The first short story I read in Spanish was “La luz es como el agua.” I was in high school and my teacher passed me a photocopy of it. I remember underlining, looking up all the words I didn’t know, learning words like brújula, which made little sense in my landlocked childhood but which, I remember observing, sounded like the word for witch and rhymed with esdrújula.
I remember reading Cien años de soledad in college while abroad in Venezuela. I remember buying El general en su laberinto in a Caracas bookstore. I remember where in the bookstore it was and that it was wrapped, as is so often the case, in plastic. I later wrote an honors thesis about that novel. It was the first time I engaged seriously with some the questions I teach about today: the relationship between literature and history, literature and politics, Latin American intellectual culture and my life.
Over the years I somewhat lost interest in García Márquez. His sentences and paragraphs are too perfect, too resonant and pouring forth: bubbles in the air blown not by children but by some fantastical machine. It’s a dumb reason to lose interest, maybe, but it’s true. Still, I taught “La luz es como el agua” in a class the other day and grew nostalgic for the high school kid who first pored over a dictionary trying to understand that story. And I’m nothing short of delighted to discover, today, this profile of Shakira that he first published in 1999. (I learned lots of Spanish from her CDs also when I was in high school.)