Mateo García Elizondo's debut novel, which explores the limits of consciousness, marks his first steps on the literary path set by his grandfathers, two eminences of modern Spanish-language literature.
BOGOTÁ — Mateo García Elizondo is the grandson of two great figures of 20th century Latin American literature: the Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez and the Mexican writer and poet, Salvador Elizondo Alcalde. Born in Mexico City in September 1987, García Elizondo has quietly built himself a writing career before his family name weighed in — not unlike his uncle, film director Rodrigo García Barcha.
García Elizondo's father is García Márquez's younger son Gonzalo García Barcha, a graphic designer, and his mother is the photographer Pía Elizondo. His first novel Una cita con la Lady ("A Date With Lady"), "a heroin addict's hypnotic trip to the end of the night," is to be published in November by Anagrama, and in Italian by Feltrinelli.
The publishers say the 160-page novel depicts a young man fleeing the city to hide away in a room in Zapotal, a forgotten village on the edge of the rainforest. There, he observes his abundant reserves of opium and heroin and caresses the little notebook on which he will write down the last moments of his life. Soon, the first, generous waft of opium smoke ushers him into the world of dreams and into a magical dimension.
Those who have read the manuscript rather see the influence of the 20th-century Mexican novelist Juan Rulfo than that of García Márquez, though both were fascinated by the boundary of life and death. The publishers say the protagonist of Una cita con la Lady "is more part of the world of the living. He floats between dreams and somnolence, between life and death, in his little room and everywhere in the country, obsessed by visions and memories including those of his only lover, Valerie."
He is as much at ease immersed in 21st-century graphic artwork as in the world of magic realism.
The protagonist creates his own universe: "El Rincón de Juan, a little shack known to harbor mischief, where drunkards, troublemakers and whores converge like moths, in a country whose inhabitants seem only to be lost souls... but the memory gaps multiply, drug reserves shrink, the scorpions aren't enough and death takes its time coming."
When García Elizondo decided to devote himself to storytelling, he told friends of the García Márquez family it was "not easy with my grandfather as a reference, but you have to look for your own style." And he certainly did, as a self-declared "film addict." In 2015 he was selected as a scriptwriter at the International Film Festival in Guadalajara, Mexico, with the backing of the Berlinale Talents program, the Goethe Institute in Mexico and the International Federation of Film Critics. He contributed to the script of Desierto (2017), a drama on migration by Jonás and Alfonso Cuarón, starring Gael García Bernal, and wrote La Mula, shown at the Havana Film Festival in 2016.
He has also worked as a travel journalist and comic book writer, showing he is as much at ease immersed in 21st-century graphic artwork as in the world of magic realism. "I believe that what brought me to script comics at the beginning is that they were much easier to produce than a film. You can do it without having to spend hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars," he said.
In 2016 he told literary online magazine Entropy he would write anything, from "a travel article to a film script, a short story, comic script or a novel," seeking to adapt stories to the respective medium.
His narrative likes to play with the reader's or viewer's mind. A "tech thriller" series he co-wrote in 2018 tackles online "truth distortion." He loves fiction, "especially horror and science fiction," he says. "I love heavy things on the psychological and psychedelic side." His forays into essay writing have explored this interest in mind-altering substances and practices on the continent.
Gabriel García Marquez, author and Nobel laureate — Photo: Festival Internacional de Cine en Guadalajara
In 2009, he says, "I met a good friend who lived half the time in a psychiatric hospital and insisted he had been "zombified" on a trip to Haiti. The experience is so common on the island of Haiti that nobody questions its reality. Without cultural references for what had happened, he was described as crazy and placed in a mental hospital. I gradually realized that creating a zombie may seem a fantastic, literary invention, until we understand the process by which this can be achieved."
He generally avoids interviews and did not want to speak to us about Gabo. He merely said he was nurtured "with magic realism and I feel a particular affinity with Latin American traditional culture, which is itself an eclectic mix of cultures."
His training? "I have lived in Mexico and Europe, traveled a bit and read literature from across the world, so while a lot of my work deals with issues of identity and Mexican themes, I think I am a narrator of universal stories." Especially, he says, when these "happen in space" or explore the nature of fear.
García Elizondo was a constant companion of García Márquez in his final days, holding his hand on some of the last occasions in which he appeared in his garden in Mexico City. He recalls his grandfather as teaching him to value the classics in literature and film. And it was Mateo García Elizondo who read chapter six of Gabo's memoirs, Living to Tell the Tale, when the master's ashes were laid to rest in the cloister of the University of Cartagena on May 12, 2016. Now he writes to honor his memory.