Eventually they interred it in the garden alongside — of course because it just had to be — the remains of a parrot.
Not long after the discovery of the dead bird on the sofa — when the world had finally lost the Colombian maestro at the age of 87, in 2014, after years of his suffering the effects of dementia — a friend emailed García Márquez’s secretary to point out a strange coincidence. The author had died on a Good Thursday, the same holy day as one of his most enduring characters, Úrsula Iguarán, the matriarch in his masterwork, “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” Iguarán’s death at the age of 120 is accompanied by disoriented birds that smash into walls and fall dead.
When García Márquez’s son Rodrigo Garcia learns of the synchronicity, he decides he isn’t “foolish enough” to offer an opinion on the coincidence.
“All I know is that I can’t wait to retell it,” Rodrigo Garcia writes in his contemplative book about the deaths of his mother and father, “A Farewell to Gabo and Mercedes: A Son’s Memoir of Gabriel García Márquez and Mercedes Barcha.” (For reasons that go unexplained, the author credit on the book forgoes the accent mark over the “i” in the son’s surname while using it in the father’s. Another version of the book, which was written in English and translated into Spanish by Martha Cecilia Mesa Villanueva, employs accent marks for both.)
Just as he did on the occasion of his father’s death, Rodrigo avoids connections between García Márquez and the characters in his father’s complex, endlessly analyzed works. Instead, he has written an intimate and surprisingly relatable chronicle of grief and acceptance, albeit one that also offers a glimpse into one of the most famous literary figures of all time. Though the book is hardly a tell-all, it does offer some intriguing tidbits. For example, Rodrigo reveals that García Márquez did not like to keep early drafts of his books, so when Rodrigo and his brother, Gonzalo, were young, García Márquez asked them to “sit on the floor of his study and help him rip up entire versions” of his work and discard them — “an unhappy image, I am sure, of students of his process.”
Rodrigo — a Los Angeles-based writer, director and producer whose film “Nine Lives,” about the intersecting existences of nine women, garnered critical praise — was conflicted about the idea of writing about his father.
“I am appalled that I am thinking about taking notes,” he observes while shuttling between Los Angeles and Mexico City. “Perhaps it might be better to resist the call and to stay humble. … Humility is, after all, my favorite form of vanity.”
There’s an instinct among some sons to finish the work of their fathers. Reading Rodrigo’s recollections, one gets the idea that he might have had just such an urge — whether he knew it or not.
“One of the things he hated most about death was that it was the only aspect of his life he would not be able to write about.”
In those hours as his father is slipping away, diminished physically and mentally, nearing the end, Rodrigo sorts through emotions that can be hard to reconcile.
“I feel differently about this guy,” he muses at one point. “Detached. Maybe that is the purpose of the transformation, to help you uncouple.”
When his father is gone, Rodrigo finds himself marveling at the literary titan’s “human scale.” He finds it both “terrifying and comforting.”
There’s a universality to these scenes of the small rites of death. At one point, Rodrigo asks the nurse to put in his father’s dentures. He’s relieved by how much better he looks.
But this is also no ordinary death. And we’d almost feel cheated, wouldn’t we, if the creator of such sinuous plotlines left us without a few twists? So it’s almost a relief when Rodrigo breaks the tension by describing how the family’s long planned announcement of García Márquez’s death unraveled because none of their preselected journalists could be found on a religious holiday. They end up asking a radio-personality friend to break the news on social media.
At the mortuary, Rodrigo and other family members are greeted by an attractive young woman in scrubs. Rodrigo thinks to himself that if his father were alive, he would have flirted with her.
Though she hadn’t been asked to do so, the woman had touched up his father a bit, combing his hair, and trimming his mustache and his signature unruly eyebrows. Rodrigo, to his surprise, is happy to see him like that one last time, a final image closer to the man with whom he’d grown up.
The funeral home workers applaud as his father is placed on a conveyor belt. Gabriel García Márquez has almost disappeared when it gets stuck with his head and shoulders still visible.
A worker steps over and pushes down hard on both shoulders. Gabo is finally engulfed in flame.
“The sight of my father’s body entering the cremation chamber is mesmerizing and numbing,” Rodrigo writes. “It feels both impossibly pregnant and meaningless.”
As its title suggests, the book is a tribute not only to Gabo but also to Mercedes, his wife, who died in August 2020. At the loss of his parents, Rodrigo expresses some remorse: “I didn’t know them well enough, and I certainly regret that I didn’t ask more about the fine print of their lives, their most private thoughts. And yet “Farewell” reveals that perhaps he knew them better than he realized — and now we do, too.
Manuel Roig-Franzia is a Washington Post staff writer and former Mexico City bureau chief for The Post.
A Farewell to Gabo and Mercedes
By Rodrigo Garcia
176 pp. $23.99