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Gabriel García Márquez: En Agosto Nos Vemos (Until August)

Publishing history

In the introduction by García Márquez’s two sons and afterword by his editor, we learn that he planned three novels about love between older people. However this was hindered because of his declining health, including memory loss. This one was completed but he was not happy with it and said it should be destroyed. It was not destroyed but set aside, in the hope that time would decide what to do with it. When they reread it ten years later they decided it was a pretty good work, if not, of course, at the level of the work for which he is famous, at least definitely worthy of publication. I can only agree with them.

OIur heroine is Ana Magdalena Bach, No, not that Anna Magdalena Bach. Firstly her Ana is with one n in the Spanish way. Her husband is Doménico Amarís, not Johan Sebastian Bach. They live in more or less the contemporary era. However the family is musical. Her father was a piano teacher. Her husband is an orchestra conductor. Unlike Anna Magdalena, they have two children but both are musical. Though we might assume they are Colombian, there is no evidence of this. The book is located in a city, possibly Bogota and, primarily in an unnamed offshore island, four hours away by ferry.

Ana Magdalena was a virgin when she married Doménico and has been faithful to him ever since. Their marriage is a happy one, with the only issue being their daughter Micaela who wants to be a nun, has a boyfriend and believes the modern nun should not necessarily be a virgin. This causes both parents some concerns and she is even more concerned when she learns that Micaela has had an IUD since she was fifteen.

She had studied literature at university but not quite finished her degree but carries on reading. She likes love stories and then tells us she reads short novels such as The Old Man and the Sea, Lazarillo de Tormes, and The Stranger, which are very much not love stories and, indeed, barely feature any women. Her subsequent reading seems to be entirely books originally written in English such as Dracula, The Day of Triffids, The Martian Chronicles, The Ministry of Fear and A Journal of the Plague Year. Not a single Latin American book.

Her mother had regularly visited an offshore island and had asked to be buried there. Ana Magdalena had not only respected her wishes, she visits the island every year on the anniversary of her mother’s death in August, as the title tells us. While there she spends a night in the oldest, most dilapidated hotel, travelling there in a rundown taxi. She will buy some gladioli – they grow on the island though, on the whole gladioli are not found in Colombia – and places them on her mother’s grave and then gives her mother a rundown of the family news before returning home.

However on this occasion, there is a change. She meets a man in the bar, claiming to be a civil engineer (she has her doubts). It is she who initiates the next step (a step that had never occurred to her in her entire life, not even in dreams) and they end up in bed. When she awakes the next morning, she picks up her book from the bedside table and notices that he has left her twenty dollars. She is so furious that she carries the money with her subsequently, hoping to meet him and throw it in his face.

But this has changed her. Whether it is the brief fling or the twenty dollars, she is not sure but she is different. She is, for the first time, uncomfortable with the other ferry passengers. She takes up smoking again (surreptitiously). She cannot sleep. Her husband notices something is wrong.

The next year she was now worried whether she would meet Mr Twenty Dollar Bill. She did not but she did change taxis and hotels, going more upmarket. When she met another man, it was more complicated as the hotel said that all guests in the hotel after midnight had to register. Fortunately he has a camper van.

And each year is different – different man in particular but other things change, for example what is happening at the cemetery and different hotels. Initially her marriage, however, seems to improve though at times Doménico seems a bit upset and she wonders if he suspects and she has her suspicions about him.

So is this about the old mid-life crisis trope? She is forty-six at the beginning of the book. However her marriage seems reasonably stable and she more or less comes to term with her daughter’s nunnery. Is it about change in general because, as mentioned other things seem to change? Or is it,as I am taking it, just a good story thought up by García Márquez in the evening of his life? It works well, it is clever, it has an unexpected ending. It is somewhat sexist. Would a man feels any pangs of conscience about a casual fling? Would it change his life? Perhaps less so.

First published in 2024 by Vintage Español
First published in English in 2024 by Alfred A. Knopf
Translated by Anne McLean