Gabriel García Márquez Did Not Want His Final Book Published. But Should That Really Be the End of the Story?

When the writer Gabriel García Márquez, the author of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and other classic novels, died 10 years ago, he left behind an unfinished novel, “Until August.” The novel was published this week, unleashing a backlash from scholars, writers and fans who’ve taken exception not with the novel itself, but rather with what they see as an act of betrayal that endangers García Márquez’s legacy.

Before his death, García Márquez asked his sons, Rodrigo García and Gonzalo García Barcha, to destroy the novel. They did not. They could not. I understand.

The life of a work of art does not end when its creator dies. Artists too rarely leave clear instructions on what to do with their works, especially unfinished ones, which can lead to messy legal battles. Even when the instructions are specific, it can put executors in an impossible position. The heirs inherit the responsibility to preserve and promote the artist’s legacy so that it can be appreciated for generations to come.

Imagine being the one to decide whether to destroy the work of an influential artist, who also happens to be your father, and what it’s like to live with the knowledge that people will watch and judge what you do today, while those in the future may lament your actions. The truth is that if García Márquez’s sons had done as their father asked, they would most likely have been met with criticism, too. Honestly, no matter what heirs do, some people will not be pleased.

We all benefit when works by great artists marked for destruction are preserved. That’s why the way García Márquez’s sons have managed their father’s legacy, including the publication of “Until August,” should be praised and perhaps even studied.

It’s likely that by the time García Márquez began working on “Until August” more intensely in 2003, his memory had already begun to fail him. I saw the different versions of the manuscript at the archives. They were disorganized and the writing more hesitant when compared with previous works. Nonetheless, he completed an unpolished full draft the following year. His sons, friends and literary agent tried to help him edit it until his dementia became too advanced. At that point, thinking it was no good, García Márquez asked his sons to destroy it.

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