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Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ: THE LAST INTERVIEW
AND OTHER CONVERSATIONS

Copyright © 2015 by Melville House Publishing

Introduction copyright © 2015 by David Streitfeld

“A Novelist Who Will Keep Writing Novels” © 1956 by
El Colombiano Literario
, Published on June 26, 1956, in the Sunday supplement “El Colombiano Literario,” p. 1. Translation copyright © 2014 by Theo Ellin Ballew.

“Power to the Imagination in Macondo” © 1975 by
Revista Crisis
. Reprinted by permission. Translation copyright © 2014 by Ellie Robins.

“Women,” “Superstitions, Manias, and Taste,” and “Work” © 1983 by Verso Books. First published in
The Fragrance of Guava
. Translated by Ann Wright.

“A Stamp Used Only for Love Letters” © 2014 by David Streitfeld. Some of the material appeared in different form in
The Washington Post
in 1994 and 1997.

“ ‘I've Stopped Writing': The Last Interview” © 2006 by
La Vanguardia
. Reprinted by permission. Translation copyright © 2014 by Theo Ellin Ballew.

First Melville House printing: January 2015

Melville House Publishing
 
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
García Márquez, Gabriel, 1927–2014.

Gabriel García Márquez : the last interview and other conversations; introduction by David Streitfeld.

pages   cm

ISBN 978-1-61219-480-6 (pbk.) – ISBN 978-1-61219-481-3 (ebook)

1. García Márquez, Gabriel, 1927–2014–Interviews.
2. Authors, Colombian–20th century–Interviews. I. Title.

PQ8180.17.A73Z46 2015

863′.64–dc23

[B]

2014043499

v3.1

INTRODUCTION
DAVID STREITFELD

Everyone said it was like getting an audience with the pope. As in: Don't even bother trying. If Gabriel García Márquez has something to say, he can publish it himself and get worldwide attention. Why would he filter his comments through you?

I was the literary correspondent for
The Washington Post
, young and full of beans, scorning anything but the best and greatest. I revered García Márquez, as much for the scale of his accomplishment as for the actual texts themselves.
One Hundred Years of Solitude
was, as a perceptive critic once said,
like a brick through a window. It let in the real life of the street, the noises and colors and sensations, and presented magical events—a trail of blood flowing across town and into a house, careful to avoid staining the rug; flowers from heaven—so straightforwardly they seem believable. Suddenly all the stories in Latin America were written in its shadow.
Solitude
was the most famous novel in the world, and perhaps the last (leaving aside the rather extra-literary case of
The Satanic Verses
) to have a demonstrable effect on it.

Letters were faxed, entreaties were made, publishers were begged. Finally the word came: Present yourself at the house in Mexico City on this date at this moment in the afternoon, and the maestro will entertain your questions. It was late 1993. García Márquez was making the transition from revolutionary firebrand to elder statesman. His recent works,
Love in the Time of Cholera
and
The General in His Labyrinth
, had extended his reputation beyond
Solitude
. He never made public appearances in the United States even though the new president, Bill Clinton, was reportedly a big fan. His elusiveness cemented the legend.

My spoken Spanish was weak, and while García Márquez was rumored to understand English quite well, he cannily refused to speak it. I came equipped with an excellent interpreter and a small gift, the newly published Library of America editions of Herman Melville. García Márquez insisted I inscribe them. I wondered if he thought I had somehow written them.

His office was behind his house in a separate bungalow, a comfortable but not overly lavish place to write, read, and
hide. One wall was covered with books in at least four languages. The fiction—Lewis Carroll and Graham Greene, but also writers as contemporary as Tobias Wolff—coexisted with a dictionary of angels, worn medical texts, a map of the Paris métro, biographies of obscure statesmen, and other necessities of a working library. Another wall had compact discs and a top-notch stereo system.

Dressed all in white and looking very well fed, García Márquez was a dead ringer for the Pillsbury Doughboy. I was circling my first question, something that would straddle the line between assertive and respectful, when he interrupted. “Carlos Fuentes strongly encouraged me to talk to you,” he said.

No doubt. After thirty-five years, Fuentes was still the impresario of Latin America literature. He loved brokering attention for his friends, which included everyone in the literary and diplomatic worlds.

I began again, but again García Márquez interrupted. “I don't do interviews anymore, but Jorge Castañeda said this must be an exception.” I had never met Castañeda, the author of
Utopia Unarmed: The Latin American Left After the Cold War
and an influential political theorist, but clearly my renown had reached far indeed. I nodded and started for a third time.

“The Mexican ambassador in Washington is a huge fan of your work,” García Márquez said, as if merely stating the obvious, like the sun had come up this morning.

I was used to being flattered by writers, to being told I was a Mozart of the pen. They routinely and without embarrassment
offered up half-baked praise to people profiling them in the hopes of securing a halfway good notice. In that last moment before the Internet allowed writers to cut out the middleman and train the spotlight directly on themselves, reputations were still in the keeping of the media.

This, however, was a master class. Unbidden, a movie abruptly played out in my mind's eye: Mr. Ambassador, waiting by the embassy gate at six a.m. for a copy of the
Post
, hastily grabbing it from the delivery boy, and paging through, looking for my byline. Not finding it, he throws the paper down and returns, sulkily, to bed.

García Márquez's message was clear: You're lucky to be here, and I'm lucky you're on my side. After such supplication, who could ask brutal questions?

A year or two later, I went to a lecture by Castañeda. Afterward, I went up to my great admirer, a copy of his book in my hand. He asked who I was so he could sign it, and I carefully identified myself. He betrayed no flicker of recognition.

With García Márquez, I was more amused than taken in. Once he finally let the interview get underway, he was as illuminating and charming as I expected him to be. He loved above all else talking about the books he was writing. More than most authors, he tried not to repeat himself, even as he got older and the temptation to revisit triumphs must have been acute. Anyone else would have written
One Thousand Years of Solitude
, taken the money, and ignored the inevitable thrashing by reviewers.

Nor was he ever in a hurry. The story he discussed at length with me would not be published for more than a decade, as
Memories of My Melancholy Whores
. As it turned out, that brief tale was his last published work of fiction, although a mutual friend told me that García Márquez was playing around on his computer in the early years of the new millennium and found a lengthy tale he had finished and forgotten. I presume it will be published one day.

What interviewers want from their subjects, of course, is action, not just words. One of García Márquez's favorite stories about interviewing was the time many years earlier when a Spanish journalist wanted to talk to him. He invited her to tag along as he and his wife, Mercedes, went shopping, had lunch, and did other mundane things around Barcelona. At the end of the day, the reporter asked again for an interview—never realizing he had already given it to her. He told her—sweetly, no doubt—to get a different job, because she wasn't cut out for journalism.

If García Márquez had ever really offered such opportunities, those days were by now gone. We never moved from the couch. But he remained amusing and expansive until the end, as if I were a good friend he hadn't seen in years. Then I reminded him that we were coming back the next afternoon. His face fell. How long, he seemed to be thinking, must I be charming to these Americanos?

To soften the blow, the next day I brought my girlfriend along. García Márquez was famous even among the Latins for preferring the company of women. The interpreter
from the previous day had a conflict, so Lisa and I waited outside the hotel for the highly regarded American journalist who would serve that day. And waited. Finally, an hour late, the fellow—let's call him Gringo—showed up, full of swagger. “Traffic here is horrible,” Gringo explained. “Everyone is late all the time. No one cares. Don't worry.”

The journey to García Márquez's house was endless. I felt that gnawing pit in my stomach of a disaster in the making. Finally we arrived and were ushered in. The maestro was understandably peeved, and perhaps only the sight of Lisa prevented him from throwing us out. He warned us that he was leaving soon for an appointment. I later learned that punctuality was a virtue he prized.

We sat down on the couch again. I asked a simple warm-up question. How was the movie he had seen the night before? Gringo stumbled over the translation. García Márquez answered, “It was good,” and Gringo could not figure out what he was saying. I realized with growing horror that despite his eminent position with a leading U.S. newspaper, Gringo did not actually know more than a few words of Spanish. García Márquez was equally frustrated. The stories about him secretly understanding English were just that, stories.

I persevered, sticking to simple subject-verb-object sentences. But on the second day, there was no magic show. We saw a tired, grumpy old man. I cut it short, which he appreciated, but asked some questions about Castro, which he did not. He hated being asked about Castro, which was the one
thing his U.S. fans held against him. His only mellow moments came when he flirted with Lisa.

BOOK: Gabriel Garcia Marquez
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