It was November 1975. For the first time in my life, I was outside the United States on my own. I always thought it was somehow significant that my first bid for freedom from those endless bad weather trips back and forth to Cleveland to see my parents was a two week vacation in Yucatán. When visiting the ruins at Chichén Itzá, I stayed at the old Hacienda Chichén, which contained the cottages used by earlier archaeologists. I was within walking distance of the ruins.
Back then, a road cut through the ruins. On one side was the Castillo and the structures best known to visitors; on the other, there was Old Chichén. By the side of the road, there was an open-air souvenir stand with thatched roof that sold the usual tourist junk. On the side, there was a book rack that happened to have a Penguin paperback edition of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967). I had heard of the author before and was just beginning to wake up to that breakout generation of Latin American writers that included Borges, Cortázar, Vargas Llosa, and García Márquez. Here in front of me was a grey-covered Penguin (“This edition not for sale in the United States”) that looked like an interesting read.
How could I not read a book that opened this way:
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.
That was my first acquaintance with the Colombian writer whose work was to become a lifelong pursuit with me. Ever since, I have rationed the books I read by him so that I didn’t run out too soon. Yesterday, I re-read Chronicle of a Death Foretold, which I last read thirty years ago in a magazine that had an illustration by Fernando Botero. (I forget which magazine it was.)
Since my first acquaintance with Colonel Buendía in 1975, I have gone on to read:
- Leaf Storm (1955)
- No One Writes to the Colonel (1961)
- In Evil Hour (1962)
- The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor (1970)
- The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother (1978)
- Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1981)
- Love in the Time of Cholera (1985)
- The General in His Labyrinth (1989)
Then, too, there were numerous short stories, which I will re-read in as many years as are left to me. Although we lost García Márquez in April of this year, his work will live forever.