MEXICO CITY — Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez died Thursday at the age of 87.
A prolific writer who started out as a newspaper reporter, Garcia Marquez might be most remembered for One Hundred Years of Solitude, a piece that helped him win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.
Marquez died at his home in Mexico City, where he returned from the hospital last week after battling pneumonia.
Known by friends and fans as “Gabo,” Garcia Marquez was Latin America’s best-known and most beloved author and his works have sold tens of millions of copies.
Although he produced stories, essays and short novels such as Leaf Storm and No One Writes to the Colonel early in his career, he struggled for years to find his voice as a novelist.
He then found it in One Hundred Years of Solitude, an instant success after its publication in 197. Mexican author Carlos Fuentes dubbed it “Latin America’s Don Quixote” and Chilean poet Pablo Neruda also compared it to Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th century tour de force.
One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of seven generations of the Buendia family in the fictional village of Macondo, based on the Colombian coastal town of Macondo where he was born on March 6, 1927, and raised by his maternal grandparents.
In it, 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, swarms of yellow butterflies mark the arrival of a woman’s lover, a child is born with a pig’s tail and a priest levitates above the ground.
It sold over 30 million copies, was published in dozens of languages and helped fuel a boom in Latin American fictions.
Marquez 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.
Marquez in a 1981 interview:
“She told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness. I discovered that what I had to do was believe in than myself, and write them with the same expression with which my grandmother told them: with a brick face.”
Although One Hundred Years of Solitude was his most popular creation, other classics from Garcia Marquez included Autumn of the Patriarch, Love in the Time of Cholera and Chronicle of a Death Foretold.”
Tributes poured in from dignitaries around the world.
U.S. President Barack Obama:
“The world has lost one of its greatest visionary writers — and one of my favorites from the time I was young.”
Colombian pop star Shakira in a statement on her website:
“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.”
In Aractaca, a lone trumpet played on Thursday night as residents held a candlelight vigil for the man who made the town famous.
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.”
His most prolific years coincided with a turbulent period in much of Latin America, where right-wing dictators and Marxist revolutionaries fought for power.
Chaos was often the norm, political violence ripped some countries to shreds and life verged on the surreal. Magical realism struck a chord.
The Swedish Academy when it awarded Marquez the Nobel Prize in 1982:
“In his novels and short stories we are led into this peculiar place where the miraculous and the real converge. The extravagant fight of his own fantasy combined with traditional folk tales and facts, literary allusions and tangible — at times obtusely graphic — descriptions approaching the matter-of-factness of reportage.”
Garcia Marquez admired Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis and was also influenced by esteemed Latin American writers Juan Rulfo and Jorge Luis Borges.
U.S. author William Faulkner inspired Marquez to create “the atmosphere, the decadence, the heat” of Macondo, named after a banana plantation on Aracataca’s outskirts.
Fans will play their last respects to Garcia Marquez on Monday at Mexico City’s Palace of Fine Arts and Marquez will be cremated in a private ceremony.
Political, Literary Feud
Like many of his Latin American colleges, 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.
Castro on Marquez:
“A man of cosmic talent with the generosity of a child, a man for tomorrow. 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 years after setting up the New York branch of Cuba’s official news agency and being accused of funding leftist guerrillas at home.
He once condemned the U.S. war on drugs as “nothing more than an instrument of intervention in Latin America” but Marquez made friends with former U.S. 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.”
Despite his reputation as a left-leaning intellectual, critics say Garcia Marquez didn’t do as much as he could have done to help negotiate an end to Colombia’s long conflict, which has killed tens of thousands of people.
Instead, he left his homeland and went to live in Mexico. The criticism he leveled at his homeland still rings heavily in the ears of some Colombians.
He was also a protagonist in one of literature’s most talked-about feuds with fellow Nobel laureate Peru’s Mario Vargas Llosa.
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 you ask or believe — over politics or Llosa’s wife.
But Vargas Llosa paid tribute to Marquez on Thursday, calling him a “great writer” whose novels would live on.
Political and literary spats aside, Garcia Marquez’s writing pace slowed down in the late 1990s.
A heavy smoker for most of his life, he was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer in 1999, although the disease went into remission after chemotherapy treatment.
None of his latest works achieved the same level of success of his previous works.
One of those, Love in the Time of Cholera, told the story of a 50-year love affair inspired by his parents’ courtship.
It was adapted into a movie in 2007, but many critics were disappointed and said capturing the sensuous romance of Garcia Marquez’s novel had proved too tough a challenge.
Garcia Marquez’s most recent work of fiction, Memories of My Melancholy Whores, got mixed reviews at the time of its 2004 release. The novel is about a 90-year-old man’s obsession with a 14-year-old virgin, a theme that disturbed some readers.
Garcia Marquez is survived by Mercedes Barcha, his wife for over 55 years, and by his two sons, Rodrigo and Gonzalo.