Adiós, Gabo

One of the most popular features in the Library of Congress Pavilion at the Library’s National Book Festival is a whiteboard on which you can write the name of a book.  Some years we ask for your favorite book.  Some years we ask what book shaped the world.  People stand a few feet back, ponder, look at what others write, and then step forward and put up their title.

Every year, for me, it’s the same: “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez, a native of Colombia and master of modern letters who died on Thursday in Mexico City at age 87.

Books Populi at the Library's 2013 National Book Festival

Books Populi at the Library’s 2013 National Book Festival

In my lifetime of reading – a lifetime made wonderful by reading – it is, quite simply, my favorite book.

I was assigned to read this towering novel by Prof. David Cusack at the University of Colorado back in the 1970s.  He was teaching a course in Latin American political science. It was odd to be assigned a novel as required reading for a PolySci course, but Prof. Cusack—who had spent a lot of time in Latin America—explained that it would help us understand a different worldview from our own, a different lens for looking at reality.  It would help us understand how things were different there.

And so, I tackled this assigned book – and was swept along as if I had fallen into the Amazon in flood.  I ripped through that book as if my own future were written in it. Many books take us to “other worlds” but this one – this one was literally otherworldly (Márquez’s style is often referred to as “magical realism”). I absolutely loved it – I read it again, immediately, bought extra copies and began giving them to other people I cared about, including my father, a newspaper columnist.

He liked it so well that in his annual column thanking various people, he thanked me for pointing him to it, and in doing so tipped about 250,000 Denver Post readers off to this astounding modern classic.

You may also enjoy many of this Nobel-winning writer’s other books as well – I enjoyed “Love in the Time of Cholera” and the novella “No One Writes to the Colonel.”  Márquez, known as “Gabo” to his friends, wrote many novels and stories, and we have a recording of him reading from his own work in the Library’s Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape, in the Hispanic Division.

Do I remember anything else about that political science course? No. But I maintain a fond memory of Prof. Cusack, who was also involved in early efforts to introduce the United States to the grain known as quinoa.  On a trip to Bolivia to work with quinoa farmers, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and was fatally shot.

So, adiós, Master Márquez, and rest in peace, Prof. Cusack.  Together, you gave us a great gift.


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