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Commentary: Meeting Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Cover for <i>Living to Tell the Tale</i> (Knopf, 2003)
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Cover for <i>Living to Tell the Tale</i> (Knopf, 2003)

Some writers invent constantly, their creations sprawling outside the page. That is the way of Colombian Gabriel Garcia Marquez -- novelist, short story writer and now author of a long-awaited memoir, Living to Tell the Tale, which was published in English this week.

Twenty years ago, commentator Katie Davis had a chance to sit down with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Afterwards she wasn’t sure whether she had conducted an interview or participated in a piece of fiction.

"I was aware that Garcia Marquez had a habit of making things up during his interviews. He liked to give each journalist a gift, something original, so they didn't go away with the same old stuff," Davis says. The author initially misheard Davis' first name as Vicky -- and insisted on calling her Vicky from that point on...

"And in my case, he included a reminder for when I lose sight of 'the other reality.' Garcia Marquez opened my copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude and wrote: 'To Vicky… with a kiss, Gabo.'"

From Living to Tell the Tale (Knopf, 2003):

My mother asked me to go with her to sell the house. She had come that morning from the distant town where the family lived, and she had no idea how to find me. She asked around among acquaintances and was told to look for me at the Libreria Mundo, or in the nearby cafes, where I went twice a day to talk with my writer friends. The one who told her this warned her: "Be careful, because they're all out of their minds." She arrived at twelve sharp. With her light step she made her way among the tables of books on display, stopped in front of me, looking into my eyes with the mischievous smile of her better days, and before I could react she said:

"I'm your mother."

Something in her had changed, and this kept me from recognizing her at first glance. She was forty-five. Adding up her eleven births, she had spent almost ten years pregnant and at least another ten nursing her children. She had gone gray before her time, her eyes seemed larger and more startled behind her first bifocals, and she wore strict, somber mourning for the death of her mother, but she still preserved the Roman beauty of her wedding portrait, dignified now by an autumnal air. Before anything else, even before she embraced me, she said in her customary, ceremonial way:

"I've come to ask you to please go with me to sell the house."

She did not have to tell me which one, or where, because for us only one existed in the world: my grandparents' old house in Aracataca, where I'd had the good fortune to be born, and where I had not lived again after the age of eight.

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