GABO (1927-2014)Saturday, April 19, 2014
García Márquez hailed as literary giant
Praise comes from all over the world for Nobel laureate who became a Latin American icon
MEXICO CITY — His death mourned around the globe, Gabriel García Márquez is being hailed as a giant of modern literature, a writer of intoxicating novels and short stories that illuminated Latin America’s passions, superstition, violence and social inequality.
Widely considered the most popular Spanish-language writer since Miguel de Cervantes in the 17th century, the Colombian-born Nobel laureate achieved literary celebrity that spawned comparisons to Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. He died at his home in Mexico City on Thursday afternoon at age 87.
The writer’s body was cremated yesteday at a private ceremony and his family has decided not to hold a wake. Mexico’s government scheduled a public memorial for Monday in the art deco Palace of Fine Arts in the capital’s historic center.
Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano expressed anguish at the news, saying that “what hurts most is the beautiful words that death has beaten us to and stolen from us.”
Admirers left flowers in front of his house, including white roses sent by Colombian pop star Shakira.
Colombia declared three days of mourning, with flags flying at half-mast, newspapers publishing special editions and folk bands holding impromptu concerts.
In a televised address, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said: “All of Colombia is in mourning because the most admired and cherished compatriot of all time is gone.”
English novelist Ian McEwan said García Márquez’s literary career was “an extraordinary phenomenon,” telling the BBC that he “one would really have to go back to Dickens to find a writer of the very highest literary quality who commanded such extraordinary persuasive powers over whole populations.”
King of sales
His flamboyant and melancholy fictional works — among them Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Love in the Time of Cholera and The Autumn of the Patriarch — outsold everything published in Spanish except the Bible. The epic 1967 novel One Hundred Years of Solitude sold more than 50 million copies in more than 25 languages.
His stories made him literature’s best-known practitioner of magical realism, the fictional blending of the everyday with fantastical elements such as a boy born with a pig’s tail and a man trailed by a cloud of yellow butterflies.
Chilean novelist Isabel Allende grieved for García Márquez on her Facebook page: “My maestro has died. I will not mourn him because I have not lost him: I will continue to read his words over and over.”
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy wrote in a tweet, “Affection and admiration for the essential and universal writer of Spanish literature in the second half of the twentieth century.”
Biographer Gerald Martin told The Associated Press that One Hundred Years of Solitude was the first novel in which “Latin Americans recognized themselves, that defined them, celebrated their passion, their intensity, their spirituality and superstition, their grand propensity for failure.”
Like many Latin American writers, he transcended the world of letters. Widely known as “Gabo,” he became a hero to the left as an early ally of Cuban leader Fidel Castro and a critic of Washington’s violent interventions from Vietnam to Chile.
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Rigoberta Menchú said the writer was a “coherent, committed, progressive person, with a sense of solidarity, and deeply Latin American.”
García Márquez, among writers such as Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe, was also an early practitioner of literary nonfiction now known as New Journalism.
In 1994, he founded the Iberoamerican Foundation for New Journalism.
“The world has lost one of its greatest visionary writers — and one of my favourites from the time I was young,” US President Barack Obama said.
Cuban President Raúl Castro expressed his condolences in a letter sent to García Márquez’s widow, Mercedes Bercha, in which he wrote that “the world, and in particular the people of our America, have lost an intellectual and a an exemplary writer.”
García Márquez was born in Aracataca, a small town near Colombia’s Caribbean coast, on March 6, 1927. He was the eldest of the 11 children of Luisa Santiaga Márquez and Gabriel Elijio García, a telegraphist and a wandering homeopathic pharmacist.
Just after his birth, his parents left him with his maternal grandparents and moved to Barranquilla to open a pharmacy. He spent 10 years with his grandmother and his grandfather, a retired colonel who fought in the devastating 1,000-Day War that hastened Colombia’s loss of the Panamanian isthmus.
His grandparents’ tales provided grist for García Márquez’s fiction and Aracataca became the model for “Macondo,” the village surrounded by banana plantations where One Hundred Years of Solitude is set.
Sent to a state-run boarding school just outside Bogotá, he became a star student and voracious reader, favouring Hemingway, Faulkner, Dostoevsky and Kafka. He published his first piece of fiction as a student in 1947, mailing a short story to the newspaper El Espectador.
His writing was constantly guided by his leftist political views, forged in large part by a 1928 military massacre near Aracataca of banana workers striking against United Fruit Co., which later became Chiquita.
He lived several years in Europe, then returned to Colombia in 1958 to marry Mercedes Barcha, a neighbour from childhood days. They had two sons, Rodrigo, a film director, and Gonzalo, a graphic designer.
After a 1981 run-in with Colombia’s government in which he was accused of sympathizing with M-19 rebels and sending money to a Venezuelan guerrilla group, the writer moved to Mexico City, which was his main home for the rest of his life.
García Márquez famously feuded with Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa, who punched him in a 1976 fight outside a Mexico City movie theater. Neither ever publicly discussed the reason for the altercation.
“A great man has died, one whose works gave the literature of our language great reach and prestige,” Vargas Llosa said Thursday in TV interview, his voice shaking and face hidden by sunglasses and a baseball cap.
Struggling with poverty through much of his adult life, García Márquez was somewhat transformed by his later fame and wealth. A bon vivant with an impish personality, he was a gracious host who animatedly recounted long stories to guests.
García Márquez turned down offers of diplomatic posts and spurned attempts to draft him to run for Colombia’s presidency, though he did get involved in peace mediation efforts between the government and leftist rebels.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a rebel group negotiating peace with the government, said it would seek inspiration from Colonel Aureliano Buendía, a character in One Hundred Years of Solitude.
“With the departure of this magnificent man, we reiterate today that, like Aureliano Buendía, we dream of, and we will make, peace,” the guerrillas said in a statement to AFP.
In 1998, already in his 70s, he fulfilled a lifelong dream by buying a majority interest in the Colombian newsmagazine Cambio with his Nobel prize money. Before falling ill with lymphatic cancer the next year, he contributed prodigiously to the magazine.
Herald with AP, Reuters, AFP, DyN