December 21, 2014
Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez dies at 87
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Colombian author whose beguiling stories of love and longing brought Latin America to life for millions of readers and put magical realism on the literary map, died today. He was 87.
A prolific writer who started out as a newspaper reporter, Garcia Marquez's masterpiece was "One Hundred Years of Solitude," a dream-like, dynastic epic that helped him win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.
Garcia Marquez died at his home in Mexico City. He had returned home from hospital last week after a bout of pneumonia.
Known affectionately to friends and fans as "Gabo," Garcia Marquez was Latin America's best-known and most beloved author and his books have sold in the tens of millions.
Although he produced stories, essays and several short novels such as "Leaf Storm" and "No One Writes to the Colonel" in the 1950s and early 1960s, he struggled for years to find his voice as a novelist.
But he then found it in dramatic fashion with "One Hundred Years of Solitude," an instant success on publication in 1967 that was dubbed "Latin America's Don Quixote" by late Mexican author Carlos Fuentes.
It tells the story of seven generations of the Buendia family in the fictional village of Macondo, based on the languid town of Aracataca close to Colombia's Caribbean coast where Garcia Marquez was born on March 6, 1927, and raised by his maternal grandparents.
In the novel, Garcia Marquez combines miraculous and supernatural events with the details of everyday life and the political realities of Latin America. The characters are visited by ghosts, a plague of insomnia envelops Macondo, a child is born with a pig's tail and a priest levitates above the ground.
At times comical and bawdy, and at others tragic, it sold over 30 million copies, was published in dozens of languages and helped fuel a boom in Latin American fiction.
Garcia Marquez, a stocky man with a quick smile, thick mustache and curly hair, said he found inspiration for the novel by drawing on childhood memories of his grandmother's stories - laced with folklore and superstition but delivered with the straightest of faces.
"She told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness," he said in a 1981 interview. "I discovered that what I had to do was believe in them myself, and write them with the same expression with which my grandmother told them: with a brick face."
Tributes poured in following his death.
"The world has lost one of its greatest visionary writers - and one of my favorites from the time I was young," said US President Barack Obama.
"Your life, dear Gabo, will be remembered by all of us as a unique and singular gift, and as the most original story of all," Colombian pop star Shakira wrote on her website alongside a photograph of her hugging Garcia Marquez.
MAGIC AND REALITY
Garcia Marquez was one of the prime exponents of magical realism, a genre he described as embodying "myth, magic and other extraordinary phenomena."
It was a turbulent period in much of Latin America, when chaos was often the norm and reality verged on the surreal, and magical realism struck a chord.
"In his novels and short stories we are led into this peculiar place where the miraculous and the real converge. The extravagant flight of his own fantasy combines with traditional folk tales and facts, literary allusions and tangible - at times obtrusively graphic - descriptions approaching the matter-of-factness of reportage," the Swedish Academy said when it awarded Garcia Marquez the Nobel Prize in 1982.
He admired Franz Kafka's "Metamorphosis" and was also influenced by esteemed Latin American writers Juan Rulfo of Mexico and Argentina's Jorge Luis Borges.
US author William Faulkner inspired Garcia Marquez to create "the atmosphere, the decadence, the heat" of Macondo, named after a banana plantation on the outskirts of Aracataca.
"This word had attracted my attention ever since the first trips I had made with my grandfather, but I discovered only as an adult that I liked its poetic resonance," he wrote in his memoirs, "Living to Tell the Tale."
POLITICS, LITERARY FEUD
Like many of his Latin American literary contemporaries, Garcia Marquez became increasingly involved in politics and flirted with communism.
He spent time in post-revolution Cuba and developed a close friendship with communist leader Fidel Castro, to whom he sent drafts of his books.
"A man of cosmic talent with the generosity of a child, a man for tomorrow," Castro once wrote of his friend. "His literature is authentic proof of his sensibility and the fact that he will never give up his origins, his Latin American inspiration and loyalty to the truth."
The United States banned Garcia Marquez from visiting for a decade after he set up the New York branch of communist Cuba's official news agency and was accused of funding leftist guerrillas at home.
He once condemned the US war on drugs as "nothing more than an instrument of intervention in Latin America" but became friends with former US President Bill Clinton.
"He captured the pain and joy of our common humanity in settings both real and magical. I was honored to be his friend and to know his great heart and brilliant mind for more than 20 years," Clinton said earlier today.
When he was working, Garcia Marquez would wake up before dawn every day, read a book, skim through the newspapers and then write for four hours. His wife would put a yellow rose on his desk.
His last public appearance was on his 87th birthday when he came out from his Mexico City home to smile and wave at well-wishers, a yellow rose in the lapel of his gray suit.
Garcia Marquez is survived by Mercedes Barcha, his wife of more than 55 years, and by two sons, Rodrigo and Gonzalo.