Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel prize-winning author, dies at 87

Posted at 5:14 PM, Apr 17, 2014
and last updated 2014-04-17 17:14:23-04

 (CNN) — Gabriel García Márquez, the influential, Nobel Prize-winning author of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and “Love in the Time of Cholera,” has died, his family and officials said.

He was 87.

The literary giant was treated in April for infections and dehydration at a Mexican hospital.

García Márquez, a native of Colombia, is widely credited with helping to popularize “magic realism,” a genre “in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination,” as the Nobel committee described it upon awarding him the prize for literature in 1982.

The author’s cousin, Margarita Marquez, and Colombia’s ambassador to Mexico, José Gabriel Ortiz, confirmed the author’s death to CNN on Thursday.

The author — known by his nickname “Gabo” throughout Latin America — was born in the northern Colombian town of Aracataca, which became the inspiration for Macondo, the town at the center of “Solitude,” his 1967 masterpiece, and referenced in such works as his novella “Leaf Storm” and the novel “In Evil Hour.”

“I feel Latin American from whatever country, but I have never renounced the nostalgia of my homeland: Aracataca, to which I returned one day and discovered that between reality and nostalgia was the raw material for my work,” reads a mural quoting the author outside of town.

García Márquez’s early life was shaped by both familial and political conflict. His grandfather, a widely respected figure known as the Colonel, was a liberal military man who strongly disagreed with the political views of García Márquez’s father, a conservative telegraph operator who became a pharmacist. (His father’s ardent pursuit of his mother later inspired “Love in the Time of Cholera.”)

Their political disagreement came to reflect that of Colombia as a whole, a country that spent a postwar decade in the grip of what was called “La Violencia,” a civil war that followed the assassination of a populist leader.

A storyteller’s childhood

García Márquez spent his early childhood with his grandparents while his parents pursued a living in the coastal city of Barranquilla.

Both his grandparents were excellent storytellers, and García Márquez soaked in their tales. From his grandfather he learned of military men, Colombian history and the terrible burden of killing; from his grandmother came folk tales, superstitions and ghosts among the living.

His grandmother’s stories were delivered “as if they were the irrefutable truth,” according to the García Márquez site The influence is obvious in García Márquez’s works, particularly “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

In 1936 the Colonel, died and García Márquez returned to his parents and their growing family. He was eventually one of 11 children, not to mention several half-siblings from his father’s affairs, a familial sprawl that also found its way into his books.

After finishing high school, García Márquez went off to college with dreams of becoming a writer. His parents, on the other hand, had plans for him to become a lawyer. Writing ended up taking precedence: When La Violencia broke out, García Márquez started contributing stories to a local newspaper and eventually became a columnist. He had also been exposed to writers such as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafka and especially William Faulkner, who had turned his own patch of land in Oxford, Mississippi, into the shape-shifting past and present of Yoknapatawpha County.

In the mid-1950s, García Márquez left Colombia for Europe, a move partly provoked by a story he’d written that was critical of the government. The distance, he later said, helped shape his perspective on Latin American politics.

For years, García Márquez had been writing and publishing fiction, including short stories in Latin American journals and a handful of longer works, including “Leaf Storm,” which was published in 1955. But it wasn’t until 1967 with the publication of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” that he broke through to a wide audience.

‘100 Years’ of literary renown

The novel is set in Macondo, a town founded by the patriarch of the Buendia family, José Arcadio Buendia. Over the generations, members of the family are set upon by ghosts and visions, fall in love, dream of riches and fight in wars. Natural events take on supernatural aspects — rains that last years, plagues that create memory loss. It is a tapestry of almost biblical proportions in which reality and spirit swirl and merge, a world unto itself — as well as a commentary on the politics and history of the world at large.

“The narrative is a magician’s trick in which memory and prophecy, illusion and reality are mixed and often made to look the same. It is, in short, very much like Márquez’s astonishing novel,” wrote The New York Times in a 1970 review upon the release of the English translation by Gregory Rabassa.

Chilean poet Pablo Neruda told Time that the book was “the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since the Don Quixote of Cervantes.”

García Márquez worked on “Solitude” tirelessly, selling off family items, living on credit, smoking up a nicotine frenzy. Upon its release, the book became an instant bestseller in Latin America and was equally successful in English.

The book didn’t ease all of García Márquez’s problems, however. As a vocal leftist and defender of Castro’s Cuba, he was regularly limited or denied visas by the United States until President Bill Clinton, a fan of “Solitude,” revoked the ban. García Márquez also became involved in a feud with onetime friend writer Mario Vargas Llosa, a Peruvian and a Nobel laureate, who punched the Colombian in the face in 1976 — believed to be over politics but later revealed to be over Vargas Llosa’s wife.

García Márquez’s ensuing works were generally praised. They included “The Autumn of the Patriarch” (1975), “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” (1981) and “The General in His Labyrinth” (1990). He is said to be the most popular Spanish-language author in the world.

“Love in the Time of Cholera,” with an English translation published in 1988, was a particular bestseller. The love story, which was turned into a 2007 movie, was referenced in such works as the 2001 movie “Serendipity” and the finale of the TV series “How I Met Your Mother.”

García Márquez’s style and impact have been widespread.

He is credited with spearheading “el Boom,” attracting attention to a generation of Latin American writers, including Vargas Llosa and Mexico’s Carlos Fuentes. Magical realism is now an accepted genre, to the point that its use has made some critics dismissive.

And he prompted a focus on Latin American politics — protesting the 1973 CIA-aided coup in Chile, calling attention to corruption and free speech issues in South America and around the world.

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