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||Gabriel García Márquez (1928-2014)|
Latin-American journalist, novelist and short story writer, a central figure in the so-called Magic Realism movement. The term was first used in the 1920s Germany to describe some contemporary painters, whose works expressed surrealistic visions. In the late 1940s, Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier started to speak of "lo real maravilloso" (marvelous reality). Carpentier recognized the tendency of Latin-American writers to combine fantasy elements and mythology with otherwise realistic fiction. However, García Márquez considered himself fundamentally a realist, who writes about Colombian and Latin American reality exactly as he observed it.
"There is a short but telling portrait of the novelist Gabriel García Márquez, who every morning reads a couple of pages of a dictionary (any dictionary except the pompous Diccionario de la Real Academia Española) – a habit our author compares to that of Stendhal, who perused the Napoleonic Code so as to learn to write in a terse and exact style." (from A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel, 1996)
Gabriel García Márquez was born in Aracataca, in the "banana zone" of Colombia. He was the first child of Luisa Santiaga Márquez, the daughter of Colonel Nicolás Márquez, and Gabriel Eligio García, an itinerant homeopath and pharmacist. Soon after Gabriel's birth, his parents left him to be reared by his grandparents and three aunts. Colonel Nicolás Márquez Mejía, his grandfather, admired greatly Simón Bolivar, and later the author portrayed the hero of South American independence in El general en su laberinto (1989), which traced Simón Bolívar's final journey down the Magdalena river. From his grandmother García Márquez learned the oral tradition.
At the age of fifteen, he was sent to the Liceo de Zipaquirá,
a high school for the gifted. He then
studied law and journalism at the National University in Bogóta and at the
University of Cartagena. While a law student in Bogota, he dressed like the celebrated singer and actor
Carlos Gardel and frequented brothels. Once he was beaten when he failed to pay for the services. His
first story, 'The Third Resignation', appeared in 1947. Next year he began his career as a journalist in
Cartagena and Barranquilla, and then working
in various towns in Latin America and Europe.
For a period he secretly attended
meetings of a Communist Party cell.
One of his most famous
reportages was an account of a young sailor, Luis Alejandro Velasco, who was swept off the Columbian
destroyer Caldas into the Caribbean Sea.
García Márquez was a European correspondent in Rome
and Paris for the newspaper El Espectador
in 1955, but lost his post when the newspaper was closed down by the
dictator Rojas Pinilla. Despite being penniless, he decided to stay in
Paris and work on his fiction. During this period García Márquez lost
so much weight, that he looked like a skeleton. In
order to get some money, he returned empty bottles for the deposits.
Thanks to his old friend from law school days, Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza,
he was assigned to write pieces for Élite, a picture weekly in Caracas.
Upon visiting the Soviet Union with Mendoza in 1957, García Márquez concluded that the "Soviets have a different mentality. Things that are of great importance to us aren't to them." He was one of the founders of Prensa Latina, a Cuban press agency, and worked at Prensa Latina office in Havana, where he befriended Fidel Castro, and New York. Due to threatening phone calls from émigré right-wing Cubans García Márquez kept an iron rod by his desk. In 1958 he married Mercedes Barcha Pardo, the daughter of a pharmacist and granddaughter of an Egyptian immigrant. They had two children, Rodrigo, who became a film director, and Gonzalo, a graphic designer.
After working as editor-in-chief of Susesos and La Familia in Mexico City García Márquez continued his career as a screenwriter, journalist, and publicist. He also co-founded a film school near Havana. For some years he lived Barcelona and returned to Mexico in the late 1970s, before he was officially invited by the new President, Belisario Betancur to Columbia, where he went in 1982 with his family. Although García Márquez had an apartment in Bogotá, most of his time he spent in Mexico City and at his other homes, Cuernavaca, Havana, Barranquilla, Cartagena, Barcelona, and Paris. His house in Cartagena, built in the 1990s and called La Casa del Escritor, was designed by the Colombian architect Rogelio Salmona.
When sixty internationally renowned cultural figures condemned in 1971 the arrest of the Cuban poet Heberto Padilla, who was made to "confess" his "counterrevolutionary activity," García Márquez refused to add his name to their open letter to Castro. Also Julio Cortázar did not sign it. However, over the years García Márquez used his influence to help secure the release of a number of Cuban political prisoners. "I am perhaps the one person Fidel can trust most in the world," he once said in an interview. Another political leader, with whom he associated, was General Omar Torrijos (1929-1981), who seized power in Panama in 1969. He participated in various ways in the campaign to have the famous canal and the adjoining areas placed under Panamanian sovereignty. García Márquez was godfather for Mario Vargas Llosa's second son, but a fist-fight with the Peruvian writer in a Mexican cinema in 1976 broke their relationship for decades. After Vargas Llosa was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2010, García Márquez sent a message, saying that finally they are now both equals.
García Márquez was known all over the Spanish speaking world as "Gabo". His first short stories were published in the 1940s. The novella La hojarasca (1955, Leaf Storm) introduced to the public the fictional Colombian village of Macondo, an equivalent of William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha. Since then it was the setting in many of his later books. Márquez's early works, starting from Leaf Storm, went unnoticed by scholars and critics, despite their literary merits. From Alejo Carpentier Márquez learned to work with concurrent historical epochs and gradually influences from Faulkner gave way to his more objective manner of depiction, partly derived from his experiences in journalism. Other important writers, who influenced García Márquez, include Kafka, Virginia Woolf, and Juan Rulfo.
In the short story 'Death Constant Beyond Love' (1970) Márquez sharply observed politics, poverty, and corruption. The protagonist, Senator Onésimo Sánches, is no hero – his electoral campaign is a circus, he takes bribes and helps the local property owners to avoid reform. "His measured, deep voice had the quality of calm water, but the speech that had been memorized and ground out so many times had not occurred to him in the nature of telling the truth, but, rather, as the opposite of a fatalistic pronouncement by Marcus Aurelius in the fourth book of his Meditations." (in Innocent Erendira and Other Stories, 1972). But Stoic understanding of the emptiness of his career doesn't help the senator, and he dies weeping with rage, without the love of Laura Farina, a village girl.
Cien años de soledad (1967, One Hundred Years of Solitude) was
first published by Editorial Sudamericana in Buenos Aires. It is the history of Macondo, depicted
on an epic level, from its mythic foundation to its final disappearance. Combining the world of the
bourgeois family chronicle and Latin American history it explores the limits of narrative fiction,
without the sterility of the French nouveau roman. One Hundred Years of Solitude
became the most popular works of Magic Realism and has been translated into more than 40 languages. Ursula K. Le Guin
said in an interview with Amazon.com: "That idea of "realism is
literature and every other form of fiction is not literature" didn't
get really badly shaken until the magical realists popped up in South
America. When you've got García Márquez around, you just can't go on
that way." The first critic to apply the term "magic realism" to
Latin American fiction was the Venezuelan author Arturo Uslar Pietri.
García Márquez once said that he tries to tap "the magic in commonplace events." As fantastic as the events seem in the novel, they have much real basis, among them the massacre of hundreds of people, which occurred after the banana workers struck against the United Fruit Company in 1928. Some of the author's own relatives were on the side of the Americans and blamed the strikers for "sabotaging property". The lost historical consciousness of the villagers is exemplified in the chapter, in which the insomnia epidemic threatens to wipe out all layers of identity and culture. "It was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forevermore, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth."
In 1982, García Márquez was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Norman Mailer, a perpetual nominee for the world's most prestigious
literary honour, congratulated, "Couldn't have gone
to a better man." Also Graham Greene, who never got the prize, sent a
telegram: "Warmest congratulations. Pity we couldn't celebrate it with
Omar", referring to their mutual friend Omar Torrijos. With his prize
money García Márquez bought in 1999 the weekly news magazine Cambio, and wrote for it a long article about Hugo Chévez, who had been elected president of Venezuela.
Márquez's other major novels and novellas include El otoño del patriarca (1975, The Autumn of the Patriarch), an analysis of dictatorship on mythical and historical level. The wife of the Patriarch of a fictitious Caribbean nation is an ex-nun, whom he kidnaps and possibly murders. When he is already senile, he has an erotic relationship with a twelve-year-old schoolgirl. A false death of the dictator is followed by a second, apparently real, which leads to a new struggle of power. Curiously, the monstrous character is portrayed rather sympathetically; "all dictators, from Creon onwards, are victims," Márquez explained.
Crónica de una muerte anunciada (1981) recounted the murder of a man for allegedly violating the law of honour. Against these dramatic events Márquez sets a small town where everyday life continues in spite everyone knows a murder will happen. Del amor y otros demonios (1995, Love and Other Demons) was a historical novel set in the 18th century Colombia. Although One Hundred years of Solitude is among the most famous modern classics in the world, many consider El amor en los tiempos del cólera (1985, Love in the Time of Cholera), which drew on the courtship of his parents, most enduring book. In the novel their names were Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza.
In July 1999, García Marquez was hospitalized and diagnosed with lymphatic cancer.
A phony news flash went out through the Internet, claiming he had died in Mexico City. Vivir para contarla
(Living to Tell the Tale), the first part of his memoirs, came out in 2002.
It spans the life of the author from his birth to the 1950s. After a long hiatus as a novelist,
Márquez published Memoria de mis putas tristes (2004,
Memories of My Melancholy Whores), which was immediately translated
into 18 languages. The narrator is a ninety-year-old man, who wants to
have sex with a 14-year-old virgin. It is the gift he wants to give
himself. Marquez's story of an old man and a young girl – a classical
subject which goes back to the Book of the Kings and king David among
others – stirred some controversy in Columbia. García Marquez's brother
Jaime revealed in July 2012, that the author suffers from senile
dementia and can no longer write. Gabriel García Márquez died on April 17, 2014 from lymphatic cancer in Mexico City. He was 87.
For further reading: Gabriel García Márquez: the Last Interview and Other Conversations, edited by David Streitfeld (2015); The Cambridge Companion to Gabriel Garciá Márquez, edited by Philip Swanson (2010); Gabriel García Márquez: A Life by Gerald Martin (2009); Lies that Tell the Truth: Magic Realism Seen Through Contemporary Fiction from Britain by Anne C. Hegerfeldt (2005); Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A Critical Companion by Ruben Pelayo (2001); Tras las claves de Melquiades: Historia de Cien años de soledad by Eligio García Márquez (2001); The Modern Epic: The World-System from Goethe to Garcia Marquez by Franco Moretti (1996); García Márquez, ed. by Robin Fiddian (1995); Intertextuality in García Márquez by Arnold M. Penuel (1994); Circularity and Visions of the New World in William Faulkner, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Osman Lins by Rosa Simas (1993); Gabriel García Márquez: a Study of the Short Fiction by Harley D. Oberhelman (1991); Gabriel García Márquez: the Man and His Work by Gene H. Bell-Villas (1990); Gabriel García Márquez and the Invention of America by Carlos Fuentes (1987); Gabriel García Márquez by Raymond L. Williams (1984); Gabriel García Márquez: An Annotated Bibliography, 1947-1979 by Margaret Eustella Fau (1980); Gabriel García Márquez by George McMurrayu (1977) - See also: the Finnish writer Juhani Peltonen and the Swedish writer Göran Tunström; English-language magic realists: Salman Rushdie, Brian Aldiss, James P. Blaylock, Peter Carey, Angela Carter, E.L. Doctorow, John Fowles, Mark Helprin, Emma Tennant. Among acclaimed Latin American magic realists are Jorge Amado, Jorge Luis Borges, Isabel Allende, and Julio Cortázar.