Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez died today at the age of 87. He had reportedly been in fragile health for several weeks, battling pneumonia and other infections. He had been the world’s oldest living Nobel literature laureate, and was known for pioneering magical realism, a style made most famous by his 1967 epic masterpiece One Hundred Years Of Solitude. The prize money that accompanied his 1982 Nobel sat in a Swiss bank account for 16 years, where, García Márquez says, he forgot about it. He later used it to purchase the weekly news magazine Cambio.
García Márquez was born in 1928 in the Colombian town of Aracataca, which inspired the fictional town Macondo, home of the Buendía family in One Hundred Years Of Solitude. He was raised in part by his maternal grandparents and was influenced by the superstitions of that generation; his grandfather had been a colonel in a civil war at the turn of the century. One can imagine the kind of childhood that led to the monumental tale of One Hundred Years, whose first line stands among the most famous in literature: “Many years later, in front of the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía would remember that distant afternoon his father took him to see ice.” The book takes a winding and hallucinatory path through the history of the Buendía family, for whom the supernatural is an ordinary part of everyday life.
García Márquez worked as a reporter in the late ’40s, and told The Paris Review in 1981 that he still considered himself a journalist first. “In journalism just one fact that is false prejudices the entire work. In contrast, in fiction one single fact that is true gives legitimacy to the entire work.” As a novice journalist for Colombia’s El Universal, he wrote sly opinion columns questioning how so much political violence could be expected to birth a generation of “men of good will.” He later acted as something of a liaison between leftist guerillas and the Colombian government, which resulted in him increasing his personal security detail with trusted bodyguards and a bombproof sedan. In the 1960s, he spent several months in Cuba with other writers and journalists, and considered Fidel Castro a friend. (Despite problems securing a U.S. visa, he also later became friends with Bill Clinton.) García Márquez had lived in Mexico City since the early ’80s in a kind of self-imposed exile after a run-in with Colombian government, which accused him of sympathizing with rebels.
His position at the forefront of magic realism stands as one of his greatest literary achievements, one that transcends his individual literary works and brought global attention to Latin American writers, many of whom employed this literary mode—Isabel Allende, Laura Esquivel, and Mario Vargas Llosas among them. (The latter was good friends with García Márquez, but their friendship ended in 1976 when Vargas Llosas punched him in a Mexico City theater.) Usually defined by its balance of magical and supernatural elements with an otherwise commonplace reality, García Márquez did not originate magic realism, but has become closely associated with it through novels like Love In The Time Of Cholera and Chronicle Of A Death Foretold, which probe at different ways to depict reality. García Márquez’s books and short stories have been translated into more than two dozen languages; his last published work came 10 years ago with the novella Memories Of My Melancholy Whores.
He told the Associated Press in 1999 that his “books couldn’t have been written if I weren’t a journalist because all the material was taken from reality.”