The author, best known for One Hundred Years of Solitude, is remembered as the “greatest Colombian.”
Famed author Gabriel Garcia Marquez died at the age of 87 years old Thursday following a career as one of the most important Spanish-language authors.
By: Oakland Ross
It is among the most familiar and most captivating of all the first sentences in all the novels that have ever been written:
“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”
That single enchanting passage, and the pages upon pages of equally magical text that unfolded in its wake, were to be translated into some 30 languages and published in a near infinity of editions that have sold some 50 million copies worldwide.
But One Hundred Years of Solitude was, and is, something greater than a phenomenon of literary commerce. It is widely heralded nowadays as the greatest imaginative feat of Spanish-language literature since Don Quixote, the 17th-century masterwork by Miguel de Cervantes, and it is celebrated by writers the world over as among the most influential works of all time.
Now the creator of that great novel, as well as a long list of signal works of South American literature, is dead.
The Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez died on Thursday at his adopted home in Mexico City, while surrounded by his closest relatives, including his wife Mercedes and their two sons, Rodrigo and Gonzalo.
Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, on the occasion of his 87th birthday, greeted fans and reporters outside his home in Mexico City last month. On Thursday, the acclaimed writer, who had been ailing, died.
“Such deep sadness,” said family spokeswoman Fernanda Familiar on Twitter.
Meanwhile, in the writer’s native Colombia, President Juan Manuel Santos called Garcia Marquez “the greatest Colombian of all time.”
The Bogota newspaper El Espectador devoted nearly its entire website to the writer’s passing. The paper’s home page online was draped in black with a picture of Garcia Marquez in an avuncular pose, wearing a tweed jacket and clapping his hands.
The paper’s headline included just three short words: Por siempre Gabo, using the informal nickname by which he was known to his compatriots and to readers around the world.
“Gabriel Garcia Marquez marked a decisive point in writing and created works of universal character,” declared the newspaper. “He broke literary tradition and constructed a narrative full of poetry by means of images that had a fantastic turn.”
Although best known for his magnum opus, Garcia Marquez wrote a bevy of books, both fiction and non-fiction, that were nearly as splendid and almost as memorable, works that included The General in His Labyrinth, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Autumn of the Patriarch and Love in the Time of Cholera.
But it is the long and magical tale of Macondo, an imaginary village on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, that became and remains the greatest and best known of Garcia Marquez’s works
A story recounted through the history of the Buendia family, One Hundred Years of Solitude is almost biblical in its complexity, richness and emotional power.
Five years ago, 25 international authors consulted by The Guardian chose the 1967 novel as the piece of writing that had exerted the greatest impact on world literature in the previous quarter century.
In 1982, Garcia Marquez was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.
The cause of his death was not immediately divulged, but he had been in hospital recently suffering from infections in a lung and his urinary tract. He was sent home to be cared for by his family, but his health was said to be “very fragile.”
Born March 6, 1927, in the village of Aracataca on the Caribbean coast — a setting not greatly dissimilar to that of Macondo, his fictional creation — Garcia Marquez was abandoned by his mother and father early in life and was raised by his maternal grandparents, which may have been a godsend.
His grandfather accompanied the boy on long walks and talked to him of politics and war, in a country beleaguered by political violence. Meanwhile, his grandmother plied him with Colombian folk tales and fantastical stories peopled with ghosts and demons and other imaginary beings.
“There was a real dichotomy in me,” he once said in an interview with National Public Radio in the United States, “because, on one hand … there was the world of my grandfather, a world of stark reality, of civil wars he told me about, since he had been a colonel in the last civil war. And then, on the other hand, there was the world of my grandmother, which was full of fantasy, completely outside of reality.”
Later, enrolled at a Jesuit college and preparing to study law, Garcia Marquez had a change of heart, quit school and turned to journalism, a craft he would continue to practise even as his fame as a novelist grew both within Colombia and abroad.
A close friend of other great Latin American writers, including Mexico’s Carlos Fuentes and Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa, Garcia Marquez was at the forefront of the so-called Latin American literary “Boom” of the 1960s and ’70s, a time when the region’s writers and their works attracted global attention, an appeal rooted in part in the Latin American school of magic realism, an exciting new approach to narrative that made little overt distinction between the real and the surreal.
A leftist who had a long and controversial friendship with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, Garcia Marquez spent much of his life in self-imposed exile and had made his home in Mexico City for more than 30 years until his death on Thursday.
Although best known as a novelist, he was also a journalist of talent and courage, taking on powerful adversaries that ranged from the Colombian government to the drug cartels that have long plagued his homeland.