Until August

Books

On the same day each August, Ana Magdalena Bach travels by ferry to a Caribbean island, in order to lay a gladiolus bouquet on her mother’s grave. Afterwards, she spends the night in the same hotel overlooking a lagoon inhabited by blue herons. Against an evocative backdrop of jungles and beaches, this pilgrimage remains unvarying for eight years, until the opening of Gabriel García Márquez’s Until August, when Ana Magdalena makes the startling decision to have a one-night stand with a stranger. Upon each subsequent trip to the island, she seeks out a different man, embarking on a series of strange, often fraught affairs.  

García Márquez worked on Until August in his final years as dementia increasingly eroded his ability to write. Its publication comes a decade after his death, and García Márquez’s sons admit in the book’s preface that the Nobel laureate himself said, “This book doesn’t work. It must be destroyed.” But upon returning to the drafts years later, his sons believed the book to be better than García Márquez had judged, and decided that it was worthy of publication. 

Indeed, this novella, and its crisp translation by Anne McLean, avoids the disappointment of many other infamous posthumous releases from canonical authors. Part of its success can be credited to editor Cristóbal Pera’s care in piecing together García Márquez’s drafts and annotations. Although lacking the intoxicating complexity of García Márquez’s most famous works, Until August echoes the elegant mastery of time and change that propelled novels such as One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera into greatness. 

Each year brings lush depictions of change on the island—with its impoverished villages and shining tourist resorts—and in Ana Magdalena. Few novelists, even in their prime, are capable of matching the steady control and organic surprise García Márquez mixes into the evolution of Ana Magdalena’s marriage and family life back on the mainland. There is a quality of immediacy in every action in Until August, and readers will feel the thudding swings of emotion as a shout causes a silence that “remained vitrified for several days in the air of the house,” or Ana Magdalena watches a lover who sleeps looking “like an enormous orphan.” 

This brief offering delivers graceful insight into the fickle human heart, serving as an absorbing—if quiet—epilogue to García Márquez’s towering oeuvre.

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