called the “treacherous terrain of the novel”.

The journey from Aracatace in 1927 to the present day to Mexico City in 2014 is about as long and extraordinary a journey as a person can have, and those dates on the tombstone could never have encompassed him. From my position, it seems to be one of the happiest and most privileged lives in Latin America. He would agree first.

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