It has been almost ten years since I read anything by Gabriel García Márquez. I was in high school. It was a brief period of time in between other literary passions; I would not know it then, but a year later I would be studying Russian and forget about the writers I had loved before, the languages I knew before. Reading Márquez was like slipping into a dream world, where myth and life intermingle, where love blooms like a dark tropical flower in the forest. Magic realism, they call it. In those times I swung like a pendulum between Márquez and Borges and Calvino, those writers whose words send you rocketing into worlds of fantasy before bringing you back to your own time with a crash.
I came back to Márquez because of one of those rambling conversations with a friend about random things, one of those conversations that starts with one topic and wanders in another direction. I always ask him what he's reading, and he often sends me back towards a writer I loved once (and sometimes, more extraordinarily, a writer I never loved before but would the second time around) but abandoned for another, different love. And I always return to fall into their words more deeply than I had before, travel more deeply into undiscovered territory, a foreigner, a wanderer in a strange land. Everything comes to back to me differently, more intensely, more sharply than they had before, as if seeing it through someone else's eyes cast a brighter light on the story, bringing out details I had never seen before.
So my friend tells me about reading The Autumn of the Patriach, and the title immediately sparks something in my brain, something that begins to burn. Hours, or perhaps days, later, I find myself at the bookstore. Alas, they do not have the book I am looking for, but between One Hundred Years of Solitude (which I read all those years ago) and several copies of Memories of My Melancholy Whores (which I will buy some other day), I find The General in the Labyrinth, and because I love the word labryinth almost as much as I love the word love (which is a lot), it is the book I bring home.
At the end of his life, General Simón Bolívar makes one last journey down the river Magdalena, sliding in and out of past and present. I am reminded a little of the poems of Czeslaw Milosz, written near the end of his life, when he remembers the people and places of his life, the moments which have passed. Memory weaves in and out of present day like the intertwining melodies of a Bach composition, clear and intricate, the way Márquez weaves history and story until you are not sure where one leaves off and the other begins, and I find myself floating alongside the General as his life flows past to its end.