Gabriel García Márquez’s fame as a writer of fabulous tales appears to have extended to the very tips of his toes. One of the enduring images in Rodrigo García’s lovingly irreverent memoir, A Farewell to Gabo and Mercedes, is the specter of his ailing father’s feet.
In a scene worthy of One Hundred Years of Solitude or Love in the Time of Cholera, García recalls his father’s secretary commenting on them as she changed his bedsheets. “She had heard he had beautiful feet but she had never seen them,” García writes. “Where on earth she could have heard that, I have no idea. I’d rather not ask.”
García, who is known for his work as a writer and director of films such as Nine Lives and Albert Nobbs, focuses his memoir on the twilight years of his parents’ lives.
He traces his father’s brave struggle with dementia, throughout which he maintained his sense of humor but which also left him agonizingly bereft. “He would say, ‘I work with my memory,’” García writes. “‘Memory is my tool and my raw material. I cannot work without it. Help me.’”
His mother, Mercedes, is remembered as a stoic presence, proud of her individuality, her husband’s success, and their 56-year marriage.
“Memory is my tool and my raw material. I cannot work without it.”
The two of them guarded their privacy fiercely, which is why García says he waited until both had died—Márquez, or “Gabo,” as he was fondly known, in 2014, aged 87, and Mercedes in 2020, at the same age—before writing his memoir.
García says that he wrestled with his conscience over whether to publish such a personal book, but in the end he accepted that resistance was futile and that writing about death was “as old as writing itself.” It is fortunate that what interests García most about his parents, especially his father, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982, is what made them so vital when they were alive.
García reveals that his father’s imagination was always “prodigiously fertile,” and that he invented eight generations of the Buendia family for One Hundred Years of Solitude but decided to limit his novel to six. This was out of “fear that the novel would be too long and tiresome,” García writes. “He thought great discipline was one of the cornerstones of writing a novel, particularly when it came to framing the shape and limits of the tale.”
García, who is the executive producer on a Spanish-language series of One Hundred Years of Solitude for Netflix, also notes his father’s extraordinary powers of concentration, which manifested themselves in an almost trance-like state. On occasion his mother would send him or his brother to deliver their father a message in his book-lined study. “He would look right through us,” García recalls, “his Mediterranean eyelids at half mast, a cigarette going in one hand and another burning in the ashtray, and reply nothing.”
“Lost in a labyrinth of narrative” is how García eloquently sums it up. But as a boy he was spooked by this otherworldly side of his father. “My feelings about my father, though loving, were complicated by his fame and talent,” he writes, “which made him several people that I’ve had to work to integrate into one.”
Conversely, García’s blunt-spoken mother, who lacked a university education, proved to be a more inspirational figure, especially regarding García’s career as a maker of films with a strong feminist slant.
“Her complex personality has surely contributed to my lifelong fascination with women,” he writes. “Especially multifaceted women, enigmatic women, and what are often referred to, I think unfairly, as difficult women.”
Tobias Grey is a Gloucestershire-based writer and critic