A son’s homage to extraordinary parents | Sunday Observer

A son’s homage to extraordinary parents

1 August, 2021

Title - A Farewell to Gabo and Mercedes: A Son’s Memoir of Gabriel García Márquez and Mercedes Barcha
Author - Rodrigo Garcia
Publisher - HarperCollins

This is a poignant memoir on great Latin American writer Gabriel García Márquez, and his wife Mercedes Barcha, by his son. Marquez won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1982 “for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent’s life and conflicts.”

Gabriel Jose García Márquez was born on March 6, 1928, in the town of Aracataca, Colombia. He has two sons, Rodrigo Garcia, the first son, film director, screenwriter and the author of this book settled in America, and Gonzalo Garcia, the second son, graphic designer in Mexico City. Gabriel García Márquez is widely considered to be the leading exponent of the literary style known as magical realism.

His most famous novel, One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Cien anos de soledad) was published in 1967 (English translation by Gregory Rabassa was published in1970), and has sold more than ten million copies. He lived most of his life in Mexico City, Mexico and died there on April 17, 2014 at the age of 87. The reason for his death was lymphatic cancer, diagnosed in 1999, and complexities of dementia, developed in 2012.

Mercedes Barcha was born in Magangué in 1932, and grew up in Sucre and then Barranquilla, on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. She was the oldest of seven children, and married him in 1958. Barcha had been suffering from respiratory problems apart from her lifelong smoking. When she died on August 15, 2020, she was praised by Colombian President Iván Duque, Mexican authorities and prominent figures in Latin American art and culture for her role as a muse and lifelong companion to García Márquez.

An intimate portrait

The book, a slender volume with 157 pages, comprised short fragmented chapters. The author Rodrigo Garcia provides an intimate portrait of his father as he has never been portrayed: forgetful, frustrated, despondent. As stated earlier Gabo, as García Márquez was affectionately known, had been suffering from dementia and lost the memory for the last two years of his life. His despair was agonizing to witness during those years.

He became unable to write or recognize familiar faces, and lost the threads of his conversations as they were happening. He attempted to reread his own books — an act he previously avoided — and upon finishing them was surprised to encounter his face on the book jackets. He once asked, puzzled, “Where on earth did all this come from?”

However, he retained his wry humor until the last moment: “I’m losing my memory,” he remarked, “but fortunately I forget that I’m losing it.” And he could recite poems from the Spanish Golden Age from memory and sing the lyrics to his favorite vallenato songs, his eyes beaming “with excitement at the opening accordion notes.” At one point, García Márquez asked to return home to his childhood bed in Aracataca, Colombia, where he slept on a mattress next to the bed of his grandfather Col. Nicolás Márquez, the inspiration for the beloved Col. Aureliano Buendía in “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

Then there is Mercedes, Gabo’s tireless co-conspirator, his “last tether.” Rodrigo Garcia recalls her tempered reaction at the moment of her husband’s death, when she worked swiftly with the nurse to prepare his body and let out only the briefest of cries before recomposing herself. Rodrigo documents his mother’s behaviour as follows: “She looks my father up and down with detachment as if he were her patient... she is unfathomable. Then a brief convulsion overcomes her, and she erupts into tears.”

According to Rodrigo Garcia, his father’s death was an expected one because he was reaching it. Yet, he still felt shocked when he finally heard about it. “Beyond the sadness,” Garcia writes, “is the disbelief that such an exuberant, expansive man, forever intoxicated with life and with the travails of the living, has been extinguished.”

Then, when his mother died six years later, the sense of loss was compounded. “The death of the second parent is like looking through a telescope one night and no longer finding a planet that has always been there,” he writes. “It has vanished, with its religion, its customs, its own peculiar habits and rituals, big and small. The echo remains.”

Collection of anecdotes

The book is in large part carried by anecdotes about García Márquez’s life, but it is most telling when Garcia is prompted to reflect on his own, and reckon with his insecurities. Over the course of writing the memoir, he becomes aware that the wall his parents constructed around their private lives also extended, in part, to him.

As Rodrigo Garcia recounts, he spent 50 years not knowing that his father had no vision in the center of his left eye, and learned only toward the end of his mother’s life that she had lost two siblings as a child. “In the back of my mind is the preoccupation that perhaps I didn’t know them well enough,” Garcia writes. “I didn’t ask them more about the fine print of their lives, their most private thoughts, their greatest hopes and fears.”

At the memorial service in Mexico City commemorating his father’s life, Rodrigo Garcia recalled one of his father’s sayings: “Everyone has three lives: the public, the private and the secret.” As he watched the mourners assemble, he wondered whether any were from his father’s secret life. Life, García Márquez once wrote, is not what one lived but how one remembers it. Some of those memories will forever remain beyond reach.

Critics views on the book

According to Salman Rushdie, internationally acclaimed writer, “This is a beautiful farewell to two extraordinary people. It enthralled and moved me, and it will move and enthrall anyone who has ever entered the glorious literary world of Gabriel García Márquez.”

Walter Mosley, New York Times bestselling author of Down the River Unto the Sea, said about the book: “In A Farewell to Gabo and Mercedes Rodrigo Garcia finds the words that cannot be said, the moments that signal all that is possible to know about the passage from life to death, from what love brings and the loss it leaves. With details as rich as any giant biography, you will find yourself grieving as you read, grateful for the profound art that remains a part of our cultural heritage.”

Booklist said about it as, “An intensely personal reflection on (Garcia’s) father’s legacy and his family bonds, tender in its treatment and stirring in its brevity.”

On the whole it is an illuminating memoir and a heartbreaking work of reportage. It transforms the towering genius from literary creator to protagonist, and paints a rich and revelatory portrait of a family coping with loss. Hence, it is at once a gift to Gabriel García Márquez’s readers worldwide, and a grand tribute from a writer who knew him well.

“You read this short memoir with a feeling of deep gratitude. Yes, it is a moving homage by a son to his extraordinary parents, but also much more: it is a revelation of the hidden corners of a fascinating life. A Farewell to Gabo and Mercedes is generous, unsentimental and wise,” said Juan Gabriel Vásquez, author of ‘The Sound of Things Falling’.