Mack McCormick’s long-awaited book about the musician Robert Johnson has arrived, in modest and expurgated form.

A black-and-white photograph of Mack McCormick sitting in front of a typewriter in 1970.
The author Mack McCormick in 1970.Credit…Courtesy of Susannah Nix from the Robert “Mack” McCormick Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History

By Dwight Garner

April 17, 2023

BIOGRAPHY OF A PHANTOM: A Robert Johnson Blues Odyssey, by Robert “Mack” McCormick

“There is no tyranny,” Robert Hughes wrote in 1990, “like the tyranny of the unseen masterpiece.” He was talking about painting but his observation also applies to literature. Anatole Broyard and Harold Brodkey are among the sovereign examples — writers who were said, in their time, to be working on epic novels that would flatten the competition. People gave them a wide and fearful berth. Broyard’s never appeared. Brodkey’s (“The Runaway Soul”) arrived after nearly 30 years and was judged to be less than flattening. So it goes.

In the obsessive world of blues scholarship, the tyrannical figure has long been Mack McCormick and the unseen masterpiece his biography of Robert Johnson (1911-38), some five decades in the reporting and writing.

Johnson is a titan of American music, though he died at 27 and recorded only 29 songs. Facts about his life were initially hard to come by, and myth rushed in to fill the void. You know the folk legend: Down at a crossroads, Johnson bartered his soul to the devil for mastery of the blues guitar. When you heard the songs, like “Hellhound on My Trail” and “Cross Road Blues,” the myth wasn’t hard to buy into. It didn’t even seem like a bad trade.

The fever over McCormick’s long-anticipated biography broke a long time ago. His work has been superseded by several well-reported and myth-busting biographies of Johnson, and a memoirby the singer’s stepsister. But seven years after McCormick’s death, at 85, here comes his book, in a modest and expurgated form, under the title “Biography of a Phantom: A Robert Johnson Blues Odyssey.”

Where has it been? Part of the story was explained by John Jeremiah Sullivan in a much-discussed 2014 New York Times Magazine article. Sullivan described how McCormick gathered and hoarded mountains of esoteric knowledge, about Johnson and other vernacular American musicians, and sat on his archive for decades while publishing almost nothing. Other scholars became so frustrated that they began to debate the ethics of forcibly taking the stuff away from him.

McCormick’s story is further explained by John W. Troutman, the editor of “Biography of a Phantom,” in a preface and afterword. The short version: McCormick was a sensitive and painstaking researcher who slowly, over the decades, grew paranoid and came unglued. He never finished his book and prevented others from writing theirs.

Like a carton of cigarettes, “Biography of a Phantom” comes wrapped in advisories. Whether because of mental illness or moral turpitude, McCormick did bad things, it is explained. He’s the guest of dishonor at his own banquet.

He kept enemies lists. He threatened people with physical violence. He lied about nonexistent contracts. He forged documents to throw others off the trail. He treated Johnson’s survivors poorly. He held up reissues of Johnson’s songs, which influenced dozens of rock musicians and permanently altered our sense of American music and culture.

Troutman situates him within the “small group of white male enthusiasts” who “assumed an extraordinarily outsized impact on national, even global conversations about Black music.” Troutman considers the ways that “racism, greed and the instruments of white supremacy in the legal system and corporate structure” play a role in the tangled stories of white scholars and Black musicians.

No doubt all this is true, and these conversations matter. The funny thing about “Biography of a Phantom” is, after you wade through the trigger warnings, how earnest and low-key and appealing McCormick’s manuscript is.

The cover of “Biography of a Phantom,” by Robert “Mack” McCormick, shows a detail from a map in orange and blue.

The book draws from early drafts, written in the 1970s, not long after McCormick had completed his fieldwork. He’d wanted to write it as a kind of thriller, in the manner of Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood,” about his search for the truth about the life and death of a musician who thrilled him. He just about succeeded.

We follow McCormick as he travels down back road after back road in rural Mississippi, knocking on doors, talking in barbershops, hanging out in pool rooms, hitting dead ends, turning his car around. He has little money and eats canned food in cheap hotels. He creates maps, crisscrossed with information, that resemble the evidence boards detectives use.

He is liberal of politics, deploring of racism and excruciatingly aware of himself as an outsider. Many Black people in the rural South think he’s a cop or a debt collector. “Ain’t you the fellow that comes just before trouble breaks?” one man asks. But he is persistent, and charming in his way.

The Robert Johnson we meet in this book remains somewhat blurry and indistinct. He wasn’t a big personality, people tell McCormick. He was soft-spoken; he held people’s attention only when he played.

Johnson grew up in the Mississippi Delta with his mother and stepfather, an illiterate sharecropper. He hated farm work and fled to Memphis whenever he could. Early on he played a drugstore harmonica and a jaw harp, then annoyed older musicians by noodling on their guitars when they weren’t around. He got pretty good.

He was a slender man with tapering fingers. He was said to be shy, but sometimes recklessly bold around women. There was a strong music scene in the Delta and in Memphis, and he thrived in it, playing on street corners and in juke joints. People tend to remember him playing the popular songs of the time, more so than the somber and stabbing work that came to define him.

His legacy is based on two recording sessions, one in San Antonio in 1936 and one in Dallas in 1937. Some of the songs were released as 10-inch, 78-r.p.m. singles. But it wasn’t until their re-release in 1961, under the title “King of the Delta Blues Singers,” that the world took notice. Bob Dylan, Keith Richards and Eric Clapton are among the musicians who have cited Johnson’s lyrics and guitar playing as vital influences.

McCormick is a patient writer about why Johnson’s music matters, how his lyrics “stung the mind” and how his performances made the words linger. “Everything about these records,” McCormick says, “made one curious to know more about the man who’d created them.”

This is a human and humane book, an insightful exploration of the biographer’s craft. McCormick gets tired and lonely. He sighs on his couch and gloomily watches daytime television. He’s perspicacious but also a bit hapless. He reminded me of the wised-up but melancholy narrators of Frederick Exley’s “A Fan’s Notes” and John Kennedy Toole’s “A Confederacy of Dunces.”

Late in “Biography of a Phantom” he begins to get some breaks. He finds a cluster of people who knew Johnson well. There’s a moving scene in which McCormick holds a listening party for friends and neighbors who hadn’t heard Johnson’s songs since his death (probably at the hands of a jealous husband) 30 years earlier. About the party, he writes: “I had to stumble over half of Mississippi, wind up here, get all these people together, and then — maybe for the first time — really listen to Johnson’s music.”

McCormick’s book is no longer unseen, nor is it a masterpiece. But, reading it, you feel as though you’ve met a real writer, one who had a lot going for himself and let it all slip away.

Ray Charles said that singers don’t reach their full potential until 50, because a whole life shows up in the voice. McCormick’s book makes you feel what we lost when Johnson died young.

Ran into John Nichols the other day



You would always run into old friends like John Nichols at Brodsky’s: crédito total, Lisa Issenberg

The Brodsky Bookshop

One of the great bookshops in the southwest, it’s like a fine vino tinto, all hand picked by Rick.  If in Taos drop by, you won’t be disappointed.

John’s latest work just published.


A sad day, Taos best book store closes ~ Taos News



Rick Smith, owner at his favorite place for 28 years. crédito total, rÓbert

Rick Smith still uses a flip phone. But along with a great deal of other things in his life, that’s about to change.

Smith, 71, together with his wife Morris Witten, owns the Brodsky Bookshop, located at 226 Paseo del Pueblo Norte in Taos.

After 28 years of running the browsers’ paradise, cramped with used and new books, he plans to close it and transition to all-online bookselling. That is, unless someone buys the shop and keeps it going.

“That was always my first wish,” said Smith. “I like the idea of turning it over to somebody. Kind of like my wife and I when we took it over.”

Despite the lockdowns and economic hardship brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith said business had not suffered too terribly. His one employee, who worked two days a week, stepped down and now Smith runs the shop by himself.

“It’s a bit of a grind,” he said. “It just seemed like the right time to transition.”

Leon Brodsky

Brodsky Bookshop was founded in 1977 by Leon Brodsky, a large man who wore thick glasses and was said to possess a rapier wit. Everyone called him Lee.

He and his wife and their two teenage daughters were living in Brooklyn, New York, when a trip they had planned to the Swiss Alps got cancelled. A friend recommended they visit Taos instead.

Brodsky fell in love with Northern New Mexico, and soon after moved to Taos. He had been working as a chemical engineer, but always wanted to own a bookstore.

The original shop was established next door to the Taos Inn. After 10 years, Brodsky moved it to 218 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. He ran the shop for another five years from that address, until he died in his sleep due to ongoing health issues. He was 62.

The local author John Nichols later wrote “The Day Lee Brodsky Died,” a story about a man who hikes and hunts and reflects on the beauty and grace of the natural world.

Under new ownership

Smith, his wife and their two sons moved to Taos from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1992. He and Witten were in their ’40s and were looking to make a change. Smith worked in public television at the time. His wife was an historian.

They purchased the bookshop that year from the Brodsky family, and Smith took the lead role in running it while Witten went to work with the Kit Carson Home and Museum.

“Bookshops, they attract a real interesting group of people — they’re thoughtful, they’re curious, they have strong opinions,” said Smith. “From the beginning, we said, ‘customer service–that’s what it’s all about.’”

Brodsky Bookshop became known as a place with rare and bespoke offerings — a shop that hunted down titles to meet the needs of its clientele. In addition to new and used books, Smith sold record albums, movies and assorted ephemera.

“The common comment is like, ‘man, where do you get this stuff?’ Or, ‘I just can’t believe how many good books you have,’” said Smith.

Adapting to Amazon

Starting in 1982, the Taos Poetry Circus brought poets from all over the world to engage in spoken-word performances — the great 20th-century American poet Allen Ginsberg among them. The Brodsky Bookshop served as the main bookseller for the yearly event.

In the early nineties, Taos had nearly a dozen bookstores, including Moby Dickens Bookshop in the John Dunn Shops on historic Bent Street. The town’s literary scene was so vibrant, The Denver Post published an article in its travel section about it.

That all changed with the arrival of the internet — or more specifically, Amazon– in July, 1995.

“Forty percent of our businesses disappeared the first two years,” said Smith. “As employees left, we didn’t replace them. We just became, you know, owner-run.”

Smith turned to special orders, consignment sales and used books to keep the business alive. He had always partnered with the local schools for their book purchases, but that too had dropped off significantly.

Smith also collaborated with SOMOS, the Society of the Muse of the Southwest, a local literary initiative that supports written and spoken-word artists through classes, workshops and events.

“When they have events, they ask me to come in and sell books,” said Smith. “It gives me an opportunity to meet the writers, and in some cases, I leave with signed copies that I can sell.”

All online

All great bookstores have a resident cat and Brodsky Bookshop is no exception.

“Willie’s 9,” said Smith. “He’s named after Willie Stark, the main character in a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel called “All the King’s Men”. That’s my wife’s favorite novel. And one of my favorite novels.”

When the bookshop closes at the end of January, Willie will move in with Smith and Witten.

Smith said he is going to miss the human contact when he transitions to an all-online business. But — like trading his flip phone for a smartphone — it’s time to make a change.

“I’m going to be trying something new, but still doing books,” said Smith. “I’m still talking to SOMOS about continuing to do their events. And maybe I’ll even become their online bookseller. Who knows? I mean, the possibilities, it’s exciting.”


The Library of America has issued a one-volume collection of Portis’s works, including the novels ‘True Grit’ and ‘The Dog of the South’

Review by Elizabeth Nelson

April 13, 2023

(Illustration by Joe Wilson for The Washington Post; based on photos from the estate of Charles M. Portis, LLC and Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock)

An ex-Marine from the Texas panhandle adopts a performing chicken on a long bus ride home from New York. A plain-spoken Methodist girl of 14 exerts pitiless vengeance on the killers of her father in Indian Country. A feckless cabal forms a touchingly ineffectual pseudo-religion that turns out to harbor real cosmic truth. A hard-nosed, narrowly reformed antiques smuggler finds unlikely love in rural Mexico. These are the sorts of things that occur in the singular novels of Charles Portis.

Portis, who died in 2020 at 86, occupies a sui generis place in American letters. A humorist capable of conjuring storm clouds of emotion with a few lithe turns of phrase, an Eisenhower-era traditionalist often lumped in with the counterculture-adjacent New Journalism, and a quintessential spinner of skewed yarns who provided the source material for that most straightforward of American cinematic hero journeys in “True Grit,” Portis was a bit like one of his eccentric, asymmetric characters. A meticulously curated new compendium from the Library of America, which collects his five novels and assorted other works, allows for a fresh opportunity to reckon with his slippery, unsettled legacy.

In one sense, a Library of America edition of Portis’s work is a kind of surprise ending. It’s tempting to point out the disjunction between the author’s fundamental outsider stance and his postmortem embrace by the institutional intelligentsia. With great subversiveness, Portis consistently abjured America’s postwar fetishes for progress, social mobility and affluence. He absorbed the growing cosmopolitan world with a shrug and a smirk. The DNA of both small-c conservatism and New Deal-era egalitarianism is a regular feature of his work, and arguably its major theme is a rejection of modern hierarchies of wealth and stature.

Like the protagonist of his first novel, “Norwood (1966), Portis served in the Marines, achieving the rank of sergeant and seeing combat in the Korean War. He then navigated an ambitious path to the uppermost ranks of journalism, parlaying regional reporting jobs at the Arkansas Gazette and the Memphis Commercial Appeal into a four-year stint at the New York Herald Tribune, where he eventually headed up the London bureau in the early ’60s. This was rarefied air for a 31-year-old newsman, but it didn’t suit him, and in 1964 he quit journalism and returned to Arkansas to become a novelist. This commenced a pattern in both his life and his work of eschewing overt demonstrations of upward mobility. He regarded the dawning age of mass consumption and self-fascination with considerable circumspection.

Luckily, he was an even better novelist than he was a journalist. “Norwood” is a brief but compelling introduction to the offbeat and exciting prose style Portis would develop as a fiction writer. Mirroring his journalism training, there is an emphasis on economy of language: Slender, at 190 pages, it possesses the character of a well-written travel feature. But what a weird feature! Norwood Pratt is an earnest gas station employee who gets wrapped up in a roustabout grifter’s web. Induced to fence some stolen cars by driving them east, Norwood quickly loses interest in his central journey, collects an old debt, garners a girlfriend and eventually beats the instigating grifter half to death when he is threatened with repercussions for his apostasy. It’s easy to see why the Coen brothers — avowed Portis fans who adapted his second novel, “True Grit,” in 2010 — have cited him repeatedly as a central influence. These are American stock characters and stereotypes stood on their head. “Norwood” is a Southern Gothic version of “On the Road,” only funnier and with better manners.

Charles Portis. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

“True Grit” was life-changing in ways Portis couldn’t have anticipated. An addictive tour de force told through the inimitable voice of Mattie Ross, who recounts the time when she was a justice-obsessed 14-year-old, it’s a gut-busting, pitch-black comedy that is one part Shakespearean revenge fantasy and one part demystification of Old West mythos. Mattie’s for-hire lawman/assassin, Rooster Cogburn, is much closer to a hair-trigger Falstaff than the resolute Manifest Destiny hero John Wayne depicted in Henry Hathaway’s 1969 film adaptation. That Oscar-winning version of “True Grit” placed Portis in a precarious position of industry notoriety that he was arguably never fully able to navigate. Never forthcoming about matters of biography — he had steadfastly refused to supply a standard author’s photo for the release of “Norwood” — Portis now faced a paradox: The success of Wayne and Hathaway’s movie essentially told the general public the least-relevant information about his work. He contributed a couple of low-stakes sequel scripts but was otherwise quiet until “The Dog of the South” was published in 1979.

One of the funniest and strangest novels published in the English language, “The Dog of the South” follows the endearingly credulous and well-meaning Arkansan Ray Midge on a dizzying journey to track down his rival Guy Dupree, who has stolen both Midge’s wife and his Ford Torino. (An important early detail is that Midge is somewhat more concerned about the car than the wife.) The ensuing travelogue verges on the psychedelic, and is both literally and metaphorically hijacked by one of the most indelible characters in American literature, Dr. Reo Symes, a destitute, 300-pound once-practicing physician turned full-time con man, whose long-winded monologues on subjects from sales tips to literature go laugh-for-laugh with the funniest of Mark Twain. When Midge finally confronts the desiccated, drug-addled Dupree and says, “We are weaker than our fathers,” it’s one part ribbing of the counterculture and one part reflection of Portis’s fundamental skepticism about the wheels of progress. Like the ancient Greeks, he strongly suspected that human matters were not improving.

(Library of America)

Squinted at one way, “Masters of Atlantis” (1985) could almost be interpreted as a parody of novels by Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon, with its misfit group of consummate outsiders obsessed with secret societies, unbreakable codes and their quasi-cosmic implications. It’s the story of the turnip-rube World War I veteran Lamar Jimmerson, who is conned into buying a “sacred text” on his way home from Europe and then proceeds to affably and mostly ineffectually try to parlay possession of the artifact into a following on the home front. The story lurches ahead in a series of unforgettably hilarious set pieces that never seem to produce any deeper consequences. Then, depending on your reading, the very meaning of life suddenly takes center stage.




References to Genji in Japanese art are one measure of its resonance over time. Here, a detail of “Murasaki Shikibu Gazing at the Moon,” a scroll by Mitsuoki Tosa held by Ishiyamadera Temple. 

Credit…Tosa Mitsuoki/Ishiyamadera Temple

By Motoko Rich

  • April 15, 2023

TOKYO — Perhaps it was the fact that my daughter was in her final year of high school while I was reading “The Tale of Genji,” a 1,300-page tome written more than 1,000 years ago by a lady-in-waiting at the court of a Japanese emperor. But when I reached a pivotal scene, a few lines of poetry nearly undid me.

Hikaru Genji, the titular hero, had asked one of his many wives to give up their daughter to be raised at court by another woman. As the little girl’s mother, Lady Akashi, watched the toddler climb into a carriage waiting to spirit her away, she recited a classical waka poem:

Its future lies in the far off distance
This pine seedling being taken from me
When will I see it spread its splendid shade

“Shedding tears,” I read, “she could say no more.”

In those lines, I foresaw my own grief. Soon I would be saying goodbye to a daughter, too, when we would leave her at a university thousands of miles away.

I had picked up “Genji Monogatari,” as it is known in Japanese, out of professional interest. As the Tokyo bureau chief for The New York Times, it felt like a gap in my knowledge never to have read the work by Murasaki Shikibu that is often described as the world’s first novel and a touchstone of Japanese literary history.

A centuries-old illustration drawn from “The Tale of Genji” showing court life, with some people talking in an enclosed area and others outside.
The book, set during the classical Heian period of the 11th century, takes place among elite courtiers, with their mysterious rituals, monarchal codes and allusive poetry.Credit…Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of the Hofer Collection of the Arts of Asia

In Japan, “The Tale of Genji” has maintained an unwavering grip on the culture. Passages are taught to most schoolchildren. It has been subjected to countless translations, interpretations and adaptations across seemingly every possible art form: paintings, Noh plays, dance, film, television drama, manga, anime, even a rom-com.

When I first opened its pages, I was reading for edification. I expected to feel distance from the medieval text. After all, the book is set among the courtly elites of the classical Heian period of the 11th century, with their mysterious rituals, monarchal codes and allusive poetry.

Instead, I found common ground not only with my personal experience but with my reporting over six years as a correspondent in Japan. The more I read, the more this ancient work made me think about how gender and power dynamics have echoed across the centuries in Japan.

The narrative is structured around the life of Genji, who is the son of an emperor and his favorite consort. From the time Genji is barely a teenager, he cavorts across the region now known as Kyoto, hopping from one woman to another as he breezes through affairs and takes on multiple wives. Although he amasses great influence, he never ascends the throne to the pinnacle of power.

A painting mostly in white showing a boat with a man and a woman lying inside.
The narrative tells the life of Genji, the son of an emperor. But the author often centers female perspectives, with an eye to how women steer the hero’s fate.Credit…Osaragi Jiro Memorial Museum

There are epic plot twists. Genji has to conceal the paternity of one of his sons, because the boy is the product of Genji’s affair with one of his father’s consorts. (The secret weighs heavily when that boy goes on to become emperor.) One of Genji’s consorts transforms into a jealous spirit who takes possession of one of his other wives, in a spine-chilling scene that prefigures the horror genre. Genji is sent into exile on a remote island after he has sex with a consort of the emperor.

Through it all, the author (a woman! writing more than 1,000 years ago!) continuously centers female perspectives in a work that ostensibly chronicles the escapades of a male hero.

From its opening line, “The Tale of Genji” signals its author’s focus on how women steer the fate of the hero. We are introduced to Genji’s mother, “a woman of rather undistinguished lineage” who has “captured the heart of the emperor and enjoyed his favor above all the other imperial wives and concubines.”

While she may have the emperor’s heart, she is “despised and reviled” by the emperor’s other wives, most prominently the mother of the crown prince and heir to the throne. When Genji is born, “a pure radiant gem like nothing of this world,” he immediately unsettles the political order of the court.


The Essential Gabriel García Márquez ~ NYT


By Miguel Salazar

  • April 7, 2023

Leer en español

Gabito came into the world lathered in cod-liver oil, his parents claimed, with two brains and the memory of an elephant. He was born in Aracataca, Colombia, in 1927, though he often insisted on 1928, in a nod to Colombian history: That was the year of a notorious massacre of striking banana plantation workers on his beloved Caribbean coast. The episode was perhaps, he once said, his earliest memory.

So begins the mythology of Gabriel García Márquez, the magus of magical realism, a Nobel laureate who blended truth and fiction to fit the outsize reality of Latin American life. The breadth of his work was just as capacious. His catalog — at least 24 books, including novels, novellas, story collections and works of nonfiction — runs the gamut from high-octane crime writing and romances to political commentary and historical fiction. If you have a heartbeat, there is something for you.

The main attraction, though, is his fiction. In an appraisal published after his death, the New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani described García Márquez’s universe as “a febrile dream in which love and suffering and redemption endlessly cycle back on themselves on a Möbius strip in time.” Delivering the human condition as though it were gospel, he distilled cosmic wisdom into a single line with the flick of his wrist. Nearly all his fiction was rooted in his life experience — his mother liked to remark that it was written in code and she carried the key — and drew recurring themes from his obsession with love, memory, absolute power and a search for collective identity.

His life was not without controversy. His friendship with Fidel Castro stoked the ire of the F.B.I. and swaths of the left distrusted his intentions. The Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa, a onetime friend and eternal literary rival, sucker punched him for sticking his nose — and maybe something else — into Vargas Llosa’s crumbling marriage. By the 1990s, García Márquez was no longer safe in his own country, and navigated the streets of Colombia in a Lancia Thema with bulletproof windows and a bombproof chassis. He eventually decamped for Mexico City, where he died in 2014.

Yet he remains a mammoth presence in Latin American literature, serving as a litmus test in the region — new generations of writers either pay him tribute or define themselves against his influence. His books sell so well that even the pirated copies still circulate widely, disseminating his trademark wit and wry, earthy humor with uneven margins and blotched text.

Are you ready? Time to enter the labyrinth.

A book cover for “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” which notes that García Márquez received the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature, and features an illustration of a couple embracing as the sun sets in the background. Lush rainforest vegetation surrounds the pair.

I want to start with his greatest work.

I respect your ambition. Gabo would, too. There is only one right answer, and it’s One Hundred Years of Solitude” (1967). He always had grand plans for this book, which touches on the main themes he would go on to develop across the rest of his work. It is a history of his hometown, in coastal Colombia, and of the Caribbean, where the Spanish were first defeated and where the project of Latin America began. It is Gabriel García Márquez at his essence.

The novel tells the story of the mythical Buendía clan, led by José Arcadio Buendía, and the town of Macondo, an allegory for García Márquez’s birthplace and Latin America at large. Published on the eve of an epoch of terror and repression across South America, it is an unmistakable parable of imperialism: There are natural catastrophes, civil wars, plagues of insomnia. Macondo survives one disaster after another — including a fictionalized version of the 1928 banana massacre — until the town is finally obliterated by a hurricane, as prophesied in a manuscript that is finally deciphered by the last Buendía descendant.

It took García Márquez only 18 months to write “Solitude,” though he spent nearly two decades mulling the story in his head. While reading proofs of his novella “Leaf Storm” — an early testing ground for Macondo and its characters — he remarked to his brother, “This is good, but I’m going to write something that people will read more than the Quixote.” He wasn’t far off.

A book cover for “Love in the Time of Cholera.” There’s a silhouetted photograph  in the center, featuring a man in a long-billed hat. A vaguely floral pattern borders the photo.

I’m a helpless romantic.

Florentino Ariza has been there.

It’s the 1930s. Fifty-one years, nine months and four days have passed since the love of his life, the beauty Fermina Daza, rebuffed him for a wealthy doctor. But when his rival dies in a sudden and absurd fashion (while trying to chase a parrot up a mango tree), Florentino is back in the game.

So begins Love in the Time of Cholera” (1985), in which, as the novelist Thomas Pynchon wrote in his review for The Times, “the heart’s eternal vow has run up against the world’s finite terms.” We are taken back to the late 1800s, to the beginning of a cholera outbreak that will overrun this fictional Caribbean city over the next half-century. Along the way, we witness the courtship and blossoming love between Florentino and Fermina unfold through letters and telegrams until it is put to an abrupt end by her father, who matches her with the irresistible Dr. Juvenal Urbino. A poet doomed to the lifelong pursuit of love, Florentino bides his time, waiting for his moment while working as a telegraph operator and engaging in 622 “long-term liaisons” while retaining his fidelity to his one true love.

García Márquez found inspiration close to home. His father, Gabriel Eligio García, was a practiced seducer fluent in poetry and love songs, who courted Luisa Santiaga during his time off from the public telegraph office, much to the ire of her family. It’s as if García Márquez turned their story on its head and simply reported on it from there.

The book cover for “Strange Pilgrims,” which features a person in tucked bed, looking alarmed.

I need to stop doom-scrolling.

Put down your phone and pick up these snappy, self-assured stories. You can work on repairing your attention span later.

The selections in Strange Pilgrims” (1992) serve as a fun house and an appendix to the García Márquez oeuvre. A clairvoyant slowly usurps the estate of a distinguished Viennese family by selling them her dreams. A poor Caribbean couple in Paris take pity on their deposed president when they find him living in poverty and exile. A woman is mistakenly admitted into an asylum when her car breaks down in Spain’s Monegros desert and her husband, a struggling cabaret magician, abandons her there in retribution for imagined infidelity. There are astrological quips and brutal burns: Having a Pisces sun or rising sign is no excuse for stupidity, we’re told; in Naples, even God goes on vacation in August; and a group of several Englishmen on vacation are described as “one man repeated many times in a hall of mirrors.”

All these stories follow Latin Americans in Europe, animated by García Márquez’s preoccupation with the history, identity and fate of his region.

The book cover for “The General in His Labyrinth” is an illustration of a peaceful scene, looking out through a grove of palm trees onto a moonlit river.





Greene attempted to speak in a park outside the courthouse in downtown Manhattan. She was jostled and drowned out by whistles blown by counter-protesters.

“It was absolute chaos,” she told Tucker Carlson on Wednesday. “And that’s what the mayor of New York City wanted to happen to me.”


After a decade-long investigation, a team of forensic experts issued their final report on the exhumed remains of the acclaimed Chilean poet. Here’s why there are so many questions around his death.

The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda during a visit to New York in 1966.
The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda during a visit to New York in 1966.Credit…The New York Times

By Flávia Milhorance

Feb. 15, 2023

Fifty years on, the true cause of death of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, in the wake of the country’s 1973 coup d’état, has remained in doubt across the world.

The Nobel laureate was not only one of the world’s most celebrated poets but also one of Chile’s most influential political activists. An outspoken communist, he supported Salvador Allende, Chile’s leftist president from 1970 to 1973, and worked in his administration.

Mr. Neruda’s death in a private clinic just weeks after the coup was determined to be the result of cancer, but the timing and the circumstances have long raised doubts about whether his death was something more nefarious.

On Wednesday, The New York Times reviewed the summary of findings compiled by international forensic experts who had examined Mr. Neruda’s exhumed remains and identified bacteria that can be deadly. In a one-page summary of their report, shared with The New York Times, the scientists confirmed that the bacteria was in his body when he died, but said they could not distinguish whether it was a toxic strain of the bacteria nor whether he was injected with it or instead ate contaminated food.

The findings once again leave open the question of whether Mr. Neruda was murdered.

Mr. Neruda in Paris in 1971.
Mr. Neruda in Paris in 1971.Credit…Michel Lipchitz/Associated Press

Who was Pablo Neruda?

Mr. Neruda was a Chilean lawmaker, diplomat and Nobel laureate poet. He was regarded as one of Latin America’s greatest poets and was the leading spokesman for Chile’s leftist movement until the ascendancy of a socialist president, Mr. Allende, in 1970.

Born July 12, 1904, he grew up in Parral, a small agricultural community in southern Chile. His mother, a schoolteacher, died shortly after he was born; his father was a railway employee who did not support his literary aspirations. Despite that, Mr. Neruda started writing poetry at the age of 13.

During his lifetime, Mr. Neruda occupied several diplomatic positions in countries including Argentina, Mexico, Spain and France. To the end of his life, he was as engaged in political activism as in poetry.

Mr. Neruda died in a clinic in Santiago, Chile’s capital, at the age of 69. His death came less than two weeks after that of his friend and political ally, Mr. Allende, who died by suicide to avoid surrendering to the military after his government was toppled in September 1973.

Mr. Neruda in 1941, recovering from injuries that police said were inflicted on him by a group of German nationals in Mexico City.
Mr. Neruda in 1941, recovering from injuries that police said were inflicted on him by a group of German nationals in Mexico City.Credit…Associated Press

How was he as a political figure?

During his time in Barcelona as a diplomat, Mr. Neruda’s experience of the Spanish Civil War pushed him into a more engaged political stance. “Since then,” he later wrote, “I have been convinced that it is the poet’s duty to take his stand.”

The diplomat lost his post because of his support of the Spanish Republic, which was dissolved after surrendering to the Nationalists of Gen. Francisco Franco. He also lobbied to save more than 2,000 refugees displaced by Mr. Franco’s dictatorship.

Mr. Neruda, a lifelong member of the Communist Party, served only one term in office. As a senator, he was critical of the government of President Gabriel González Videla, who ruled Chile from 1946 to 1952, which led Mr. Neruda into forced exile for four years.

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