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BOOK REVIEW:

A farewell to Gabo and Mercedes : a son's memoir of Gabriel García Márquez and Mercedes Barcha

Gabriel Marquez Garcia was one of the giants among modern writers and his books place him in the pantheon of writers throughout the ages. In 1982 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Not only is he significant in the world of Spanish language writers, he is beloved and respected internationally, and his books have been widely translated. In many of his books he is known for his seamless incorporation of magical realism, which was part of his grandmother's origins in Colombia, and became a literary technique for truthfulness, especially in One Hundred Years of Solitude. He was a prolific, innovative and captivating storyteller, who wrote in different forms: novels, short stories, essays and journalism, with a lyrical writing style that was poetic, clear and direct.

When he died in 2014, he was eulogized as the greatest Colombian ever. In this memoir, written by one of his sons, we are allowed into a small part of the personal world of Gabo, as he was affectionately known and Mercedes, his wife. It is a narrative about the great writer's final days and about the last years of his life when he was suffering from dementia. In the early onset of the disease, Gabo was aware of his memory loss which angered him.  As he dealt with aging, “You wake up one day and you’re old. Just like that, with no warning. It’s stunning,” he did so with his ever-failing memory.

This man, for whom words, ideas,and plots flowed, was hobbled with severe memory loss. His son states, "The mind of a man who observed, absorbed, remembered, reflected, and analyzed the world around him, no longer had that ability and was aware of it,  “I work with my memory. Memory is my tool and my raw material. I cannot work without it. Help me.” He would repeat those thoughts many times in an hour for a good part of the day. But this eventually stopped and he would say, “I’m losing my memory, but fortunately I forget that I’m losing it." "

With the death of anyone’s parents, relatives or friends, there are matters that need to be taken care of, but when someone famous dies, there are extra burdens and responsibilites that come with the territory, not the least of which is the media. We learn what it is like to be “the son of …”  His mother was aware of the pitfalls and issues with notoriety and did her best to avoid publicity. His father was keenly aware of the burden on his sons for having a father who was so well known, and he worried that his sons’ works would be compared to his own. And death did not relieve the family from that extra weight. There were some definite plans that the family was able to accomplish for a private service and ceremony, but other public services could not be avoided and came with some odd and often humorous repercussions.

This is a remembrance about both parents, Gabo, and Mercedes, who had a persona and presence that was commanding and compelling. “My father said many times that she was the most surprising person he ever met.” The two of them were school mates and destined to be together, but never could have envisioned what their fuutre life would be like. Even though there is nothing revelatory in this book, because his mother was a private person, this loving memoir was published after her death. It is poignant, beautiful, perceptive and  laced with some of the humor and mischief that his father would have appreciated. 

This book is available in Spanish: Gabo y Mercedes : una despedida

At the very end of this generous farewell are a series of black and white photographs with commentary; a chronology of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's life; and a selected bibliography. For interested readers, the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez can be found here.

 
 
 
 

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