MEXICO CITY -- The late author Gabriel Garcia Marquez's editor suggested a Don Julio tequila for me, which arrived along with his glass of scotch. I'd called Cristobal Pera for a story that just ran about magic realism and the World Cup, but I had all sorts of personal questions that never had a shot of making the real piece. He laughed when I asked him about getting the call to be the Nobel winner's editor, the last one he'd ever have it turns out.
"What can you do when you're told to edit Garcia Marquez?" he said.
We talked for an hour and a half, a little of it for the story, and a lot of it about things I wanted to know about process. We talked about Faulkner, who Garcia Marquez idolized -- he was rereading "Light in August" on his famous trip back to his old hometown in rural Colombia, which inspired him to write "One Hundred Years of Solitude" -- and Pera told me about the author and his wife taking a bus through Faulkner's south, to see the land so that the words would feel born instead of written. In much the same way, the time I've spent in Latin America over the past six months changes the experience of reading Garcia Marquez. The stories might seem magic in a classroom in America but in their natural habitat, they just seem real. "It fills the gaps of the words," Pera said, "You begin to see how a lot of the stuff he wrote was reality."
He told stories and we laughed and sipped our drinks in the late afternoon, at a table by an open window. When Gabo finished Solitude, he knew he'd written a masterpiece, Pera says, quoting a private letter he keeps at home. The author wrote his then-editor -- decades before Cristobal would enter his life -- and said, "Please don't touch anything."
"I remembered that when I became his editor," Pera said, laughing.
The first book he edited was Garcia Marquez's memoir and Pera made one suggestion.
Gabo heard him out, then replied.
"Leave it like it is," he said.