Remembering Gabriel Garcia, Latin American writing giant

Gabriel Garcia

Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Photo credit: File Photo

What you need to know:

  • Renowned for his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), Garcia Marquez died in Mexico on April 17, 2014.
  • He was awarded the 1972 Neustadt International Prize for Literature and the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature. 

It was my friend, the surgeon and writer Yusuf K. Dawood, who first recommended the late Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s literary works to me. It was Dawood who also introduced me to one of Europe’s and the world’s greatest authors of the 18th Century, Ireland’s Oliver Goldsmith. This particular piece, though, is a belated elegy to Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Born Gabriel Jose de la Concordia Garcia Marquez, on March 6, 1927, in Aracataca, Colombia, the late Garcia Marquez, renowned for his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), died in Mexico on April 17, 2014, aged 87.

He was variously a novelist, a short story writer, a screenwriter and journalist. Considered one of the most significant authors of the 20th Century, particularly in the Spanish language, he was awarded the 1972 Neustadt International Prize for Literature and the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature. 

Starting off as a journalist, he wrote many acclaimed non-fiction works and short stories, though he is best known for the novels One Hundred Years of Solitude, Chronicles of A Death Foretold (1981) and Love in the Time of Cholera (1985).

His works have achieved significant critical acclaim and widespread commercial success, most notably for popularising a literary style known as “magic realism”, which uses magical elements and events in otherwise ordinary and realistic situations.

Some of his works are set in the fictional village of Macondo (mainly inspired by his birthplace, Aracataca) and most of them explore and portray the thematic motif of solitude. He culled up material for his works from stories told to him by his maternal grandparents, Col Nicolas Ricardo Marquez Mejia and Dona Tranquilina Iguaran, by whom he was largely raised as his father, a pharmacist, and mother farmed him and his brother out, beginning in 1936.

His grandfather taught him lessons from the dictionary and took him to the circus each year, and the house, according to Garcia Marquez, was filled with stories of ghosts and premonitions, omens and portents. Garcia Marquez spent his first years of high school, from 1940, in the Colegio Jesuita San Jose, today known as Instituto San Jose, where he published his first poems in the school magazine Juventud.

Later he was sent to study in the capital Bogota, later relocating to the Liceo Nacional de Zipaquira where he finished his secondary school studies. After his graduation in 1947, he stayed in Bogota to study law at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia. He was inspired by La Metamorfosis by Franz Kafka. And his own first published work, La Tercera Resignacion, appeared in the September 13, 1947 edition of the newspaper El Espectador.

He continued with law studies, to please his father, in 1948. However, after the Bogotazo riots of April 9, which followed the assassination of Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, a popular leader, the university closed indefinitely and Garcia Marquez’s boarding house was burned down.

He would transfer to the Universidad de Cartagena and begin working as a reporter for the El Universal publication. In 1950, though, he ended his law studies to focus on journalism and moved back to Barranquilla, where he’d once stayed as a young man with his parents, to work as a columnist and reporter for the newspaper El Heraldo. 

Between 1945 and 1955, Garcia Marquez spent time in Bogota, writing for El Espectador and working as a film critic. In 1957, he accepted a position in Caracas, Venezuela, with the magazine Momento, under the directorship of his friend Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza. In Venezuela, he witnessed the 1958 coup that led to the exile of president, Marcos Perez Jimenez, before resigning the same year to became editor of the newspaper Venezuela Grafica.

He also dabbled in politics and foreign policy discourse, publishing Changing The History of Africa (1991), an analytical study of the Cuban involvement in the 1975-2002 Angolan Civil War and the 1966-1990 South African border war. And he forged friendships with powerful political figures such as Cuba’s Fidel Castro. He also wrote for El Independiente. 

He married Mercedes Barcha in 1958, and their first son, Rodrigo Garcia, now a television and film director, was born in 1959. Garcia Marquez’s first known published novella, Leaf Storm (1955), took seven years to find a publisher. And his other works include In Evil Hour (1962), Before Night Falls (1992), Autumn of The Patriarch (1975), The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother, adapted into the film Erendira (1983), Chronicle of A Death Foretold (1981), Love In The Time of Cholera (1985), News of a Kidnapping (1996), a period piece on the Pablo Escobar-led Medellin cartel in Colombia in the early 1990s and Living to Tell the Tale and Memories of My Melancholy Whores (2002), the first of a projected three-volume autobiography.

Garcia Marquez was also the founder and executive director of the Film Institute in Havana, Cuba, and head of the Latin American Film Foundation. Also adapted into film, in 2010, was his novel Of Love and Other Demons.

The writer is a votary of global peace, historian, writer, thinker and founder Public Affairs Volunteers for Global Peace and Climate Justice (PAVGPCJ). [email protected]

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