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A decision to publish a sketchy manuscript as a posthumous novel by the late Gabriel García Márquez would have horrified Colombia's Nobel laureate, given his painstaking devotion to the precision of the written word.
BOGOTÁ — When a writer dies, there are several ways of administering the literary estate, depending on the ambitions of the heirs. One is to exercise a millimetric check on any use or edition of the author's works, in the manner of James Joyce's nephew, Stephen, who inherited his literary rights. He refused to let even academic papers quote from Joyce's landmark novel, Ulysses.
Or, you continue to publish the works, making small additions to their corpus, as with Italo Calvino, Samuel Beckett and Clarice Lispector, or none at all, which will probably happen with Milan Kundera and Cormac McCarthy.
Another way is to seek out every scrap of paper the author left and every little word that was jotted down — on a piece of cloth, say — and drip-feed them to publishers every two to three years with great pomp and publicity, to revive the writer's renown.
This has happened with the Argentine Julio Cortázar (who seems to have sold more books dead than alive), the French author Albert Camus (now with 200 volumes of personal and unfinished works) and with the Chilean author Roberto Bolaño. The latter's posthumous oeuvre is so abundant I am starting to wonder if his heirs haven't hired a ghost writer — typing and smoking away in some bedsit in Barcelona — to churn out "newly discovered" works.
Which group, I wonder, will our late, great novelist Gabriel García Márquez fit into?
Extracting ripped pages from the bin
Next year, he is to make his début as a posthumous writer with a draft novel, En agosto nos vemos ("See You in August"), which his heirs have decided to publish.
I suspect, 10 years after the author's death (on April 17, 2014), they feel people have forgotten their father was important and we need our memories refreshed.
To do so, they will use a text that wasn't properly edited, and whose publication the author never authorized. You cannot ask the dead permission, but while he lived, García Márquez said time and again, in interviews and press columns, throughout and especially later in his life, that the need for rigor as a writer meant he absolutely hated sending publishers any text he considered immature. No text was ready, he believed, before going through the essential phases of meditation, settlement, adjustment, counter-adjustment and final adjustments!
Something by García Márquez must be published.
One Hundred Years of Solitude was conceived over a period of almost 20 years. The author's mistake was to trust his children's judgment and keep that basic draft in a drawer, perhaps hoping when alive that something in the air would bring it together, instead of just shredding it. Still, that error of optimism might have passed had his children paid greater attention to their father's stated opinions, instead of heeding the whispers of greedy ambition.
In a column written for the Spanish paper El País in 1984, García Márquez recalled a distant night in 1955, on the eve of his traveling to Europe, when the poet Jorge Gaitán Durán came to see him off at his flat in Bogotá. Gaitán was adamant: something by García Márquez must be published, and he extracted some ripped pages from the bin. He pieced them together, argued they had a good story and persuaded García Márquez to publish them in the magazine Mito.
The author was confessing 30 years on that the incident, instead of encouraging him to seek out more scraps to publish, taught him that any material that displeased or left him emotionally or intellectually dissatisfied, had to be ripped, shredded and burned, good and proper, before someone could get their hands on it.
In the notes to the commemorative edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude, the author declares himself to be a "slave to perfectionist rigor" who considered a typing error as bad as "a creative error." His rigor led him to amend passages in Love in the Time of Cholera (1985) after it was published, for questions of style and tone. This can be seen in his personal copy, which was among the archives sold in 2014 to the Harry Ransom Center.
In the autobiographical Living to Tell the Tale (2002), García Márquez reiterates his disdain for half-baked works, recalling the advice of a Catalan friend, Ramón Vinyes, whose opinions, he said, he followed "literally:" Never show anyone the draft of something you're writing. Which is just what his children want to do now: show the world a draft.
Against all odds
The most elementary, and clearest, reason why his heirs should have left the manuscript where they found it is that its author was so uncertain about it that he himself did not publish it, when nothing and nobody prevented him from doing so. No publisher with any sense would have rejected it. Something about it bugged his sense of harmony and narration. It didn't sound right, but his children have solved the problem — with mercantile gusto.
To call the manuscript a novel must be marketing if it isn't meant as consolation.
You can always justify posthumous publication in either sentimental or general terms. The García Márquez heirs describe this work as written "against all odds" and containing "so many, truly enjoyable merits" always to be found in their father's "captivating prose." Or you could say it like the publisher Claudio López Lamadrid who has sought to explain the decision in terms of a yes but no but maybe or maybe not and Oh, what the heck! The novel was "on the verge of closure," he says, which is precisely why Gabo would not finish it,"being a perfectionist. He found it difficult to conclude and did not want it published for now."
To call the manuscript a novel as the press communiqués have, must be marketing if it isn't meant as consolation. For, unlike a novel, García Márquez never had a definitive version of it (juggling as he did with 10), and was not quite happy with it as it was. So while See You in August does reveal his "capacity for invention" and "linguistic poetry" (which are all the clichés his children could fit into their communiqué), its publication won't be a magnificent addition to his works so much as a sag on his reputation. He may have done enough harm with his Memories of My Melancholy Whores, which he did decide to publish, but then an author is entitled to choose the works with which he wishes to enter into decline.
Cover for Gabo's posthumous book En agosto nos vemos ("See You in August")
No revival needed for Gabo
Posthumous publications, it may be argued, save great literary works from oblivion. But García Márquez is not among those writers — like Franz Kafka or Emily Dickinson — whose best works were hidden away. Nor does this book constitute a loss for posterity had it stayed in its drawer — unlike the works of those other writers. Furthermore, García Márquez needs no boost or revival, which must be why his heirs are publishing the work on the 10th anniversary of his death.
It might have been a disinterested publication after five or seven years, say, but a decade seems to serve an immortality deal. Time for a shower of headlines and fawning reviews! Yet as we know the author's works circulate readily around the globe and hardly need the help of a sympathetic publisher, dutiful heirs or a publicity stunt.
There isn't a library that doesn't stock his novels. See You in August was fine just where it was, being pored over by researchers at the Harry Ransom Center in Texas. Sooner or later, with the fires engulfing our world, it too will have burned into cinders, just as its author wanted.
At best a novel in gestation
Others might contend that García Márquez implicitly approved its publication by reading out a fragment in 1999 and publishing another bit in The New Yorker. Yet a fragment is not the novel. Would he have exposed an unfinished piece in such a reputable review? Perhaps he was happy just with the bits he read out. Neither his heirs nor any editor could affirm that on a specific occasion, García Márquez clearly consented to its publication.
You might lastly argue that this text is evidence of the author's artistic progression toward the closure of his poetic realm. Good, but that is still for the Harry Ransom archives and historians, not for flogging off as a "novel."
A breach of trust, and in the name of what?
Readers may even believe the claim and react in disgust. Surely republishing the author's complete works (as publishers Random House have done, with new anthologies of fiction, press chronicles and speeches) would have sufficed to mark the anniversary and foment readership?
But no: they had to squeeze every penny from the archives, at the cost of a writer's standing and gravity. En agosto nos vemos is at best, a novel in gestation, which reveals its author at work in private, with his tools and tricks left on the page. It is like walking into his workshop and gawping at what he called his "secret carpentry." The decision to publish the kind of text García Márquez insisted on keeping secret, constitutes, at the very least, a breach of trust, and in the name of what?
Does holding the rights give Gabo's heirs the right to dispose of his work as they please?
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