With the recent death of Carlos Fuentes only two living writers remain from the period of ‘el boom’ in Latin America, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa.
The 76 year-old Vargas Llosa, alive and well, lamented the death on May 15th of his friend of fifty years. In a later interview with the Guardian on the publication of his new novel The Dream of the Celt, he didn’t touch on Fuentes’ death but was asked yet again to explain the famous split between him and Garcia Marquez. It occurred in February 1976 at the Mexico City premiere of the film of Vargas Llosa’s book Survivors of the Andes. Gabo walked into the cinema foyer, saw his friend Mario and exclaiming ‘Brother!’ made to embrace him. The response was a punch to the face which floored Gabo and left him semi-conscious. Vargas Llosa still refuses to say whether the reason for the punch was political or personal. (Garcia Marquez attracts vitriol of both sorts from other writers, even in the LRB). According to Gerald Martin’s Life, the two Nobel laureates are not known to have ever spoken again, although a commemorative edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude published in Cartagena in 2007 includes an essay by Vargas Llosa, suggesting a degree of reconciliation.
Carlos Fuentes managed to be a close friend of both men, and indeed one of the last publicised appearances by Gabo was at Fuentes’ 80th party birthday in Mexico City in November 2008 (see picture). Neither author was at Fuentes’ funeral, although Gabo has for many years also lived in Mexico City. It is where he wrote his most famous book, whose instant success in 1967 partly resulted from Fuentes’ enthusiastic promotion of its opening chapters the year before.
A macabre coincidence had Gabo’s death ‘foretold’ only the day before his friend’s in a twitter hoax. However, real news about his state of health came in a later interview with his younger brother, just published in El Pais. Jaime, who still lives in Cartagena, speaks to Gabo almost every day by phone. He says that senile dementia is carrying his brother away; while he is still enthusiastic and full of humour, Jaime says that mentally he is ‘slipping through my fingers’. Physically, he is still well, so those ready to announce his death ‘will have to wait a little longer’.
He confirms, however, that there will be no more books. Following Gabo’s 85th birthday in March, his agent Carmen Balcells said that on completing the first part of his autobiography Gabo had realised he might not be able to write the two planned further instalments. He may live, but he won’t tell any more tales. Mario Vargas Llosa is the last active writer to survive ‘el boom’.