Gabriel Garcia Marquez Essay
Gabriel Grcia Mrquez
Gabriel Jos Garca Mrquez was born on March 6, 1928 in Aracataca, a town in Northern Colombia, where he was raised by his maternal grandparents in a house filled with countless aunts and the rumors of ghosts. But in order to get a better grasp on Garca Mrquez’s life, it helps to understand something first about both the history of Colombia and the unusual background of his family.
Colombia won its independence from Spain in 1810, technically making it one of Latin America’s oldest democracies, but the sad fact is that this “democracy” has rarely known peace and justice.
In the beginning, there was of course Spain and the Indians, happily hating each other as the Spaniards tore the land up in quest for gold, El Dorado, religious converts, and political power. The English, too, played their part, with Drake attacking Riohachi in 1568 and the countless colonial squabbles of the next few centuries. Declaring itself independent from Spain when Napoleon ousted the Spanish King in 1810, the new country experienced a brief period of freedom and then was quickly reconquered in 1815 by the unpleasant and bloody campaigns of General Murillo. So much did their internal bickering allow their fledgling country to fall to the sword of Murillo, the period is immortalized in Colombia’s history with the colorful name of la Patria Boba, or “The Booby Fatherland.” Round two, however, fell to the Colombians, when Simn Bolvar reliberated the country in 1820 and became its very first president. In 1849, the country was sufficiently advanced enough to concretize their squabbling in the form of two political parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives, who exist to this day. These two parties form the political framework for much of Garca Mrquez’s fiction, and understanding their true natures is both a key to his writing and, unfortunately, an important insight to Latin American politics in general.
Although initially forming around the nucleus of two distinct and different ideologies, long years of bloody conflict have served to significantly erode the distinctions between the parties. The Conservatives and the Liberals are more like warring factions or clans than any parties with firmly established and radically different ideologies. Both tend to be repressive, both are corrupt, and both terribly abuse power when it falls into their hands; and throughout the sad history of Colombia, both parties have been more or less at war. It has often been said of Colombia’s parties that you do not join them, you are born into them; and indeed they act more as territorial and familial units than as peacefully functioning parties with distinct political platforms. In addition, the country is split into two main regional groups — the costeos of the coastal Caribbean, and the cachacos of the central highland. Both groups use those terms as pejorative of the other, and both view the other with disdain. The costeos tend to be more racially mixed, verbally outgoing, and superstitious. They are primarily the “descendants of pirates and smugglers, with a mixture of black slaves,” and as a whole are “dancers, adventurers, people full of gaiety.” The cachacos, on the other hand, are more formal, aristocratic, and racially pure, who pride themselves on their advanced cities such as Bogot and on their ability to speak excellent Spanish. Traditionally, the tropical Caribbean coast has been a Liberal bastion, and the cool mountains and valleys of the interior tend to the Conservative side. Garca Mrquez has often remarked that he views himself as a mestizo and a costeo, both characteristics enabling his formation and development as a writer.
Throughout the nineteenth century, Colombia was wracked by rebellions, civil wars of both the local and national variety, and several coups d’etat.This century of bloodshed had its culmination in 1899, when the War of a Thousand Days began — Colombia’s most devastating civil war, a conflict that ended in late 1902 with the defeat of the Liberals. The war claimed the lives of over 100,000 people, primarily peasants and their sons. Garca Mrquez’s grandfather fought in that war, and many of its veterans would eventually find their way into immortalization as fictional characters in his work.
Another event that would influence his work was the prevalence banana industry and the massacre of 1928. Although coffee is generally considered Colombia’s main export, for the first few decades of the twentieth century, bananas were also of crucial importance to the economy. The banana trade had its principle manifestation in the United Fruit Company, an American outfit that had a virtual monopoly on the banana industry, which at the time was the only source of income for many of the costeo areas, including Aracataca. The UFC had unlimited economic power and tremendous political clout, but it was a corrupt and amoral company that abused its Colombian workers terribly. In October of 1928, over 32,000 native workers went on strike, demanding, among other such unreasonable things, toilets and payment in cash rather than company scrip. One night a huge crowd of them gathered to hold a demonstration. In order to quell the incident, the Conservative government sent in the troops, which fired on the unarmed workers, killing hundreds. Over the next few months, more people simply vanished, and finally the whole incident was official denied and struck from the history books. Garca Mrquez would later incorporate the incident in One Hundred Years of Solitude.
The next significant event that would eventually affect his writing was a period of time that he himself would live through, a horrible period of time called la violencia, or “the Violence.” The Violence has its roots in the banana massacre. At that time, one of the only politicians courageous enough to take a stand against government corruption was a man named Jorge Elicer Gaitn, a young Liberal member of congress who convened meetings to investigate the incident. Gaitn began to rise in prominence, a champion of the peasants and the poor, but an annoyance to the powerful members of both parties, who viewed him with something akin to fear and loathing. Using radio as his medium, he heralded a time of change, a time when the people would take part in a true democracy and corporations would be forced to act responsibly. By 1946, Gaitn was powerful enough to cause a split in his own party, who had been in power since 1930. The split caused a Conservative return to power, and fearing a reprisal, they began organizing paramilitary groups whose ultimate purpose was to terrorize Liberal voters; which they did admirably, killing thousands of them by the end of the year. In 1947 the Liberals gained control of the Congress, putting Gaitn in charge as party leader. (Despite the Conservative’s efforts, the voter turnout was at a record high.) Tensions rose, and on April 9, 1948, Gaitn was assassinated in Bogot.
The city was convulsed by lethal riots for three days, a period called el Bogotzo and responsible for 2500 deaths. La violencia entered a more deadly phase. Guerrilla armies were organized by both parties, and terror swept through the land. Towns and villages were burned, thousands — including women and children — were brutally murdered, farms were confiscated, and over a million peasants emigrated to Venezuela. In 1949, Conservatives even gunned down a Liberal politician, in the middle of giving a speech in the very halls of Congress! The Conservatives finally dissolved Congress, declared the country to be in a state of siege, and Liberals (now conveniently branded “communists”) were hunted, persecuted, and murdered. The country was ripped apart; la violenciawould claim the lives of some 150,000 Colombians by 1953. The Violence would later become the backdrop to several of Garca Mrquez’s novellas and stories, most notably In Evil Hour.
The most important relatives of Garca Mrquez were undoubtedly his maternal grandfather and grandmother. His grandfather was Colonel Nicols Ricardo Mrquez Meja, a Liberal veteran of the War of a Thousand Days. He lived in Aracataca, a banana town by the Caribbean, a village which he helped found. The Colonel was something of a hero to the costeos, for among other things, he refused to stay silent about the banana massacres, delivering a searing denunciation of the murders to Congress in 1929. A very complex and interesting man, the Colonel was also an excellent story teller who had lead quite an intriguing life — when he was younger he shot and killed a man in a duel, and it is said that he had fathered over sixteen children! He would speak of his wartime experiences as if they were “almost pleasant experiences — sort of youthful adventures with guns.” The old Colonel taught the young Gabriel lessons from the dictionary, took him to the circus each year, and was the first one who introduced his grandson to ice — a miracle to be found at the UFC company store. He also told his young nephew that there was no greater burden than to have killed a man, a lesson that Garca Mrquez would later put into the mouths of his characters.
His grandmother was Tranquilina Iguarn Cotes, and would be no less an influence on the young Garca Mrquez than her husband. She was terribly filled with superstitions and folk beliefs, as were her numerous sisters, and they filled the house with stories of ghosts and premonitions, omens and portents — all of which were studiously ignored by her husband, who once said to young Gabriel, “Don’t listen to that. Those are women’s beliefs.” And yet listen he did, for his grandmother had a unique way of telling stories. No matter how fantastic or improbable her statements, she always delivered them as if they were the implacable truth. It was a deadpan style that, some thirty years later, her grandson would adopt for his greatest novel.
Garca Mrquez’s parents were more or less strangers to him for the first few years of his life, and the reason behind this is quite interesting. His mother, Luisa Santiaga Mrquez Iguarn, was one of the two children born to the Colonel and his wife. A spirited girl, she unfortunately fell in love with a man named Gabriel Eligio Garca. Unfortunately, for Garca was something of an anethma to her parents. For one thing, he was a Conservative as well as la hojarasca, a derogatory term applied to the recent residents of the town, drawn by the banana trade. (La hojarasca means “dead leaf,” as in something that descends in useless flurries and is best swept away.) Garcia also had a reputation as a philanderer, the father of four illegitimate children. He was not exactly the man the Colonel had envisioned winning the heart of his daughter — and yet he did, wooing her with violin serenades, love poems, countless letters — and even telegraph messages. They tried all they could to get rid of the man, but he kept coming back, and it was obvious that their daughter was committed to him. Finally they surrendered to his Latino tenacity, and the Colonel gave her hand in marriage to the former medical student. In order to ease relations, the newlyweds settled in the Colonel’s old home town of Riohacha. (The tragicomic story of their courtship would later be adapted and recast as Love in the Time of Cholera.)
Gabriel Jos Garca Mrquez was born on March 6, 1928 in Aracataca, although his father contends that it was really 1927. Because his parents were still poor and struggling, his grandparents accepted the task of raising him, a common practice at the time. Unfortunately, 1928 was the last year of the banana boom in Aracataca. The strike and its brutal reprisal hit the town hard; over one hundred strikers were shot one night in Aracataca and dumped into a common grave. It was a sad start to his life, one that would later resurface in his writing.
Nicknamed Gabito, little Gabriel grew up as a quiet and shy lad, entranced by his grandfather’s stories and his grandmother’s superstitions. Aside from the Colonel and himself, it was a house of women, and later Garca Mrquez would later remark that their beliefs had him afraid to leave his chair, half terrified of ghosts. And yet all the seeds of his future work were planted in that house — stories of the civil war and the banana massacre, the courtship of his parents, the sturdy practicality of the superstitious matriarch, the comings and goings of aunts, great aunts, and his grandfather’s illegitimate daughters — later Garca Mrquez would write: “I feel that all my writing has been about the experiences of the time I spent with my grandparents.”
His grandfather died when he was eight years old, and due to his grandmother’s increasing blindness, he went to live with his parents in Sucre, where his father was working as a pharmacist. Soon after he arrived in Sucre, it was decided that he should begin his formal schooling. He was sent to a boarding school in Barranquilla, a port city at the mouth of the Magdalena River. There, he acquired a reputation as being a shy boy who wrote humorous poems and drew cartoons. So serious and non-athletic was he that he was nicknamed “the Old Man” by his classmates.
In 1940, when he was twelve, he was awarded a scholarship to a secondary school for gifted students, run by Jesuits. The school — the Liceo Nacional — was in Zipaquir, a city 30 miles to the north of Bogot. The journey would take a week, and in that time he came to the conclusion that he did not like Bogot. Exposed to the capital for the first time, he found it dismal and oppressive, and his experience helped confirm his identity as a costeo.
In school, he found himself growing quite stimulated by his studies, and in the evening, he often read books aloud to his companions in the dormitory. And much to his amusement, even though he had yet to write anything significant, his great love of literature and his cartoons and stories helped him acquire a reputation as a writer. Perhaps this reputation provided him with a star by which to steer the ship of his imagination; and he would need it, for after graduation in 1946, the eighteen year old “writer” followed his parents wishes and enrolled in the Universidad Nacional in Bogot as a law student rather than as a journalist.
It was during this time that Garca Mrquez met his future wife. While visiting his parents, he was introduced to a 13 year old girl named Mercedes Barcha Pardo. Dark and silent, of Egyptian decent, she was “the most interesting person” he had ever met. After he graduated from the Liceo Nacional, he took a small vacation with his parents before leaving for the University. During that time, he proposed to her. Agreeing, but first wishing to finish primary school, she put off the engagement. Although they wouldn’t be married for another fourteen years, Mercedes promised to stay true to him.
The Hungry Years
Like many great writers attending college for a subject they despised, Garca
Mrquez found that he had absolutely no interest in his studies, and he became
something of a consummate slacker. He began to skip classes and neglect both his
studies and himself, electing to wander around Bogot and ride the streetcars, reading
poetry instead of law. He ate in cheap cafs, smoked cigarettes, and associated with all
the usual suspects — literate socialists, starving artists, and budding journalists. One
day, however, his life changed — all from reading just a simple book. As if all the lines
of fate suddenly converged in his hands, he was given a copy of Kafka’s The
Metamorphosis, translated by none other than Jorge Luis Borges. The book had a
profound affect on Garca Mrquez; making him aware that literature did not have to
follow a straight narrative and unfold a traditional plot. The effect was liberating: “I
thought to myself that I didn’t know anyone was allowed to write things like that. If I
had known, I would have started writing a long time ago.” He also remarked that
Kafka’s “voice” had the same echoes if his grandmother’s — “. . . That’s how my
grandmother used to tell stories, the wildest things with a completely natural tone of
One of the first things he set out to do was “catch up” on all the literature he had
been missing. He began reading voraciously, devouring everything he could get his
hands on. He also began writing, and to his surprise, his first story, “The Third
Resignation,” was published in 1946 by the Liberal Bogot newspaper El
Espectador, and the editor even hailed him as “the new genius of Colombian
letters!” Garca Mrquez entered a period of creativity, penning ten more stories for
the newspaper over the next few years.
As a humanist from a Liberal family, the 1948 assassination of Gaitn had
profound effect on Garca Mrquez, and he even participated in the rioting of el
Bogotzo, having his own quarters partially burned down. The Universidad Nacional
was closed, precipitating his move to the more peaceful North, where he transferred to
the Universidad de Cartagena. There he half-heartedly pursued law while writing a
daily column for El Universal, a Cartagena newspaper. Deciding to abandon his
attempts at law in 1950, he devoted himself to writing, moving to Barranquilla. Over
the next few years, he began associating with a literary circle called el grupo de
Barranquilla, and under their influence he began to read the work of Hemingway,
Joyce, Woolf, and most importantly, Faulkner. He also embarked on a study of the
classics, finding tremendous inspiration in the Oedipus Rex cycle by Sophocles.
Faulkner and Sophocles would become his two biggest influences throughout the
late forties and early fifties. Faulkner amazed him with his ability to reformulate his
childhood into a mythical past, inventing a town and a county in which to house his
prose. In Faulkner’s mythical Yoknapatawpha, Garca Mrquez found the seeds for
Macondo; and from Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Antigone he found the ideas of a
plot revolving around society and the abuses of power. Garca Mrquez began to grow
dissatisfied with his earlier stories, believing them to be too abstracted from his true
experiences. They “were simply intellectual elaborations, nothing to do with my
reality.” Faulkner taught him that a writer should write about what is close to him; and
for years Garca Mrquez had been struggling with his muse — what did he really
want to say?
These thoughts would find form when he returned with his mother to his
grandfather’s house in Aracataca. Preparing it for sale, they found the house in quite
ill repair, and yet the “haunted house” evoked such a swirl of memories in his head
that he was overwhelmed. Indeed, the whole town seemed dead, frozen in time. He had
already been sketching out a story based on his experiences there, a tentative novel to
be called La casa, and although he felt that he was not yet ready to perfect it, he had
found part of what he was after — the sense of place. Inspired by his visit, upon
returning to Barranquilla he wrote his first novella, Leaf Storm. With a plot device
adapted from Antigone and set in a mythical town, the book was completed in a rapid
rush of energy. The town was called “Macondo,” which was the name of a banana
plantation near Aracataca that he used to explore as a child. (Macondo means
“banana” in the Bantu language.) Unfortunately in 1952 it was rejected by the first
publisher he sent it to, and seized by self-doubt and self-criticism, he tossed it in a
drawer. (In 1955, while Garca Mrquez was in Eastern Europe, it was rescued it from
its hiding place in Bogot by his friends and sent to a publisher. This time, it was
Despite his rejection and his near poverty, however, he was essentially happy.
Living in a brothel, he was surrounded by friends, and he had a steady job writing
columns for El Heraldo. In the evening he worked on his fiction and talked with his
companions over cigarettes and coffee. Then in 1953, he was seized by a sudden
restlessness. Packing up and quitting his job, he set out to sell encyclopedias in La
Guajira with a friend. He travelled around a bit, worked on some story ideas, and
finally became formally engaged to Mercedes Barcha. In 1954, he moved back to
Bogot and accepted a job on the staff of El Espectador as a writer of stories and
film reviews. There, he flirted with socialism, avoided the notice of the current dictator
— Gustavo Rojas Pinilla — and pondered about his duty as a writer in the time of la
In 1955, an event occurred which would place him back on the path of literature
and eventually lead to his temporary exile from Colombia. That year, the Caldas, a
small Colombian destroyer, was swamped in high seas on its return to Cartagena.
Several sailors were swept overboard and lost, and all died except one remarkable
man, Luis Alejandro Velasco, who managed to survive for ten days at sea clinging to a
life raft. When he was eventually washed ashore, he quickly became a national hero.
Used as propaganda by the government, Velasco did everything from make speeches
to advertise watches and shoes. Finally he decided to tell the truth — the Caldas was
carrying illegal cargo, and they were swept overboard by negligence and
incompetence, not by a storm at all! Visiting the offices of El Espectador, Velasco
offered them his story. After some hesitation, they accepted. Velasco told his story to
Garca Mrquez, who acted as a ghostwriter and recast it into his prose. The story was
serialized over two full weeks as “The Truth About My Adventure,” by Luis Alejandro
Velasco, and it created quite a sensation. Extremely unhappy, the Government tossed
Velasco out of the Navy. Worried that Pinilla might persecute Garca Mrquez
directly, his editors sent him on assignment to Italy to cover the imminent death of
Pope Pius XII. When the pontiff’s untimely survival made this assignment useless,
Garca Mrquez arranged to wander around Europe as a correspondent. After
studying film for awhile in Rome, he embarked on a tour of the communist bloc; and
later that year his friends managed to get Leaf Storm finally published in Bogot.
Garca Mrquez travelled through Geneva, Rome, Poland and Hungary, finally
settling in Paris where he found that he was out of a job — the Pinilla government shut
down the presses of El Espectador. Settling in the Latin Quarter, he lived off of
credit, the kindness of his landlady, and money scraped up returning bottles for their
deposits. There, influenced by the writings of Hemingway, he typed out eleven drafts
of No One Writes to the Colonel and part of Este pueblo de mierda, the book that
would later become In Evil Hour. After finishing Colonel, he travelled to London
and finally returned to his home continent — not to Colombia, but to Venezuela, the
destination of most Colombian refugees. There he finished Este pueblo de mierda,
his work which most directly addresses la violencia. Even though it was obvious that
he was developing his own unique voice, he was still unsatisfied. His early stories
were too unemotional and abstract. Leaf Storm was too indebted to Faulkner, and
No One Writes to the Colonel and In Evil Hour were too far away from his
imagined goal, the picture he had been developing for years. He knew his ultimate
work would take place in that mythical town of Macondo, but he had yet to find the
right tone in which to tell his tale; he had yet to discover his true voice
In Venezuela he teamed up with an old friend, Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, who was
now an editor with Elite, a Caracas newsweekly. Throughout the year of 1957, the
two toured the communist countries of Europe, searching for an answer to Colombia’s
ills, contributing articles to various Latin American publications. And while they saw
something useful in socialism, Garca Mrquez realized with a sense of depression
that communism could be just as terrible as la violencia. After a brief stay in London
again, Garca Mrquez returned to Venezuela, where Mendoza was now working for
Momento, and offered his old friend another job. Then, in 1958, he risked a visit
back to Colombia. Keeping a low profile, he slipped into his native country and
married Mercedes Bacha, who had been awaiting him in Barranquilla for four long
years. He and his new bride then slipped back to Caracas, which was having its own
share of problems. After publishing pieces aimed at American perfidy and the abuses
of tyrants, Momento succumbed to political pressure and took an apologist pro-USA
stance after Nixon’s disastrous visit in May. Angered by their paper’s capitulation,
Garca Mrquez and Mendoza resigned. Soon after leaving his position at Momento,
Garca Mrquez and his wife ended up in Havana, covering the Castro revolution.
Inspired by the revolution, he helped form a Bogot branch of Castro’s news agency,
Prensa Latina, and began a friendship with Castro that has lasted until this day.
In 1959 Garca Mrquez’s first son, Rodrigo, was born, and the family moved to
New York City, where he supervised the North American branch of Prensa Latina,
where he labored under death threats from angry Americans and an increasing sense
of disillusionment at the ideological rifts occurring in Cuba’s communist party. He
resigned his position later that year and moved his family to Mexico City, travelling
through the South on a Faulknerian pilgrimage; he would be denied entrance into the
USA again until 1971.
In Mexico City he wrote subtitles for films and worked on screenplays, and
managed to publish some of his work. Rescued from moth-eaten oblivion by his
friends, No One Writes to the Colonel was published in 1961, and then Big
Mama’s Funeral in 1962, the same year with saw the birth of his second son,
Gonzalo. Finally his friends convinced him to enter the Colombian Esso literary
contest in Bogot; he revised Este pueblo de mierda, and changed the title from
“This Town of Shit” to La mala hora, or In Evil Hour. He submitted it, and it won.
The sponsors of the prize sent the book to Madrid to be published, and it greeted the
world in 1962 — to his immense disappointment. The publication was a travesty; the
Spanish publisher purged it of all Latin American slang and objectionable material,
bowdlerizing it beyond recognition and making the characters speak precise,
dictionary Spanish. Heartbroken, Garca Mrquez was forced to repudiate it — it
would take nearly half a decade until the book would be published, restored to his
The next few years were years of profound disappointment, producing nothing of
much worth except a film script cowritten with Carlos Fuentes. His friends tried to
cheer him up in whatever ways they could, but nevertheless, he began to feel like a
failure. None of his works had sold over 700 copies. He had never received any
royalties. And still, and still, the story of Macondo eluded his grasp.
And then it happened: his epiphany. On January 1965 he and his family were driving
to the Acapulco for a vacation, when the inspiration struck him: he had found his tone.
For the first time in twenty years, a stroke of lightning clearly illuminated Macondo.
He would later write:
“All of a sudden — I don’t know why — I had this illumination on
how to write the book. . . . I had it so completely formed, that right
there I could have dictated the first chapter word by word to a typist.”
And later, regarding that illumination:
“The tone that I eventually used in One Hundred Years of Solitude
was based on the way my grandmother used to tell stories. She told
things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with
complete naturalness. . . . What was most important was the
expression she had on her face. She did not change her expression at
all when telling her stories and everyone was surprised. In previous
attempts to write, I tried to tell the story without believing in it. I
discovered that what I had to do was believe in them myself and write
them with the same expression with which my grandmother told
them: with a brick face.”
He turned the car immediately around and headed home. There, he put Mercedes
in charge of the family, and he retired to his room to write.
And write he did. He wrote every day for eighteen months, consuming up to six
packs of cigarettes a day. To provide for the family, the car was sold, and almost every
household appliance was pawned so Mercedes could feed the family and keep him
supplied with a constant river of paper and cigarettes. His friends started to call his
smoke-filled room “the Cave of the Mafia,” and after awhile the whole community
began helping out, as if they collectively understood that he was creating a
masterpiece. Credit was extended, appliances loaned, debts forgiven. After nearly a
year of work, Garca Mrquez sent the first three chapters to Carlos Fuentes, who
publicly declared: “I have just read eighty pages from a master.” Towards the end of
the novel, as yet unnamed, anticipation grew, and the buzz of success was in the air.
As finishing touches, he placed himself, his wife, and his friends in the novel, and then
discovered a name on the last page: Cien aos de solidad. Finally he emerged from
the Cave, grasping thirteen hundred pages in his hands, exhausted and almost
poisoned from nicotine, over ten thousand dollars in debt, and perhaps only a few
pages shy of a mental and physical breakdown. And yet, he was happy — euphoric. In
need of postage, he pawned a few more household implements and sent it off to the
publisher in Buenos Aires.
One Hundred Years of Solitude was published in June 1967, and within a week
all 8000 copies were gone. From that point on, success was assured, and the novel
sold out a new printing each week, going on to sell half a million copies within three
years. It was translated into over two dozen languages, and it won four international
prizes. Success had come at last. Gabriel Garca Mrquez was 39 years old when the
world learned his name.
Suddenly he was beset by fame. Fan mail, awards, interviews, appearances — it
was obvious that his life had changed. In 1969, the novel won the Chianchiano Prize
in Italy and was named the Best Foreign Book in France. In 1970, it was published in
English and was chosen as one of the best twelve books of the year in the United
States. Two years later he was awarded the Rmulo Gallegos Prize and the Neustadt
Prize, and in 1971, a Peruvian writer named Mario Vargas Llosa even published a
book about his life and work. To counter all this exposure, Garca Mrquez simply
returned to writing. Deciding that he would write about a dictator, he moved his family
to Barcelona, Spain, which was spending its last years under the boot of Francisco
Franco. There he labored on his next work, a work that would pin down a composite
dictator, a Caribbean dictator with Stalin’s smooth hands and the solipsistic will of an
archetypical Latin American tyrant. In the meantime, Innocent Erndira and Other
Stories was published in 1972, and in 1973 he put out a collection of his journalistic
work from the late fifties, Cuando era feliz e indocumentado, or “When I Was
Happy and Uninformed.”
Autumn of the Patriarch was published in 1975, and it was a drastic departure
from the prose style of One Hundred Years of Solitude. A winding book with
labyrinthine sentences, it was initially considered a disappointment by the critics, who
were most likely expecting another Macondo. Opinion has changed over the years,
however, and many now consider this novel of shifting realities to be a minor
masterpiece of prose.
Living in a dictatorship and writing a novel about a tyrant took their emotional toll
over the years. By the end of the novel, Garca Mrquez had decided that he would
write no more fiction until the American-supported Pinochet stepped down from his
dictatorship of Chile, a decision he later discarded. He was becoming more aware of
his own political power as a well-known writer, and his increased clout and financial
security enabled him to pursue his interests in political activism. Returning to Mexico
City, he purchased a new house and stepped up his personal campaign to affect the
politics of the world around him. Continuing his actions of the last few years, he
continued to funnel some of his money into political and social causes. Through his
writings and donations, he supported leftist causes in Colombia, Venezuela,
Nicaragua, Argentina, and Angola. He helped found and strongly supported
HABEAS, an organization dedicated to correcting the abuses of Latin American
power and freeing political prisoners, and he struck up friendships with such leaders
as Omar Torrijos of Panama and continued his relationship with Fidel Castro of
Cuba. Needless to say, these activities did not endear him to the hearts of politicians in
either the US or in Colombia; all his visits to the US were on a limited visa and had to
be approved by the State Department. In 1977 he published Operacin Carlota, a
series of essays on Cuba’s role in Africa. Ironically, although he claims to be quite
good friends with Castro — who even helped him edit Chronicle of a Death Foretold
— he spent the late seventies writing a “very harsh, very frank” book about the
shortcomings of the Cuban Revolution and of life under Castro’s regime. This book
has not yet been published, and Garca Mrquez has claimed that he is holding it until
relations between Cuba and the United States are somewhat normalized.
In 1981, the year in which he was awarded the French Legion of Honor medal, he
returned to Colombia from a visit with Castro, and there he found out that he was in
trouble. The Conservative Government was accusing him of financing the M-19, a
Liberal group of guerrillas. Fleeing Colombia, he asked for and received political
asylum in Mexico, where he lives to this day. Colombia would soon regret their anger
at their famous son, however: in 1982 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Embarrassed, and having just elected a new President, Colombia invited him back, and
President Betancur personally saw him off to Stockholm.
In 1982 he assisted a friend in publishing El odor de la guayaba, or “The
Fragrance of Guava,” a book of conversations with his long time friend and colleague
Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, and in the same year he wrote Viva Sandino, a screenplay
about the Sandanistas and the Nicaraguan Revolution. Politics, however, would be far
from his mind for his next work of fiction, which would be a love story. Turning
again to his rich past for inspiration and material, he reworked his parent’s strange
courtship into the form of a decade-spanning narrative. The story would be about two
frustrated lovers and the long tome between their second courtship, and in 1986 Love
in the Time of Cholera was unveiled to the anxious world. It was highly received,
and there was no question that Garca Mrquez had become a writer with universal
By now one of the most famous writers in the world, he eased into a lifestyle of
writing, teaching, and political activism. With residences in Mexico City, Cuernavaca,
Paris, Barcelona, and Barranquilla, he finished the decade by publishing The
General in his Labyrinth in 1990, and two years later Strange Pilgrims was born.
In 1994 he published his most recent work of fiction, Love and Other Demons.
Today, Garca Mrquez lives with Mercedes in Mexico City, where he has quit
smoking and is in the perpetual state of “writing a novel.”
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