[Marxism] Gabriel García Márquez, Conjurer of Literary Magic, Dies at 87

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Apr 18 06:41:47 MDT 2014


(I was much more of a fan of the man than his writings.)

NY Times, April 18 2014
Gabriel García Márquez, Conjurer of Literary Magic, Dies at 87
By JONATHAN KANDELL

Gabriel García Márquez, the Colombian novelist whose “One Hundred Years 
of Solitude” established him as a giant of 20th-century literature, died 
on Thursday at his home in Mexico City. He was 87.

Cristóbal Pera, his former editor at Random House, confirmed the death. 
Mr. García Márquez learned he had lymphatic cancer in 1999, and a 
brother said in 2012 that he had developed senile dementia.

Mr. García Márquez, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, 
wrote fiction rooted in a mythical Latin American landscape of his own 
creation, but his appeal was universal. His books were translated into 
dozens of languages. He was among a select roster of canonical writers — 
Dickens, Tolstoy and Hemingway among them — who were embraced both by 
critics and by a mass audience.

“Each new work of his is received by expectant critics and readers as an 
event of world importance,” the Swedish Academy of Letters said in 
awarding him the Nobel.

Mr. García Márquez was a master of the literary genre known as magical 
realism, in which the miraculous and the real converge. In his novels 
and stories, storms rage for years, flowers drift from the skies, 
tyrants survive for centuries, priests levitate and corpses fail to 
decompose. And, more plausibly, lovers rekindle their passion after a 
half-century apart.

Magical realism, he said, sprang from Latin America’s history of vicious 
dictators and romantic revolutionaries, of long years of hunger, illness 
and violence. In accepting his Nobel, Mr. García Márquez said: “Poets 
and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all 
creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of 
imagination. For our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional 
means to render our lives believable.”

Like many Latin American intellectuals and artists, Mr. García Márquez 
felt impelled to speak out on the political issues of his day. He viewed 
the world from a left-wing perspective, bitterly opposing Gen. Augusto 
Pinochet, the right-wing Chilean dictator, and unswervingly supporting 
Fidel Castro in Cuba. Mr. Castro became such a close friend that Mr. 
García Márquez showed him drafts of his unpublished books.

No draft had more impact than the one for “One Hundred Years of 
Solitude.” Mr. García Márquez’s editor began reading it at home one 
rainy day, and as he read page after page by this unknown Colombian 
author, his excitement grew. Soon he called the Argentine novelist Tomás 
Eloy Martínez and summoned him urgently to the home.

Mr. Eloy Martinez remembered entering the foyer with wet shoes and 
encountering pages strewn across the floor by the editor in his 
eagerness to read through the work. They were the first pages of a book 
that in 1967 would vault Mr. García Márquez onto the world stage. He 
later authorized an English translation, by Gregory Rabassa. In Spanish 
or English, readers were tantalized from its opening sentences:

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Col. Aureliano Buendía 
was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to 
discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of 20 adobe houses 
built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of 
polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. 
The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to 
indicate them it was necessary to point.”

“One Hundred Years of Solitude” would sell tens of millions of copies. 
The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda called it “the greatest revelation in the 
Spanish language since ‘Don Quixote.’ ” The novelist William Kennedy 
hailed it as “the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis 
that should be required reading for the entire human race.”

Mr. García Márquez was rattled by the praise. He grew to hate “One 
Hundred Years of Solitude,” he said in interviews, because he feared his 
subsequent work would not measure up to it in readers’ eyes. He need not 
have worried. Almost all his 15 other novels and short-story collections 
were lionized by critics and devoured by readers.

Lived With His Grandparents

Gabriel García Márquez was born in Aracataca, a small town near 
Colombia’s Caribbean coast, on March 6, 1927, the eldest child of Luisa 
Santiaga Márquez and Gabriel Elijio García. His father, a postal clerk, 
telegraph operator and itinerant pharmacist, could barely support his 
wife and 12 children; Gabriel, the eldest, spent his early childhood 
living in the large, ramshackle house of his maternal grandparents. The 
house influenced his writing; it seemed inhabited, he said, by the 
ghosts his grandmother conjured in the stories she told.

His maternal grandfather, Nicolás Márquez Mejía, a retired army colonel, 
was also an influence — “the most important figure of my life,” Mr. 
García Márquez said. The grandfather bore a marked resemblance to 
Colonel Buendía, the protagonist of “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” and 
the book’s mythical village of Macondo draws heavily on Aracataca.

In his 2002 memoir, “Living to Tell the Tale,” Mr. García Márquez 
recalled a river trip back to Aracataca in 1950, his first trip there 
since childhood.

“The first thing that struck me,” he wrote, “was the silence. A material 
silence I could have identified blindfolded among all the silences in 
the world. The reverberation of the heat was so intense that you seemed 
to be looking at everything through undulating glass. As far as the eye 
could see there was no recollection of human life, nothing that was not 
covered by a faint sprinkling of burning dust.”

Much of his fiction unfolds in or near Macondo, just as William 
Faulkner, whom he admired, invented Yoknapatawpha County as the 
Mississippi setting for some of his own novels.

Mr. García Márquez moved to Bogotá as a teenager. He studied law there 
but never received a degree; he turned instead to journalism. The late 
1940s and early ’50s in Colombia were a period of civil strife known as 
La Violencia. The ideological causes were nebulous, but the savagery was 
stark, as many as 300,000 deaths. La Violencia would become the 
background for several of his novels.

Mr. García Márquez eked out a living writing for newspapers in Cartagena 
and then Barranquilla, where he lived in the garret of a brothel and saw 
a future in literature. “It was a bohemian life: finish at the paper at 
1 in the morning, then write a poem or a short story until about 3, then 
go out to have a beer,” he said in an interview in 1996. “When you went 
home at dawn, ladies who were going to Mass would cross to the other 
side of the street for fear that you were either drunk or intending to 
mug or rape them.”

He read intensely — the Americans Hemingway, Faulkner, Twain and 
Melville; the Europeans Dickens, Tolstoy, Proust, Kafka and Virginia Woolf.

“I cannot imagine how anyone could even think of writing a novel without 
having at least a vague of idea of the 10,000 years of literature that 
have gone before,” Mr. García Márquez said. But, he added, “I’ve never 
tried to imitate authors I’ve admired. On the contrary, I’ve done all I 
could not to imitate them.”

As a journalist he scored a scoop when he interviewed a sailor who had 
been portrayed by the Colombian government as the heroic survivor of a 
navy destroyer lost at sea. The sailor admitted to him that the ship had 
been carrying a heavy load of contraband household goods, which unloosed 
during a storm and caused the ship to list enough to sink. His report, 
in 1955, infuriated Gen. Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, the country’s dictator, 
and Mr. García Márquez fled to Europe. He spent two years there as a 
foreign correspondent.

Unimpressed by Europe

Mr. García Márquez was less impressed by Western Europe than many Latin 
American writers, who looked to the Old World as their cultural 
fountainhead. His dispatches often reflected his belief that Europeans 
were patronizing toward Latin America even though their own societies 
were in decline.

He echoed these convictions in his Nobel address. Europeans, he said, 
“insist on measuring us with the yardstick that they use for themselves, 
forgetting that the ravages of life are not the same for all, and that 
the quest for our own identity is just as arduous and bloody for us as 
it was for them.”

Mr. García Márquez lost his job when his newspaper was shut down by the 
Rojas Pinilla regime. Stranded in Paris, he scavenged and sold bottles 
to survive, but he managed to begin a short novel, “In Evil Hour.”

While working on that book he took time off in 1957 to complete another 
short novel, “No One Writes to the Colonel,” about an impoverished 
retired army officer, not unlike the author’s grandfather, who waits 
endlessly for a letter replying to his requests for a military pension. 
It was published to acclaim four years later. (“In Evil Hour” was also 
published in the early 1960s.)
Mr. García Márquez alternated between journalism and fiction in the late 
1950s. (A multipart newspaper series on a sailor lost at sea for 10 days 
was later published in book form as “The Story of a Shipwrecked 
Sailor.”) While working for newspapers and magazines in Venezuela, he 
wrote a short-story collection, “Big Mama’s Funeral,” which is set in 
Macondo and incorporates the kind of magical elements he would master in 
“One Hundred Years of Solitude.” From 1959 to 1961 he supported the 
Castro revolution and wrote for Prensa Latina, the official Cuban press 
agency.

In 1961 he moved to Mexico City, where he would live on and off for the 
rest of his life. It was there, in 1965, after a four-year dry spell in 
which he wrote no fiction, that Mr. García Márquez began “One Hundred 
Years of Solitude.” The inspiration for it, he said, came to him while 
he was driving to Acapulco.

Returning home, he began an almost undistracted 18 months of writing 
while his wife, Mercedes, looked after the household. “When I was 
finished writing,” he recalled, “my wife said: ‘Did you really finish 
it? We owe $12,000.’ ”

With the book’s publication in 1967, in Buenos Aires, the family never 
owed a penny again. “One Hundred Years of Solitude” was sold out within 
days.

In following the rise and fall of the Buendía family through several 
generations of war and peace, affluence and poverty, the novel seemed to 
many critics and readers the defining saga of Latin America’s social and 
political history.

Mr. García Márquez made no claim to have invented magical realism; he 
pointed out that elements of it had appeared before in Latin American 
literature. But no one before him had used the style with such artistry, 
exuberance and power. Magical realism would soon inspire writers on both 
sides of the Atlantic, most notably Isabel Allende in Chile and Salman 
Rushdie in Britain.

“Reality is also the myths of the common people,” Mr. García Márquez 
told an interviewer. “I realized that reality isn’t just the police that 
kill people, but also everything that forms part of the life of the 
common people.”

In 1973, when General Pinochet overthrew Chile’s democratically elected 
Marxist president, Salvador Allende, who committed suicide, Mr. García 
Márquez vowed never to write as long as General Pinochet remained in power.

The Pinochet dictatorship lasted 17 years, but Mr. García Márquez 
released himself from his vow well before it ended. “I never thought 
he’d last so long,” he said in a 1997 interview with The Washington 
Post. “Time convinced me I was wrong. What I was doing was allowing 
Pinochet to stop me from writing, which means I had submitted to 
voluntary censorship.”

In 1975 he published his next novel, “The Autumn of the Patriarch,” 
about a dictator in a phantasmagorical Latin American state who rules 
for so many decades that nobody can recall what life was like before 
him. As he had predicted, some critics faulted the work for not matching 
the artistry of “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” But others raved about 
it, and it became a global best seller. He called it his best novel.

In “Chronicle of a Death Foretold,” published in 1981, Mr. García 
Márquez used journalistic techniques to tell a story, apparently drawn 
from a real incident, in which the brothers of a woman who has lost her 
virginity murder the man responsible, Santiago Nasar. The brothers 
announce their intention to avenge their family honor, but because of a 
variety of odd circumstances, Nasar remains unaware of his impending fate.

“Love in the Time of Cholera,” published in 1985, was Mr. García 
Márquez’s most romantic novel, the story of the resumption of a 
passionate relationship between a recently widowed septuagenarian and 
the lover she had broken with more than 50 years before.

“The General in His Labyrinth,” published in 1989, combined imagination 
with historical fact to conjure up the last days of Simón Bolívar, the 
father of South America’s independence from Spain. The portrait of the 
aging Bolívar as a flatulent philanderer, abandoned and ridiculed by his 
onetime followers, aroused controversy on a continent that viewed him as 
South America’s version of George Washington. But Mr. García Márquez 
said that his depiction had been drawn from a careful perusal of 
Bolívar’s personal letters.

As his fame grew, Mr. García Márquez — or Gabo, as he was called by 
friends — enjoyed a lifestyle he would have found inconceivable in his 
struggling youth. He kept homes in Mexico City, Barcelona, Paris and 
Cartagena, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Recognizable by his bushy 
mustache, he dressed fastidiously, preferring a white monotone 
encompassing linen suits, shirts, shoes and even watchbands.

Devoted to the Left

He contributed his prestige, time and money to left-wing causes. He 
helped finance a Venezuelan political party. He was a strong defender of 
the Sandinistas, the leftist revolutionaries who took power in Nicaragua.

For more than three decades the State Department denied Mr. García 
Márquez a visa to travel in the United States, supposedly because he had 
been a member of the Colombian Communist Party in the 1950s but almost 
certainly because of his continuing espousal of left-wing causes and his 
friendship with Mr. Castro. The ban was rescinded in 1995 after 
President Bill Clinton invited him to Martha’s Vineyard.

Mr. García Márquez’s ties to Mr. Castro troubled some intellectuals and 
human rights advocates. Susan Sontag wrote in the 1980s, “To me it’s 
scandalous that a writer of such enormous talent be a spokesperson for a 
government which has put more people in jail (proportionately to its 
population) than any other government in the world.”

He attributed the criticism to what he called Americans’ “almost 
pornographic obsession with Castro.” But he became sensitive enough 
about the issue to intercede on behalf of jailed Cuban dissidents.

After receiving his cancer diagnosis in 1999, Mr. García Márquez devoted 
most of his subsequent writing to his memoirs. One exception was the 
novella “Memories of My Melancholy Whores,” about the love affair 
between a 90-year-old man and a 14-year-old prostitute, published in 2004.

In July 2012, his brother, Jaime, was quoted as saying that Mr. García 
Márquez had senile dementia and had stopped writing. Mr. Pera, the 
author’s editor at Random House Mondadori, said at the time that Mr. 
García Márquez had been working on a novel, “We’ll See Each Other in 
August,” but that no publication date had been scheduled. The author 
seemed disinclined to have it published, Mr. Pera said: “He told me, 
‘This far along I don’t need to publish more.’ ”

Dozens of television and film adaptations were made of Mr. García 
Márquez’s works, but none achieved the critical or commercial success of 
his writing, and he declined requests for the movie rights to “One 
Hundred Years of Solitude.” The novel’s readers, he once said, “always 
imagine the characters as they want, as their aunt or their grandfather, 
and the moment you bring that to the screen, the reader’s margin for 
creativity disappears.”

Besides his wife, Mercedes, his survivors include two sons, Rodrigo and 
Gonzalo.

Mr. García Márquez attributed his rigorous, disciplined schedule in part 
to his sons. As a young father he took them to school in the morning and 
picked them up in the afternoon. During the interval — from 8 in the 
morning to 2 in the afternoon — he would write.

“When I finished one book, I wouldn’t write for a while,” he said in 
1966. “Then I had to learn how to do it all over again. The arm goes 
cold; there’s a learning process you have to go through again before you 
rediscover the warmth that comes over you when you are writing.”

Randal C. Archibold contributed reporting from Mexico City.





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