|Gabriel Garcia Marquez listens to a speech during the New Journalism Prize awards ceremony at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Monterrey, Mexico, on October 2, 2007. (Reuters)
His works have outsold everything in the Spanish language except for The Bible. His literary flair has drawn comparisons with Mark Twain and Charles Dickens.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who wrote his masterpiece Cien anos de soledad in 1967 and won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1982, will always be known affectionately as “Gabo” among his fellow Latinos.
His novels are at the heart of the genre of magic realism, in which the real and the surreal blend effortlessly, and fantastical events are presented in a straightforward, often matter-of-fact manner.
In his novels and stories, storms rage for years, flowers drift from the skies, tyrants survive for centuries, priests levitate and corpses fail to decompose. And, more plausibly, lovers rekindle their passion after a half-century apart.
In his 1982 Nobel Prize lecture, he described how truth and fantasy were inextricable from South American history, citing a Mexican dictator who held a magnificent funeral for a leg lost in war, an Ecuadorian ruler whose corpse was seated on the presidential chair after his death, and an El Salvador despot who had street lamps draped in red paper to beat a scarlet fever epidemic.
|Gabriel Garcia Marquez comes out of his house in Mexico City on his 87th birthday, March 6, 2014. (AFP)
This troubled political history was an inspiration to Garcia Marquez, as were the accomplishments and eccentricities of his own family, beginning with the figure of the colonel, his grandfather Nicolas Ricardo Marquez Mejia, who was a veteran of the Civil War at the beginning of the 20th century.
The party hatreds he writes of in his masterpiece Cien anos de soledad, published in English as One Hundred Years of Solitude in 1970, are real and enduring enough.
Macondo, the little town that is the setting for the novel (and much of the rest of his fiction) was based on the small coastal town of Aracataca in northern Colombia, where Garcia Marquez was born in 1927, and which he described as “a hot, dusty, and violent town”.
“The weekends were a permanent fiesta when we virtually locked ourselves in the house. On Monday there were corpses and wounded people lying in the streets.”
He grew up in his grandmother’s wooden house, with its corrugated iron roof. It was a dwelling dominated by superstition, omens and portents, which flowed from the imagination of his grandmother, Dona Tranquilina Iguaran — a woman “who treated the extraordinary as perfectly normal”.
It was haven to a constantly shifting population of family and visitors: “My grandfather had about 17 sons scattered all over the place, whom he had fathered in the Civil War, and they all kept coming home, riding mules and going to sleep in hammocks.”
This grandfather, regarded by Colombian liberals as a hero of the Thousand Days War of 1899-1902, was the source of a procession of stories that Garcia Marquez was to describe as his “umbilical cord with history and reality”.
To the young Gabo, he was “Papalelo”, and his stories would shape many of Garcia Marquez’s political views.
His grandfather died when he was eight and he left Aracataca to move into his parents’ house. He soon gained a scholarship to a boarding school near Bogota, where he was known as a storyteller.
He went to the universities of Bogota and Cartagena and began publishing stories in newspapers in 1946, though his first novella, La hojarasca (Leaf Storm), was not published until 1955.
While a law student at Bogota he met his future wife, Mercedes Barcha Pardo, who agreed to marry him though she was still at school. They wed in 1958 and had two sons: Rodrigo, who became a television and film director, and Gonzalo, who became a graphic designer.
Garcia Marquez abandoned law in 1950 to earn his living as a journalist, first in the Colombian seaport of Barranquilla, where he lived in a brothel. It was there, as part of a literary circle, that he began to read Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf.
He first came into conflict with the Colombian government when he exposed a tale of national heroism as a piece of propaganda. In 1955, the crew of a Colombian destroyer had been swept away in a storm and the sole survivor, who had clung to a life raft for 10 days, had been widely feted.
However, he revealed to Garcia Marquez that the ship had been carrying a badly stowed cargo of contraband goods that had broken loose on deck. The story of the storm was entirely fictitious.
The real storm came when Garcia Marquez published the truth. The magazine for which he was working, El Espectador, then sent him to Europe. Soon afterwards he embarked on a tour of the Soviet Union.
However, he did not feel himself to be mentally at home there. His socialist views, his friendship with Fidel Castro and his practical support for human rights causes in Latin America kept him in exile from his native country for much of his career.
But after the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude, he moved with his family to Barcelona, where he lived during the last few years of the Franco regime in Spain. After Franco’s death, he moved to Mexico City.
Garcia Marquez considered his literary ancestors to be Sophocles, William Faulkner (“my master”), Franz Kafka and his own grandfather. But like so many other Latin American novelists of his generation, he owed a particular debt to Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, the first to unite the experience of being a Latin American to the central tradition of European literature.
His most momentous literary inspiration came from reading Borges’s translation of Kafka’s Metamorphosis.
“I didn’t know that anyone was allowed to write things like that,” he said. “That’s how my grandmother used to tell stories, the wildest things with a completely natural tone of voice.”
The early stories, several of which are included in Innocent Erendira (1978), are macabre, surrealist pieces, chiefly concerned with mortality and physical decay. But the novella El coronel no tiene quien la escriba (1961), translated as No One Writes to the Colonel (1971), is an earthily realistic picture of a small town (already called Macondo), seen from the point of view of a long-retired veteran of the Civil War whose promised pension never arrives and whose son is shot for clandestine opposition to the government.
It was followed by La mala hora (1962), and In Evil Hour (1980), a longer and fuller account of the same town, in which the political element becomes central. Then, in 1965, he was struck with a sudden inspiration of how he might write the “big” novel he had been planning for years.
He was said literally to have turned his car around, driven straight home and written relentlessly for 18 months. Cien anos de soledad was published in June 1967, with the first 8,000 copies selling in a week. Half a million sold in three years. None of his previous books had sold more than 700 copies.
Garcia Marquez claimed that the key to his success was telling the story, complete with its supernatural happenings, just as his grandmother would have done, with unblinking conviction and “a brick face”.Written with the irresistible energy and poetic exuberance of a born storyteller in the oral tradition, the novel is at once a compendium of Latin American folk tales and superstitions, the history of a South American state, a family saga and the portrait of a people.
A national epic and now a world classic, it became one of the foundation stones of the Latin American fiction, alongside works by his friend Carlos Fuentes and his biographer Mario Vargas Llosa, but it is also perhaps the most famous example of the literary genre named magic realism.
Garcia Marquez made no claim to have invented magic realism; he pointed out that elements of it had appeared before in Latin American literature. But no one before him had used the style with such artistry, exuberance and power.
Magic realism — in essence fantastic, surreal and magical experience presented through the matter-of-fact eye and in the matter-of-fact prose of daily life — would soon inspire writers on both sides of the Atlantic, most notably Isabel Allende in Chile and Salman Rushdie in Britain.
His books were translated into dozens of languages. He was among a select roster of canonical writers — Dickens, Tolstoy and Hemingway among them — who were embraced both by critics and by a mass audience.
“Each new work of his is received by expectant critics and readers as an event of world importance,” the Swedish Academy of Letters said in awarding him the Nobel.
Garcia Marquez was also a protagonist in one of literature’s most talked-about feuds with fellow Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa of Peru.
The writers, who were once friends, stopped speaking to each other after a day in 1976 when Vargas Llosa gave Garcia Marquez a black eye in a dispute — depending on who one believes — over politics or Vargas Llosa’s wife.
But Vargas Llosa paid tribute to Garcia Marquez yesterday, calling him a “great writer” whose novels would live on.
For all the dazzling delights of Garcia Marquez’s technique, there is little place in his fiction for explanation, cause and effect, reflection or responsibility. It is apparently a world without a moral intent, and yet one of the purposes of his writing was to expose the capricious cruelty of South America’s amoral regimes.
Patriarchs and poets
As Garcia Marquez said in his Nobel lecture: “The country that could be formed of all the exiles and forced emigrants of Latin America would have a population larger than that of Norway. I dare to think that it is this outsized reality, and not just its literary expression, that has deserved the attention of the Swedish Academy of Letters.
“Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, we have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable.”
El Otono del Patriarca (1975), translated as The Autumn of the Patriarch (1977), took the theme of extravagance and destruction back to one of its prime causes, the quintessential Latin American military dictator in his capital city.
In different lights the patriarch looks like Peron of Argentina, Duvalier of Haiti or Trujillo of Cuba, but in others he resembles a demented Roman emperor, as when at the annual banquet of his presidential guard he has their treacherous chief served up “on a silver tray stretched out full length on a garnish of cauliflower and laurel leaves, steeped with spices, oven brown... and when every plate held an equal portion of minister of defence stuffed with pine nuts and aromatic herbs, he gave the order to begin”.
Garcia Marquez supported social, and socialist, and hum anitarian causes throughout South America, and he helped to found the human rights group Habeas. Despite his old friendship with Castro, who is said to have helped to edit one of his books, he also wrote a critical study of the Cuban regime.
In 1982 appeared the translation, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, of his novel Cronica de Una Muerte Anunciada, which had been published in 1981. With a plot that moved backwards from the revelation of the murder (and identification of the murderer) of a friend of the fictional narrator, it was a narrative that gradually unfolded details of motive and explored the notion of murder as punishment for the violation of honour.
Garcia Marquez’s next, indisputably major, novel, El Amor en los Tiempos del Colera, was published in 1984. It appeared in English as Love in the Time of Cholera in 1988. Based on the long courtship of the author’s parents, disguised in the novel as Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, and asking questions about the delusional nature of unrequited love sustained over an apparently impossibly long period, it was hailed on publication as his best book since Solitude.
Shortly after this he was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer. Chemotherapy in a hospital in Los Angeles sent the illness into remission, but the experience prompted him to begin writing his memoirs. The first volume of what was intended as a trilogy, Vivir para contarla (2002) appeared in English as Living to Tell the Tale in the following year.
The short novel Memoria de mis putas tristes (2002), translated as Memories of My Melancholy Whores (2004), did not perhaps add to his reputation. The story of a sexual relationship between an ageing journalist and a working-class child, who sells her virginity to help her family, it left some of Garcia Marquez’s admirers wondering whether their author was not perhaps treading the borders of middlebrow wish-fulfilling sensationalism.
Thereafter Garcia Marquez repeatedly declared that he was “finished with writing” although in October 2010 it was announced that he was completing a new novel, En agosto nos vemos (We’ll Meet in August).
Garcia Marquez had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease since 2012. He is survived by his wife and two sons.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, author, was born on March 6, 1927. He died on April 17, 2014, aged 87.
A CLOSE FRIEND
|Fidel Castro with Garcia Marquez
in 2000. (AFP)
Like many Latin American
intellectuals and artists, Garcia Marquez felt impelled to speak out on the political issues of his day. He viewed the world from a Left-wing
perspective, bitterly opposing Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the right-wing Chilean dictator, and unswervingly supporting Fidel Castro in Cuba. Castro became such a close friend that Garcia Marquez showed him drafts of his unpublished books. Garcia Marquez on Castro: “A man of austere habits and insatiable
illusions, with an old-fashioned
formal education of cautious
words and subdued tones, and
incapable of conceiving any
idea that is not colossal.”
A replica of the bedroom of Garcia Marquez is
seen in Aracataca, Colombia. Garcia Marquez was born in Aracataca, a small
town near Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Much
of his fiction unfolds in
or near Macondo, a
mythical village that draws heavily on Aracataca, just as William Faulkner, whom he admired, invented Yoknapatawpha County
as the Mississippi setting for some of his novels. (Reuters picture)
journey with mercedes
Garcia Marquez sticks out his tongue to photographers upon his arrival
on a train to Aracataca, his hometown in northeastern Colombia,
with his wife
May 30, 2007.
This was his
first visit to
in 25 years. (AP)