Daniel Rey

A death foretold: the last days of Gabriel García Márquez

Rodrigo García records how aspects of his father’s fiction were strangely echoed as he lay dying at home in Mexico City

Gabriel García Márquez and his wife Mercedes on holiday in Rome in 1969 [Getty Images]

In March 2014 Gabriel García Márquez went down with a cold. The man who wrote beautifully about ageing was approaching his end. As his wife told their son Rodrigo: ‘I don’t think we’ll get out of this one.’

In A Farewell to Gabo and Mercedes, García, a film director and screenwriter, remembers his father and mother — one of the world’s greatest novelists and his muse. Comprised of short chapters, some of which reflect the journal he wrote while travelling back and forth between his LA cutting room and the family home in Mexico City, the book turns the venerable writer into a lively protagonist. The García Márquez who emerges is a quintessentially García Márquezian character.

His final days arouse particular interest because of the prevalence of ageing and death in his novels. The Autumn of the Patriarch focuses on a debilitated but tenacious dictator; The General in his Labyrinth describes the final journey of the ailing Simón Bolívar; and Love in the Time of Cholera concludes with the gerontic love affair of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza.

In his dotage, García Márquez has the spry humour characteristic of his novels. When he wakes to find himself surrounded by half a dozen women — housekeepers, nurses and secretaries — he says, without missing a beat: ‘I can’t fuck all of you.’

He wasn’t always so sharp. For months, the elderly Nobel laureate had suffered from such severe dementia that he thought an impostor was standing in for his wife. And when his housekeeper informed him that the two people he’d just seen were his sons, he was amazed:‘Really? Those men? Carajo. That’s incredible.’

It’s hard not to contrast his dementia with his fiction, which is premised on memory. ‘Memory is my tool and my raw material,’ he once said.

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