Gabriel García Márquez and Mercedes Barcha

Peter Frenzel, The Tenant, 1976

Comment about the book Gabo & Mercedes: a farewell, by Rodrigo García

Eric Nepomuceno (1948), journalist and translator many times awarded, having translated Eduardo Galeano, Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar and Gabriel García Márquez into Portuguese – translated, among others, The secret weapons e The hopscotch game, by Julio, and One hundred years of Solitude, de Gabriel – is responsible for bringing this language into Portuguese Gabo & Mercedes: a farewell.

In the back of the book, Eric Nepomuceno wrote that he lost count of the works he translated from Castilian into Brazilian Portuguese, perhaps 40 or 60, he doesn't remember for sure. However, this one by Rodrigo García, screenwriter, producer, and director of cinema and television, son of Gabriel (1927-2014) and Mercedes (1932-2020), based in Los Angeles, United States, “was the most difficult, not for technical reasons: for reasons of affection (…) The book is written in a direct, colloquial manner, and would have been a relatively easy translation. However, when I finished, I was completely shattered.” This is because Rodrigo reveals how his parents left, in a strong and revealing chronicle of his last days.

In this kind of chronicle of goodbye, the loss of memory and dementia that affect Gabriel make him recognize the secretary, the driver and the cook, who have worked in the house for years, “as familiar people and kind, trustworthy people, but I don't know what they're called anymore. When my brother and I visit him, he looks long and slow at us, with uninhibited curiosity. Our faces touch something distant, but he no longer recognizes us” (p. 20).

Recovering some tranquility after repeating several times that he worked with his memory, that it was his “tool and his raw material”, and that “I couldn’t work without it, help me”. Then she said: “I'm losing my memory, but luckily I forget that I'm losing my memory…”. Or even: “Everyone treats me as if I were a child. Good thing I like it…” (p. 21).

His secretary told Rodrigo García that one afternoon he found García Márquez alone, standing in the middle of the garden, staring into space, lost in thought.

“- What did you come out here to do, Dom Gabriel?

- To cry.

– But you're not crying.

– Yes, I am, but without tears. Don’t you realize my head is shit?” (p. 21).

There are other moving pages, such as the narrative of the siesta that the parents took every day in the afternoon; Gabriel's troubled awakening when awakened unexpectedly; the chemotherapy treatment to combat lymphoma, which the writer began when he was over 70 years old; his witty quips (“a lot of people are dying who didn’t die before”, p. 33); the death of two of his younger brothers (his parents had 16 children); the comings and goings with nurses, caregivers, doctors and hospitalizations; a peaceful death on a Maundy Thursday; the dealings with the press and the tributes received…

Rodrigo says that Gabriel was not very fluent in English, although he had a good command of French and Italian. When his parents went to visit him in the United States, he took them to lunch at one of the trendy restaurants, “where they ate in anonymity, surrounded by the rich and famous of the place [California]. In general, only the Latino parking service employees recognized my father, and on a few occasions they sent one of them to buy books so that he could make dedications after eating. Nothing could be more pleasurable for him” (p. 72).

We also learn that Gabriel worked daily from nine in the morning to two-thirty in the afternoon “in what I can only describe as a trance” (p. 78), in total concentration. Despite this, “at two-thirty sharp our father was having lunch, totally present” (p. 79).

At the funeral, one of the relatives reminds Rodrigo García of his father's family's passion for history, embellishment and exaggeration. “Hold your listeners and never let them escape. A good story always trumps the truth. A good story is the truth” (p. 88).

The Colombian writer had two maxims, always repeated to his children: “if you can live without writing, don't write”; and “there is nothing better than a well-written text” (p. 94).

Only a dozen pages are dedicated to Mercedes Barcha; she passed away in August 2020. After sixty-five years of smoking, “her lung capacity became increasingly worse, and in recent years she needed oxygen all day long” (p. 99).

Mercedes was a strong guardian of her children and her husband, secretly rescuing drafts of Gabriel's books. But not even she managed to preserve them all: “many times, during our childhood, he would send for my brother and me to help tear up and put complete preliminary versions in the wastebasket” (p. 101). She has suffered from anxiety her entire life, perhaps without being aware of it. “And his interest in life and the lives of others, like my father’s, was inexhaustible” (p. 103).

Much could still be said about the memories that Rodrigo García has of his parents and what he carries from their inheritance in terms of behavior and ways of living. One of his favorites: “be tolerant of your friends, so that they will be tolerant of you”; or when his mother said it was intolerable not to walk a guest to the door when he was leaving; or even, “when I put olive oil on everything” (p. 107).

However, I selected another, quite simple one, which demonstrates the sensitive man that Rodrigo has become: “I think about my father every morning when I dry my back with a towel, something he taught me after seeing that I got confused with it when I was six years old” (p. 107).

*Afranio Catani He is a retired senior professor at the Faculty of Education at USP. He is currently a visiting professor at UERJ, Duque de Caxias campus. Author, among other books, of Origin and Destiny: Thinking about Bourdieu’s Reflexive Sociology (Ed. Mercado de Letras). []


Rodrigo Garcia Gabo & Mercedes; a farewell. Translation: Eric Nepomuceno. Rio de Janeiro, Record, 2022, 112 pages. []

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