Friday, April 18, 2014

RIP Gabriel Garcia Marquez

After two false alarms, Marquez has died. I'm certain that I'd only have to skim any work of his to find a quote that would be an appropriate comment on this. Instead, I'll ramble about the man and about the announcement of his death.

Social media, though. I woke up with the intention of doing quite different things online before I went to attend to the day's chores. Instead, I fell into a dense jungle (what's the point of saying 'rabbit hole'?) of links and expressions of sorrow.

I have no doubt all all that all these were genuine. But as with all social media, there's a faintest whiff of avidity in the act of making announcements in order to appear up-to-date with the news. I say this as one who retweeted the first tweet I read announcing his death - not the most appropriate one, not that one that quoted what seemed like the most pithy line, not even the links to his Nobel speech or A Life in Photos or anything that might be actually interesting. Just the first one I saw, trigger-happy, and then the inevitable feeling of being foolish when I saw how many hours old the news was and I was announcing it as if I'd just put down the phone after being called by his family.


I read Marquez precocicously early. By which I mean, I read him before I understood even half of what I was reading; I read because the writing astonished me even as I dimly grasped that I would need to grow into it, become ready for it.

In really odd ways, Marquez's books have punctuated different, important moments of my life. He was the currency by which I once judged the worthiness of people to be my friends, the way kids otherwise use music to sort peers out into categories.

(I've just pulled out some books to see what I remember as a consequence of holding them).

The way I got The Collected Novellas, as a gift from someone I'd allegedly met once, the confusion and generosity of the person's partner when it was explained to me how it was that I was getting this extravagant gift for no particular reason, the little game of calibrating significance - who else got what book at the same time - and the poring over the few words in the inscription.

The triumph of finding Marquez on that pavement or this obscure corner of an indie bookstore - everyone had One Hundred Years but who even thought of stocking Innocent Erendira?

How a friend's diploma film at the FTII was based on a Marquez story and how, at that time we made these distant writers our fellow-travellers - Marquez, Kundera, Cohen - and it didn't seem at all strange to us, though we were told off by Iztvan Gaal for not choosing our inspirations from closer home. 'Closer'? What did that mean? Marquez was as close to home as it was possible to get, if we even agreed on a  definition of home. What was home if not the world of the imagination*? To be fair, my school library was probably better than my college library if only because how dense with riches it was even though it was tiny. There were plenty of Marquez to read through my senior years there.

This is why I have looked at the reading list my son brought home this month, from the same school, with some disbelief: how is it so full of writers from the US and UK and why does it have nothing from elsewhere in the world? Fine, it has Adichie and Ondaatje and Tolstoy; but how can it not have Marquez?

It is time to make another, parallel reading list for my son. Every time a writer like Marquez dies, leaving behind a treasury of books, it reminds us that these treasures can become unopened and then eventually lost to the next generation unless we hand them maps and mark the spot with an unmistakeable 'X'.

RIP, old man.


* Well, of course it's more complicated than that.


km said...

...there's a faintest whiff of avidity..

It's not so faint. Which is why I say that like "humblebrag", we need a portmanteau word for "cheerful, enthusiastic mourning on social networks".

That said, I once read a GGM novel on a long international flight. The fatigue, airline food, jet-lag and sleep deprivation turned the experience into something truly...dare I say it..."magical".

Space Bar said...

km: Make that word! I just started a re-read of 100 years - I suspect I'll only dip into it - but I can see why our generation was so captivated.

Subashini said...

i"He was the currency by which I once judged the worthiness of people to be my friends"--oh dear, oh dear. I'm quite ashamed to admit that I'm not at all well-acquainted with Marquez's work, but I think this is the year to remedy that.

Just wanted to say this was lovely--and I can relate all too well to the discomfort (disquiet?) one has with social media and how even "sincere" expressions of grief or loss (whatever that means, eh?) can easily slide into a performance of catch-up, or avidity, as it were ...