[Facebook post from April 17, 2014: lightly edited for today]
I never met him, though he was one of the writers of his generation whose work I most read when I was younger. He was my favorite author when I was 20. Before him, my favorites had been John Irving (when I was 14) and then Kurt Vonnegut (when I was 16). I read him first in translation, in English. Wandering around a bookstore in Santa Clara, California, the summer I turned 19, I found a copy of Chronicle of a Death Foretold on display. I remembered a review I had read of his work in the LA Times and I was intrigued. Here was a writer who had written a massive novel filled with magical happenings —a rain of yellow flowers, a disease of forgetting, a woman so beautiful she flew into the sky—, a world where magical, striking, things happened as if they were quotidian occurrences, stuff of the every day. Chronicle of a Death Foretold was a slim novel, it was summer, and I was living hours from home. I bought it. I was hooked and over the course of that summer purchased a few more of his books —Leaf Storm, the Autumn of the Patriarch, The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother (a story which broke my heart and remains one of my favorites)— eventually reading One Hundred Years of Solitude. The novel blew me away and served as my gateway into Latin American literature. All of these were in the excellent English translations by Gregory Rabassa. In grad school, I re-read the works in Spanish, and I was transported once more.
Living in Mexico City at the age of 21, I spent hours in bookstores, buying his books in Spanish, as well as buying works by the other writers who would shape me as a reader and a writer, Borges, Arreola, Rulfo, Fuentes, Cortázar, Sábato, Vargas Llosa, and Donoso. In grad school, doing summer research in Mexico City, I would focus more on Mexican authors, from the classics like Elena Poniatowska, Rosario Castellanos, José Emilio Pacheco, Octavio Paz, and Jaime Sabines to the writers who would form my dissertation, Daniel Sada, Jesús Gardea, Federico Campbell, Rosina Conde, and Luis Humberto Crosthwaite. They, as well as all those who came later, were all writers who I came to through García Márquez and his world.
I never met him, though I was fortunate to meet a few of his contemporaries: I had a long conversation with Donoso in grad school while we walked across campus one sunny afternoon; I spoke a number of times with Fuentes at seminars and conferences at Dartmouth and Brown; following a book presentation in Barcelona, I had a brief and very pleasant conversation with Vargas Llosa. Though a number of my friends had spent time with Gabo, I never had the opportunity. I don’t regret this, for in some ways, reading him at 19 while working for Migrant Education in Santa Clara, brought me into a connection with a wide world where everyday objects —a telescope, a block of ice— became objects of wonder and magic, and the world —ese lugar extraño to quote a northern Mexican writer— seemed less dispassionate and unconnected, but one woven through with many, many, strands of light.