“If I knew that today would be the last time I’d see you, I would hug you tight and pray the Lord be the keeper of your soul. If I knew that this would be the last time you pass through this door, I’d embrace you, kiss you, and call you back for one more. If I knew that this would be the last time I would hear your voice, I’d take hold of each word to be able to hear it over and over again. If I knew this is the last time I see you, I’d tell you I love you, and would not just assume foolishly you know it already.” ~Love in the Time of Cholera
I’ve cried twice in my life at the news of an author’s death. The first time was when I was in high school and a friend walked up to me and said, â€œThat author you like just died.â€ When I realized she meant Isaac Asimov, I started crying right there, in the middle of lunch, in front of hundreds of uncaring classmates (a fact that did little to make my misunderstood soul any more understood by my peers.)
The second time is just over two weeks ago when I woke from a restless night to read that Gabriel Garcia Marquez had died. The cover of Love in the Time of Cholera still conjures a clear memory of me perched in my studio apartment devouring the novel over the course of two sun-drenched summer days, the rising heat lending a dreamy quality to the passing hours. I remember reading that famous last line, â€œForever, he saidâ€ and feeling that I was quite simply drunk on love, on language, on the bittersweet beauty of human experience. I immediately immersed myself in everything that Marquez had written, glorying in the sheer sensuality and song that underlies all his work.
It’s been twenty some years since that first fateful encounter and, even as an avid reader, I have yet to encounter another author who can elicit that same heady blend of euphoria, grief, and breathtaking beauty. To read Marquez is to enter into a dream, both haunting and lovely, a world bordering on the impossible and brimming with promise. His titles aloneâ€”One Hundred Years of Solitude, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Of Love and Other Demonsâ€”are stories unto themselves evoking both the fantastical and the real while hinting at the profound themes explored within.
I am, of course, not alone in my adoration of Marquez’ works and news of his death was accompanied by tears the world over. Indeed, his influence on not only readers but also other writers can be seen far and wideâ€”a fact that led me to think about those YA authors whose work captures the spirit of Marquez’s magical realism.
I’ll start with Ray Bradbury’s ode to childhood, the 1957 classic Dandelion Wine. The novel consists of a series of linked vignettes that revolve around one summer in the life of 12-year-old Douglas Spaulding. Like Marquez, Bradbury was deeply inspired by his boyhood home and a similar intoxicating nostalgia pervades both their works. In particular, Bradbury’s quiet combination of vivid details, poetic language, and a touch of the fantastic makes this lyrical read a clear companion to Marquez’ works.
Weetzie Bat, by 2005 Edwards Award winner Francesca Lia Block, is the pop-culture, minimalist, urban counterpart to Marquez’s mythical, sweeping, rural brand of magical realism. Set in Los Angeles, this slim volume follows the adventures in love and life of the inimitable Weetzie Bat and her coterie of misfit friends. Although vastly different than Marquez in tone, Weetzie Bat nevertheless embodies so many of the characteristics that make Marquez’s novels appealing: dream-like settings that transcend the everyday, a focus on real-life issues made more accessible by the fantastical filter from which they’re seen, and most importantly, a wildly passionate, life-affirming belief in love.
Katherine Catmull’s debut novel, Summer and Bird, leans more towards the magical than the realistic but still falls within the spirit of Marquez’s work. It is the story of two sisters who wake up to find their parents missing and must embark upon a quest to find them in a land called Down. While the setting and fairy-tale motifs clearly belong to the fantasy genre, the content and character development is poignantly realistic. Indeed, what reminded me most of Marquez is Catmull’s adept exploration of grief and loss and a specific melancholy so reminiscent of Marquez’ early novels. That coupled with the exquisite prose makes this a great middle-grade introduction to the world of magical realism.
I want to end with a book I just finished, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton. Of all the books reviewed, it reminded me the most of Marquez’s style, in general, and Love in a Time of Cholera, specifically. A sweeping family saga, the novel focuses on Ava Lavender, a girl born with wings into a family of women plagued by the consequences of tragic love. This is magical realism at its finest and a truly remarkable debut novel. The sumptuous prose, the entwined themes of love and loss, and the masterful use of both the mystical and the metaphorical, makes this novel a worthy successor to Marquez’s canon.
If you’ve never read Gabriel Garcia Marquez, you may question why I would cry at a stranger’s death. I would answer that I mourn the loss of such a brilliant mind and compassionate heart, I mourn the thought of never reading another new work penned by him, and I mourn the end of a literary era. At the same time, I am so grateful to have read his work, for like all great authors, reading Marquez has enabled me to understand my own self in profound ways. That said, each of the works above have had similar effects, and I hope that they prove equally compelling to you…
~Alegria Barclay, currently reading Dorothy Must Die