“There is always something left to love” is a line from what is undoubtedly Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s most well-known work, One Hundred Years of Solitude. As I sat down to write this, I looked for something of his that I could use as a starting point. This line stood out to me. I don’t remember the context exactly, but I remember how I was always finding new ways to complete the sentence. I appropriated that line on many occasions to remind myself to keep looking for something positive. Here, on the occasion of his passing at age 87, I use it to remind myself that there was more to his body of work than that one novel.
I hadn’t planned on taking Spanish in high school. The plan was to take Latin, a class taught by a friend’s mom, with a group of friends. And I did. But I also fell down an internet rabbit hole while searching for Latin poetry and discovered Pablo Neruda. His work made me want to learn to speak Spanish, so the next year, I signed up for Spanish I. I ended up with 3 years of Spanish under my belt, and in every class the textbook included something from or about Garcia Marquez. In Spanish II, we had to read a story called “Un dia de estos” or “One of These Days.” I did my best with it, but I wasn’t quite sure that I had understood, so I set out on my first translation project. I pulled out the dictionary, consulted the conjugation charts in the back of my textbook, and I wrote out the whole thing. It wasn’t a good translation by any means, but I got a pretty good feel for the story. And for its author.
The first time that I came across Garcia Marquez outside of a Spanish textbook was in a college comparative lit class. We were talking about genres that were popular at different times and in different parts of the world. To open our discussion on Magical Realism, the teacher shared a story called “Light is Like Water.” It was the most amazing story. I found myself getting all wrapped up in it, floating along with the boys on their sea of light. It took a couple of readings before most of the class could wrap their heads around it, and even then they could not quite suspend their disbelief enough to appreciate the beauty of that story, the sheer elegance of what can happen when a child confuses a simile for a metaphor.
Garcia Marquez was Colombian, and much of his work was set in that country, but he spent his later years in Mexico, and the people there adopted him as their own. I didn’t realize just how deeply their connection to him ran until I visited Mexico City and found his books at every roadside bookseller that I passed. My first purchase was a thin volume, with a mostly white cover and an orange spine called Memoria de mis putas tristes (Memories of My Melancholy Whores). I picked it up, since it looked unfamiliar and the price was right. I filed it away to be read later, with the intention of buying an English copy to refer to when my confidence in my Spanish abilities waned. I was a surprised– in both good and bad ways — when I discovered that it was new and hadn’t yet been translated. It’s the first book I’ve ever read completely in Spanish without deferring to a dictionary every few words or checking my comprehension with a professional translation. I even wrote about it in graduate school. It was the first time I’d ever written an essay completely in Spanish without at least making notes in English first. I engaged with text and with the language in a way that I had never done before, and it felt amazing. I was proud. I still haven’t read it in English.
When I heard about his passing, I went to my bookshelf, and I pulled down every title that I could find. I found the two copies of One Hundred Years of Solitude that my sister got for me one Christmas, one in English and one in Spanish. I found the copy of Love in the Time of Cholera that had been sitting in storage the last few years, along with the copy that I bought to replace it, assuming it had been lost. There were English and Spanish versions of his autobiography, that book I picked up on the street in Mexico, and a copy of his collected stories. I bought that not long before I left Tennessee, with the intention of reading every story that had escaped me over the years. But it got packed into a box and sat in storage until very recently. I had forgotten that I had it. That night, I opened it up and turned to a random story. I read words from him that I had never read before, and I felt like I was discovering him for the first time. I’m going to put the book back on the shelf for now. I’ll take it down again when I feel the urge to rediscover the man who made such important contributions to my life as a reader, a writer, and a scholar. I’ll find another story, and I’ll return to his world.
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