Unveiling The Lost: Journey Of Gabriel García Márquez's Last Novel

The Urdu translation of Until August has been published on 17 April, on the occasion of Márquez's tenth anniversary

Unveiling The Lost: Journey Of Gabriel García Márquez's Last Novel

There is no denying the allure of a book published posthumously by a great author, especially when it has been subjected to various speculations. Such books can sometimes be less than brilliant. Perhaps the most famous example of this is Franz Kafka, whose friend Max Brod ignored his instructions that all his unpublished manuscripts be destroyed after his death. If he had followed Kafka's instructions, his admirers would never have read his last two books, one of which was his epic novel The Trial. Similarly, the Irish writer John Le Carré told his son to destroy any unfinished work left behind after his death. But young Cornwell published his father’s novel titled Silverview.

Novels published posthumously are often controversial. Sometimes these are just broken writings and sometimes incomplete writings. Charles Dickens' last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, falls into this category. When Dickens died in 1870, he had completed six of the twelve chapters and had completely revised them. When it comes to novels that were left unpublished due to controversy, EM Forster comes to mind. Forster wrote Maurice, a novel about homosexual love in 1914. He revised the novel satisfactorily, but then decided not to publish it. He feared legal consequences for anti-homosexual attitudes at the time. This novel was published in 1971, a year after his death. Then there are novels that were completed but not revised. The draft was complete, but the author still needed editing and additions. For example, the book The Silmarillion by the British writer JRR Tolkien, which Tolkien did not consider publishable, as he preferred to work on The Lord of the Rings instead. But four years after Tolkien's death, his son Christopher Tolkien revised and edited it and published it. We find such examples in Urdu literature as well. For example, Salahuddin Adil's novel Khushbu Ki Hijrat, which the author started writing in 1954 and completed in 1974, but was not satisfied with it and continued to edit and add to it until his death in 2000. Later, his friends published the novel in 2008. Eminent Urdu poet Nasir Kazmi's collection of ghazals Pehli Barishi was also published posthumously in 1975 because Nasir Kazmi believed that people were not yet ready for this book.

Colombia's world-renowned and Nobel Prize-winning writer Gabriel García Márquez's last novel Until August, whose Urdu translation titled Milte Hain August Mein by the author of this essay has just been published, is also considered one of the novels that could be published after years and which is considered a lost novel. Although it is a complete novel, it cannot be called perfect as Márquez was not able to completely revise it to his satisfaction. The novel was edited by Cristóbal Pera, who also edited Márquez's autobiography Living to Tell the Story. The published text of the novel is based on Márquez's fifth and final draft, incorporating elements from previous drafts.

Gabriel García Márquez, affectionately known as ‘Gabo’, began his professional life as a journalist, but gained fame as a writer and is known worldwide for his novels and fiction. His fiction won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. He became prominent in Latin American literature in the late 1960s, popularizing the style known as ‘magical realism’. His style influenced many writers around the world. His novel One hundred years of Solitude has sold more than three crore copies and has been translated into 37 languages. He is one of the most translated writers in the world.

The novel Until August revolves around the sexual adventures of a middle-aged married woman and was originally conceived as a five-part, over-600-page story. The first of the six chapters, and perhaps the best, was read aloud by García Márquez at a sit-in in Madrid in 1999 before he succumbed to dementia, and was published in the same year by the Spanish newspaper El País. An English translation of this chapter was later published in The New Yorker. But after writing the first few chapters, Márquez put it aside to complete Memories of My Melancholy Whores, the last novel he published in his lifetime. From 2003, he resumed work on Until August and in the same year, another chapter of this novel came out. It was published as a short story in the Colombian literary magazine Cambio (owned by Márquez) under the title The Night of the Eclipse. A long silence followed and for years any mention of the novel was not heard. After completing the fifth version in 2004, García Márquez stopped work on the novel, telling his assistant: "Sometimes books need to be left to rest.” It was his favourite version because García Márquez wrote an 'OK' note on it.

A foreword written by his sons reveals that before his death in 2014, when he had been suffering from dementia for 10 years, he was torn between negative perfectionism and fading mental faculties. He re-examined the novel and found it unsatisfactory, and told his sons "This book doesn’t work. It must be destroyed." If dementia had prevented García Márquez from completing the book to his satisfaction, the condition may have also made it difficult for him to assess the book's merits. Considering the novel as a valuable literary asset, they ignored their father's wishes and decided to publish it to prioritize the "readers’ pleasure ahead of all other considerations."

Márquez was a perfectionist writer. He used to revise his novels meticulously and revise them again and again. It is said that he spent 17 years revising his masterpiece novel The Autumn of the Patriarch before publishing it. This is the reason why his sons Rodrigo and Gonzalo García Barcha were feeling hesitation about the publication of Until August. However, they mentioned in the preface of the novel the significance of Until August as his father's "one last effort to carry on creating against all odds."

It was in August 2023 that Penguin Random House announced the presence of the novel and its publication in 2024. With the aforementioned two chapters combined with a few chapters, several versions of which Márquez had written but which had not been made public, Until August was being completed and published. Thus, this novel was published in Spanish on the occasion of Márquez's birthday on 6 March and its English translation came out on 12 March. And now the Urdu translation by the author of this article has been published on 17 April, on the occasion of Márquez's tenth anniversary. It is, in a way, a tribute to the art of García Márquez, one of the world's most beloved writers, as well as a gift to Márquez's Urdu readers.

This is a short novel. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to call it a novella. The nearly 125-page book is divided into six chapters that are woven around the main character, Anna Magdalena Bach. Anna Magdalena is a 46-year-old middle-aged married woman. Márquez named the character after Johann Sebastian Bach's second wife, and like her namesake, she is married to a musician. Anna's 54-year-old husband, Domenico Amaris, is the director at the local conservatory. Eight years before the beginning of the story, Anna Magdalena's mother has died. She is buried in accordance with her last wishes on a remote island in the Caribbean, far from the city of Anna. Every year on 16 August, on her mother's anniversary, Anna Magdalena embarks on a one-day journey to lay flowers on her mother's grave.

During one such trip, after she has finished laying flowers on her mother's grave and has nothing to do until the next morning, she meets a silver-haired stranger at a hotel bar on the island. And invites him into her room to experience a sexual adventure for the first time in her life, feeling, in Márquez's words, a "delicious terror." It's the first time she's ever going to sleep with a man other than her husband. The man turns out to be a "good lover", and the two of them experience a very enjoyable and passionate night of love. But this sweet memory of the night is ruined forever when she wakes up the next morning to find that the man has not only left without saying goodbye, but in the book on the bedside table, he had left between its pages a twenty-dollar bill.

At this point, the reader imagines that the novel’s story will probably continue with this humiliating incident and Anna Magdalena's relationship with the man, but on the contrary, the incident changes Anna in a different way. After that first meeting, Anna Magdalena starts looking for a new partner for bed on the island every year on 16 August. But one should not misunderstand that this novel is about the sexual freedom of women. Márquez makes clear that despite being together for nearly three decades, Anna Magdalena and her husband's marriage was still strong and emotionally rich. Their sex life was also passionate, which they always tried to keep fresh. In this way, by describing the sexual adventures of a middle-aged married woman, Márquez goes on unravelling the knots of human psychology.

Until August, like in Márquez's masterpiece novels, also gives us glimpses of the master stylist at points. The narration of the story is fascinating, the plot is fast. The characters in the story are complex, conflicted, and interesting. Above all there is the poetic prose of Márquez.

Until August is not a magical realism novel, so it would be an exaggeration to compare it with Leaf Storm or Chronicle of a Death Foretold. These are the masterpieces that were written at the height of Márquez's creative power. However, Until August is a fascinating book, and a testament to the challenges Márquez was trying to overcome when he wrote it. Books do not exist in a vacuum; they are the product of the circumstances in which they are written. 1991 Nobel laureate in literature Nadine Gordimer mentioned Márquez's political commitment to writing in her Nobel lecture. She summed up her thoughts in one sentence: "A writer's duty, if you will call it his revolutionary duty, is to keep writing." The writer's job is to write. He writes in the time of war. He writes in the time of illness. Márquez did the same. Until August is the fruit of this hard work against the odds, a living testament to Márquez's love and commitment to literature.

The reviewer is a poet, author and translator. His recent translations include Omar Shahid Hamid’s The Prisoner and Muriel Maufroy’s Daughter of Rumi. He can be reached at deskofnadeem@gmail.com