It was a job that did not pay, but it was a job that I loved. I was surrounded by books, music and lovely co-workers, kept in good humour by the good cause that we were donating our hours to. It seemed that every week I volunteered I ended up buying at least one or two books from the shop itself, having rifled through the stock during or after my shift.
It was in this busy little shop that I became fully aware of Márquez’s literary works for the first time. His name had haunted my literary periphery for some time by this point, but I simply hadn’t yet read a single short story or novel of his. This changed as I came across a copy of Love In The Time of Cholera on the shelves one day, during one of my weekly shifts. Perhaps somewhat sneakily, as I was still only half way through my shift and thus still on duty serving customers, I hid the only copy in the shop behind the till so that I could pay for it when I finished the shift. I subsequently took the book home and devoured it.
Love, in its many myriad of forms, washes over the pages of that novel in all of its wonderfully euphoric and gut wrenching explorations. Magical realism taints the characters lives and experiences, their town and the very type of the printed words on the pages of the book itself. In short it is beauty, it is love for the written word, and for the value of stories themselves, that is expressed so eloquently in so fine a book that I took Marquez the author to heart.
In particular it reminded me, at a time where I was reading many dense and dry academic texts, of the value of the story as a common human experience and denominator in, and between, various populations, cultures and nations. It was also something that I was lacking at that time in my solitary life, as I shuffled wearily between sleep, food, and the library for research and writing. Essentially Márquez, along with Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, helped plug me back into realising the vitality and depth of human life.
My love for Márquez was further solidified coming across a copy of his short stories in another shift. Later still I came across a copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude in another book shop in a different city and I immediately clasped it close to my heart. Where romance makes the characters flush with life (and death) in Love In The Time of Cholera, it is family history (and political commentary) that bind the characters in One Hundred Years of Solitude. The book did help to open my eyes anew to Márquez’s work and words, in how social commentary and political narrative can be combined so artfully within a delightful and fluid narrative to make flesh the stories that need, and must, be told to generations new.
Although my bedside table currently bulges with books waiting to be read and although Márquez will now not write any further novels, short stories or journalism, I will keep a space open for any of his works as, when, and if I come across them. May he rest in peace.
Gabriel García Márquez 1927 – 2014. A photograph taken shortly after his speech for accepting the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982.