Gabriel García Márquez’s Last Book Is an Unsatisfying Goodbye

UNTIL AUGUST, by Gabriel García Márquez. Translated by Anne McLean.

Billed as a “rediscovered” novel, “Until August”is likely to be the last published book of fiction by the Colombian master and Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez. It would be hard to imagine a more unsatisfying goodbye from the author of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” (1967), the book that threw open the doors of Latin American literature with no less force than Boccaccio’s “Decameron” did for 14th-century Italy. “Until August,” nimbly translated by Anne McLean, is a microscopic story, its contents hardly sufficient for it to be called a novella, much less a finished novel. Reading it may provoke unhealthy levels of frustration in those familiar with García Márquez’s most indelible creations.

Readers’ inevitable disappointment with “Until August” may be directed partly at García Márquez’s two sons and literary executors, who permitted its publication even though their father had made his wishes clear. “This book doesn’t work,” he told them. “It must be destroyed.” He finished his fifth, and final, draft in late 2004, when he was 77, around the time his memory commenced the merciless process of disappearing.

His decline then might not have been obvious to acquaintances, but it seems to have been steep enough to prevent him from holding together the kind of imagined world that the writing of fiction demands. “Life is not what one lives, but what one remembers,” goes the epigraph to his memoir “Living to Tell the Tale” (2002). And to his sons he said: “Memory is at once my source material and my tool. Without it, there’s nothing.”

Now, 10 years after his death, his executors appear to have overrated the story’s value, possibly as a result of sentimental admiration for their father. In a brief preface they strike a note of doubt, calling “Until August” “the fruit of one last effort to carry on creating against all odds.” They concede that it is not “as polished as his greatest books,” but excuse their “act of betrayal” with the explanation “that the fading faculties that kept him from finishing the book also kept him from realizing how good it was.” None of his editors or longtime publishers appears to have thought of protecting him or acknowledging the manuscript’s vapidity.

What is most jarring is that the story has all the hallmarks of García Márquez; despite its deficiencies, the writing is unmistakably his. At its center is Ana Magdalena Bach, who is a virgin when she marries and remains contentedly faithful to her husband until, at 46, she embarks on a series of explosive one-night stands, a new one each year. She meets the men, all of them strangers, during solo visits to the Caribbean island where her mother is buried. Without fail, every Aug. 16 she lays a bouquet of fresh gladioli on her mother’s grave, clears the weeds that have sprung up around the stone and quickly fills her mother in on the latest family news. Then she gets down to the serious business of finding a partner until morning, when a ferry will take her back to the mainland.

Her first tryst is with a silver-haired “Hispanic gringo” she picks up at her hotel bar. The sex is impersonal and, for Ana, immensely exciting: She “devoured him for her own pleasure not even thinking of his.” The next morning she’s appalled to discover he left her a $20 bill. The insult infuriates her and she is tormented by both a wish for revenge and the desire to repeat the evening.

Related Articles

Back to top button