Requiem with Yellow Butterflies begins, aptly, with a death. Sitting at his office in Brisbane, the author receives news that Gabriel García Márquez has died at his home in Mexico. Across the world, there is a mushrooming of obituaries. Garlands of yellow butterflies are draped from trees and buildings; outside Mexico City’s Palacio de Bellas Artes, paper butterflies rain down like confetti. From Madrid, Elena Poniatowska eulogises: Gabo ‘gave wings to Latin America. And it is this great flight that surrounds us today and makes flowers grow in our heads.’
Gabo’s death is a catalyst for James Halford, in many ways. ‘As I read the memorials from around the world,’ he writes, ‘a spark of curiosity kindled.’ Halford, a diligent reader of García Márquez, begins to unpick the tightly wound threads of ‘mythomania’ that envelop the writer and his magnum opus, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), ‘the great twentieth-century Latin American novel’. The result is the first of fifteen deft chapters that drift seamlessly across the genres of literary essay, travelogue, and personal memoir, opening up new dialogues between Latin America (haunted Mexico; abandoned Paraguay; the humid midriff of Venezuela and Brazil; umbilical Cuzco; ‘eternal’ Buenos Aires), the coastlines and ‘unknown towns’ of Queensland, and the red desert of Australia’s interior.