García Márquez was born in the northern Caribbean coastal region of Colombia in the town of Aracataca (the model for Macondo) on 7 March 1927. (Many informed sources have published the incorrect date that García Márquez himself has used on occasion, 6 March 1928.) When he was born, this region of Colombia was at the end of a period of suffering caused by the presence of the United Fruit Company in Colombia: foreign companies had controlled banana production since the end of the nineteenth century in this region. The young García Márquez grew up in Aracataca hearing stories of the lives of working people living under the shadow of a dominant foreign culture. Contrary to the history of many Latin American nations, this period was the only time and the only region in which a foreign power dominated the economy in Colombia; since García Márquez has been a lifelong critic of Western postindustrial capitalism, this segment of Colombia's history is noteworthy.
The son of telegrapher Gabriel Eligio García and Luisa Santiaga Márquez de García, the author was raised by his maternal grandparents, Colonel Nicolás Márquez and Tranquilina Iguarán de Márquez, in Aracataca after his father decided to seek better employment in Barranquilla. He has one brother, born after García Márquez had reached adulthood. García Márquez has explained in many interviews and in his autobiography, Vivir para contarla (2002, translated as Living to Tell the Tale, 2003), that he grew up in the midst of ghosts and fantastic tales, since his grandmother was an accomplished storyteller. This impoverished and strongly Afro-Colombian region of the country was still immersed in the nineteenth century in many ways, with a strong and vibrant oral culture in which the vast majority of the population was illiterate. National newspapers did not yet circulate in this region, and much of the news from the outside world came to Aracataca and other small towns by means of vallenatos, popular music that told tales garnished with real people and events. Thus, during García Márquez's childhood he was immersed in oral tradition, stories, and tales identified in Anglo-American tradition as "tall tales."
As was often the case for boys in Colombia at this time, he was sent to Bogotá in 1940 to study in a private high school. There, he was an avid reader of world literature, and, upon graduation, he decided to pursue the path of many highly literate Colombians: law. His main interest, however, was literature, and as a law student at the Universidad Nacional in 1947 he continued reading voraciously and began writing his own stories. He claims that when he read Franz Kafka and William Faulkner, he decided to become a writer. Now familiar with some of the Western modernists and particularly interested in the zones of the fantastic opened to him by Kafka's The Metamorphosis (1915), he created early stories that were amateurish explorations of the fantastic. He was particularly interested in blurring the line between life and death, and he portrayed characters in nebulous zones that might be described as intermediate spaces not exactly in the empirical world of everyday lives or of death. His first story, "La tercera resignación" (The Third Resignation), was his attempt to create a Kafkian text that defies the rational limits of what is normally accepted as everyday empirical reality. It deals with a man who is apparently dead but who seems to function in some gray area between the normal categories of life and death. Some of these stories were published in newspapers in Colombia in the late 1940s and then reappeared, years after García Márquez had become a celebrated writer, in a volume titled Ojos de perro azul (1972, Eyes of Blue Dog).
Life changed radically for many citizens of Colombia in 1948, including García Márquez, when political violence broke out in the streets of Bogotá after the assassination of the presidential candidate of the Liberal Party, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, on 9 April of that year. Partisan violence spread across the nation from 1948 to 1956, and Colombia was in a period of civil war identified as La Violencia, which led to more than three hundred thousand deaths. After completing one year of law studies at the Universidad Nacional, García Márquez moved to a more peaceful setting, the coastal city of Cartagena, where he took a job as a journalist.
From there he moved to the nearby port city of Barranquilla, where he continued to work as a journalist, reporting on a broad range of political, cultural, and literary topics. In Barranquilla, the aspiring writer came into contact with a group of other young intellectuals with a serious interest in literature. Their mentor was José Félix Fuenmayor, a writer who had published innovative fiction in the 1920s and 1930s and had promoted avant-garde literature in a nation that was exceptionally conservative in its literary tastes as well as its institutions. Fuenmayor edited an avant-garde cultural magazine, under the title Voces (Voices), that was exceptional in Colombia. The group of young artists included García Márquez, Alvaro Cepeda Samudio, Alfonso Fuenmayor, and Germán Vargas. The only two who wrote fiction were García Márquez and Cepeda Samudio, but they were all avid readers of the masters of international modernism promoted by their mentor Fuenmayor: from James Joyce, John Dos Passos, and Faulkner to Kafka and Robert Musil. For García Márquez, however, the true master was Faulkner, and the American writer was an essential model for the first two decades of the Colombian's literary career. Not only was the society Faulkner portrayed parallel to many aspects of Latin American society, but also the strategies for telling a story were a revelation for the young writer. Thus, his first novel, La hojarasca , was directly modeled after As I Lay Dying (1930). As García Márquez and his cohorts grew in recognition in Colombia first, and then in Latin America, they became known as the "Group of Barranquilla."
Most of the action in La hojarasca takes place from 1903 to 1928, depicting Macondo in the early twentieth century as a decadent town left behind by a foreign company. Of the four main characters, there are three members of a family who narrate and a doctor whose wake is the circumstance of the novel. The first of these narrators is a ten-year-old boy who relates for his father his thoughts and perceptions of the wake. The other narrators are the boy's mother and his grandfather. In this manner, García Márquez provides multiple perspectives on the life of the doctor and the history of the town.
In the mid 1950s, García Márquez moved back to Bogotá, where he came into contact with like-minded writers and intellectuals who began publishing the cultural journal Mito (Myth) in 1955. This journal promoted literary and cultural modernism in a nation that was still generally among the most culturally conservative in Latin America. In Bogotá, García Márquez gained employment at the liberal newspaper El Espectador (The Spectator). Colombia was not only in the midst of La Violencia but also living under the military dictatorship of Gustavo Rojas Pinilla. The newspaper sent García Márquez to Paris to work as a correspondent, but soon thereafter, Rojas Pinilla ordered El Espectador closed down, and the young Colombian became unemployed. During this time, when García Márquez was living in poverty in Paris, he wrote and published several of the stories that later appeared in Los funerales de la Mamá Grande. Many of his peers in Colombia were writing bloody accounts of La Violencia in the 1950s, but García Márquez's approach was different: he wrote stories that only alluded to political violence, with political conflict as part of the general context. In this way, García Márquez emphasized the human drama in a more universal way than had been the case in Colombian fiction of the 1950s.
In 1958, García Márquez returned to Latin America, married his childhood sweetheart, Mercedes Barcha, and worked as a journalist in Venezuela and Colombia. The stay in Venezuela was a significant experience, for in that nation he experienced another dictatorial regime: Marcos Pérez Jiménez was in power in the late 1950s. This brutal dictator provided some material that appeared later in the novel El otoño del patriarca. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, García Márquez wrote journalistic pieces critical of the U.S. government and celebrating the Cuban Revolution. Like many Latin American intellectuals of this period, García Márquez viewed the Cuban Revolution as a model for the Latin American nations establishing economic and cultural independence from the United States. As a result of these writings, and a visit to Cuba (which led to a lifelong friendship with Fidel Castro), García Márquez has had difficulties most of his adult life in getting easy access to visas to visit the United States; for many years, in fact, he was on a State Department "blacklist" of leftist intellectuals.
El coronel no tiene quien le escriba has been praised frequently by other writers as a masterpiece of the craft of fiction, and even the author himself has claimed on occasion that it is his best novel. Indeed, it is a model of sparse, well-wrought fiction with a minimalist use of language that was rare for literature written in the Spanish language at the time. In the context of a literary tradition that still favored Baroque excess and an ample use of adjectives, El coronel no tiene quien le escriba, like the Mexican Juan Rulfo 's Pedro Páramo (1955), is an exceptional book that includes much understatement, minimalist descriptions, and no hyperbole. García Márquez has often spoken and written about Pedro Páramo as a great novel that he has always admired. El coronel no tiene quien le escriba is a book of many types of silence--above all, the silence created by political censorship. The protagonist is an aged colonel, and he, as well as the remainder of Macondo's inhabitants, are consistently silent about political matters. (The background, of course, is the period of political repression during and following La Violencia.) Despite the silences, the political situation is the essential and overriding factor in the lives of everyone in the town.
In the short stories of Los funerales de la Mamá Grande and the short novel La mala hora , García Márquez depicted more of Macondo's ordinary people attempting to survive in the context of the political repression. Two of the stories in the former collection are representative of the author's mastery of the art of fiction. In "Un día de estos" (One of These Days), García Márquez relates an anecdote of the town mayor going to the dentist to deal with a toothache. On the surface, it is a story of a man's suffering in the dentist's chair. Once it is understood that the mayor is a representative of the politically repressive military dictatorship of Rojas Pinilla, however, the story is significantly different. The author's mastery is leaving the political as part of the eerie background and underlining the human conflict involved in this encounter between a representative of authority and a citizen who has the opportunity to question authority.
"La siesta del martes" (Tuesday's Siesta) is the story of a woman who goes to the town where her son has been buried after he was shot as a result of his involvement with petty larceny. In the story it becomes evident that the mother is a person of great dignity who had made every effort to raise her son properly, and that the son had followed her admonition never to steal anything that would leave others hungry. At the end, the local priest offers her a way to cover her face with a parasol as she leaves the town, but she refuses this cover and thus reaffirms her dignity. In these two stories, as well as in La mala hora, García Márquez underlines the human drama and reaffirms his faith in the spirit of the common man. In the novel, the author makes the political violence of the period more visible: political repression and violence are part of everyday life during seventeen days in the life of Macondo.
Once El coronel no tiene quien le escriba and La mala hora had appeared in print, García Márquez believed that his career as a novelist was basically over. Historically, the writing of novels had been more of a passion or personal hobby than a profession for most Latin American writers, and García Márquez's profits from the first years of his fiction-writing career had been negligible. He moved to Mexico with his wife in order to pursue a new career in movie scriptwriting, and he soon befriended the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes, with whom he wrote a movie script as a joint project. He also participated in the intellectual life of Mexico City's young, progressive, and mostly leftist writers. Much of this cultural activity was led by Fuentes, who hosted weekly Sunday literary soirees in his home, and García Márquez was a regular presence. He has consulted and collaborated with Fuentes in multiple venues throughout his career.
García Márquez was not actually planning (in the early 1960s) to write his celebrated novel Cien años de soledad. In the mid 1960s, however, an unexpected series of events led to the creation of this masterpiece. García Márquez had planned a weekend vacation for his family (which now included sons Rodrigo, born in 1959, and Gonzalo, born in 1962) in Acapulco, and they decided to drive a car from their home in Mexico City to Acapulco. During this trip, before arriving at his destination, García Márquez experienced a literary epiphany and turned around, driving back to his home in Mexico City. The essence of this epiphany centered on the realization that, contrary to his earlier beliefs, his novelistic career was not over, for he had a novel to write. This novel was the complete story of Macondo. García Márquez also had a strong sense from the beginning how he wanted to tell the Macondo story: in the same way his grandmother told stories. With this idea in mind, García Márquez returned with his family to Mexico City and was soon in the basement of his home, where he spent most of his time writing obsessively for a period of approximately one year. His wife took charge of all family matters for that year, allowing her husband to concentrate on his writing.
While the determined Colombian was in seclusion in Mexico City, his peers in Latin America were in the public eye in a way never before witnessed by Latin American writers, for the 1960s were the years of the internationally recognized "Boom" of the Latin American novel. The novelists of the Boom included the Mexican Fuentes, the Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa, the Argentine Julio Cortázar, and García Márquez. They were the celebrity figures of the period, though there were other accomplished novelists in the 1960s writing in Latin America, including the Chilean José Donoso (a lifetime friend of García Márquez), the Cuban exile Guillermo Cabrera Infante, the Cuban exile Severo Sarduy, and the Venezuelan Salvador Garmendia.
This Boom of the Latin American novel in the 1960s was a result of several circumstances, institutions, and individuals. Among these factors were the Cuban Revolution (which bonded Latin American intellectuals), the interest of publishers Harper and Row in the United States and Seix Barral in Spain, the appearance of Spanish literary agent Carmen Balcells (agent for both García Márquez and Fuentes, among many others), the rise of international Latin Americanism as a discipline, the publication of the magazine Mundo Nuevo (New World) in Paris by Emir Rodríguez Monegal in the mid 1960s, and the emergence of an accomplished translator, Gregory Rabassa, soon to be followed by Suzanne Jill Levine and Margaret Sayers Peden. As Donoso explains in his Historia personal del "boom" (1972; translated as The Boom in Spanish American Literature: A Personal History, 1977), Fuentes was central to making these disparate factors work together; he brought together the different strands of personal alliances and institutional support. García Márquez and several other writers were guests at the Fuentes home in the San Angel neighborhood of Mexico City, a grouping that sometimes included Vargas Llosa and Donoso. The Chilean writer, in fact, lived in a bungalow in Fuentes's backyard, using this location to write for three years in the early 1960s.
As García Márquez wrote Cien años de soledad in his basement, Fuentes followed closely and supported the writing of his good friend. García Márquez has always liked to chat about his work as it has progressed, and he found Fuentes the ideal dialogic friend in 1965 and 1966, the same period he was joining the Sunday evening soirees in San Angel. Fuentes was one of the few individuals to read the manuscript of this masterpiece before its publication. This Mexican collaborator praised the novel in an article that appeared first in the magazine Siempre (29 June 1966) in Mexico, then later in the influential literary organ of the Boom, Mundo Nuevo, in Paris.
When García Márquez's novel appeared in print in 1967 with the Argentine publishing house Sudamericana, its impact was swift and broad: critics from Argentina to Spain immediately heralded it as one of the major novels to have been published in recent years. Rarely had a novel published in Spanish received such widespread acclaim and then appeared in so many subsequent editions so quickly: with the publication of Cien años de soledad in 1967, the Boom was at its zenith in Latin America and gaining an unprecedented international respect. Soon thereafter, translations began appearing in the major Western European languages, and in the 1970s the novel was named one of the best foreign books by Time magazine in the United States. The reasons for this broad appeal have been a matter of speculation among critics over the years, but certainly the strong story line, entertaining characters and situations, and unfailing humor are major factors. Following his literary master Faulkner, García Márquez also leads his readers through the unfolding of a pattern that eventually results in harmony. This pattern (from fragmentation or chaos to harmony) characterizes much of the writing of García Márquez and the other writers of the Boom, particularly in reference to their novels of the 1960s.
Cien años de soledad is the story of a family and a small town, as well as the history of Colombia and of many Latin American nations. When García Márquez finally surfaced from his basement with his completed manuscript, he had also written exactly what he had conceived on his trip to Acapulco: he wrote the complete story of Macondo (a synthesis of many stories in his earlier fiction), and he did it as his grandmother told stories--imitating the oral tradition. In this work, the character José Arcadio Buendía marries his cousin, Ursula; both are the first generation of a seven-generation family. Given their kinship, the pair and all of their descendants live under the constant terror of conceiving a child with a pig's tail. The town of Macondo progresses from a backward village to a modern city after the arrival of the accoutrements of twentieth-century modernity. The town also suffers the vicissitudes of Colombian and Latin American history, however, including many civil wars.
This novel consists of twenty untitled and unnumbered chapters that tell the family story in a basically linear fashion, with frequent diversions into the past or future. The first two chapters offer the historical background of the Buendía family, with the first focusing on José Arcadio Buendía and the crazed methods he imagines as a way of understanding the world. The second chapter moves to the history of the family and explains the foundation of Macondo. This chapter traces the family roots back to the sixteenth century, when the historical figure Sir Francis Drake assaulted the Colombian coast (real history) in the region of Riohacha. Many readers have referred to the key episode of the third chapter--an insomnia plague that afflicts Macondo. With the insomnia comes a villagewide loss of memory. The artist Pietro Crespi arrives in Macondo in the fourth chapter, and many critics have understood his presence in the village as the typical case of the frustrated artist in Latin America. In the chapters that follow, García Márquez rewrites much of the history of Colombia, with special emphasis on its civil wars in the nineteenth century. Among the cyclical events and activities in this novel, the political sphere seems particularly repetitive. When a banana company arrives in Macondo (the equivalent of the United Fruit Company in Aracataca), striking soldiers are massacred by government troops. After one of its particularly long rains Macondo seems to be reborn. At the end of the novel, a child is born with a pig's tail, completing the family cycle as it had been suggested at the beginning of the story.
For many foreign readers, Cien años de soledad might initially seem like a book of fantastic tales. For many critics in Colombia and Latin America, as well as García Márquez himself, however, this book is based on the social and political reality of Latin America, as well as its history. It is a strong sociopolitical critique that coincides with the author's politics of the 1960s. Colonel Aureliano Buendía, who engages in many battles in the novel, is based on the late-nineteenth-century figure General Rafael Uribe Uribe, who was a leader of the Liberal Party and who suffered several defeats in the civil wars. The strike of the banana workers, which is related as one of the most fantastic events in the novel, is in fact one of the most historic events. In November 1928, Colombian workers declared a strike against the United Fruit Company. García Márquez and his old friend from the Group of Barranquilla, Cepeda Samudio, were the first to tell this story of the banana workers' strike: it appeared in Cepeda Samudio's novel La casa grande (1955, translated 1991) and was then popularized in the nation's consciousness in Colombia with García Márquez's novel.
García Márquez's use of narrative voice in Cien años de soledad exhibits the strategies he learned from both the modernists such as Faulkner and the oral storytellers such as his grandmother. The narrator in this novel is third-person omniscient, occasionally revealing what the characters think. The predominant mode, however, is external: the reader observes the characters act and speak. In most of the novel this detached narrator offers seemingly neutral observations about the fictional world of Macondo. Despite the detachment, however, the narrator also functions as if he were a character in the novel. At times the narrator demonstrates an innocence toward the world that is similar to that of the characters (and also similar to that of many oral storytellers). The narrator thinks like the townsfolk of Macondo, at times demonstrating the same prejudices, at others the same primitive ideas and reactions.
One consistently used technique of oral storytelling that García Márquez apparently learned from his grandmother is the use of understatement when describing incredible situations and overstatement or exaggeration when dealing with the commonplace. In the first chapter, for example, the narrator shares the characters' utter amazement at their discovery of ice, and by the end of the chapter the narrator uses the words "mysterious" and "prodigious" to describe what would seem to readers just everyday experience. On the other hand, the narrator regularly reacts to the most wondrous events with absolute passivity. In the first chapter, José and his children experience the disappearance of a man who becomes invisible after drinking a special potion. Neither the narrator nor the characters pay particular attention to this unlikely occurrence.
With respect to García Márquez's use of the oral culture of the Aracataca of his childhood, this novel depicts the transition from orality to various stages of literacy. The process is particularly evident if one compares the early chapters with the later ones. In the early chapters, the mindset of a primary orality (that is, the mindset of an illiterate populace) predominates. In the last chapter, however, the most intricate exercises of a writing culture are carried out. These two extremes are represented by the character of Melquíades, who is of a writing culture from the outside, and by Ursula, who possesses a mindset of orality. The effects of the interplay between oral and written culture are multiple. The traditionalism and modernity of this novel are based on various roles the narrator assumes as oral storyteller in the fashion of the tall tale, as narrator with an oral person's mindset, and as the modern narrator of a self-conscious (written) text. As such, Cien años de soledad is not only a culmination of García Márquez's cycle of Macondo but also his master synthesis of oral and written traditions.
García Márquez's fiction after Cien años de soledad has displayed a variety of settings, characters, and topics, and most of these new stories are not easily associated with the tales of Macondo. His next book was the volume of short stories published under the title La increíble y triste historia de la cándida Eréndira y de su abuela desalmada (1972, translated as Innocent Eréndira and Other Stories, 1978), a set of well-wrought entertainments that few critics considered to have the symbolic or social value of many of his novels.
Since the publication of Cien años de soledad and its international success, García Márquez has assumed the lifestyle of a celebrity writer and an international jet-setter, with homes on several continents and in the cities of Mexico City, Bogotá, Barcelona, Paris, and Cartagena. Since the 1970s, his primary residence has been in Mexico City, although he travels regularly to Colombia and has often lived there for periods of several months. In the early 1970s García Márquez lived most of the time in Barcelona and Paris, where he socialized with Cortázar and Vargas Llosa and wrote much of his next novel, El otoño del patriarca.
During the 1970s García Márquez was fully engaged in leftist politics, supporting progressive causes and writing political essays critical of the U.S. government. He visited Bogotá briefly in 1975, shortly after the publication of El otoño del patriarca, and declared to the press that he would not publish another novel until after the fall of military dictator Augusto Pinochet Ugarte in Chile. He did not, in fact, fulfill this promise, but his declaration was typical of García Márquez's sense for the uses of the press: he knows how to catch the headlines in Latin America with a statement that might represent more of a truth of the moment than a permanent, lasting truth.
In the spirit of his declaration, García Márquez did write a novel against Pinochet and all other authoritarian leaders. In the late 1960s and early 1970s the writers of the Boom had been talking socially about a joint project on the subject of the archetypal Latin American dictator. This project never got beyond some good conversations over dinner and drinks in Barcelona and Paris, but these thoughts and serious concerns did lead several of them, including García Márquez, to the completion of their own dictator novels. After a hiatus of eight years since publishing Cien años de soledad (a period during which he actively and regularly published journalism), García Márquez came forth with El otoño del patriarca, based on the lives and political careers of several Latin American dictators. This novel is perhaps his most refined exhibition of technical virtuosity. García Márquez had begun writing this book during the 1950s at the end of the Pérez Jiménez dictatorship in Venezuela and had witnessed the spectacle of an entire nation celebrating the fall of that regime. The figure of the Venezuelan dictator, however, was merely a point of departure for this novel. García Márquez also began reading histories of dictators; some of these historical accounts included anecdotes that seem more fantastic than the most committed magic realist. In one such anecdote, the Haitian dictator François "Papa Doc" Duvalier ordered all black dogs killed because he was convinced one of his political enemies had transformed himself into a black dog. García Márquez's intention was to create a synthesis of all Latin American dictators in this novel, but especially those from the Caribbean, including Venezuela.
The protagonist of El otoño del patriarca is a prototype dictator, known only as "the General," and the physical setting is a vaguely Caribbean nation that is never named. From the days of the Pérez Jiménez regime, García has been fascinated with what he has called the "mystery" of power, and that is the main theme of the novel.
García Márquez often creates striking and memorable openings for his books, and the first chapter of El otoño del patriarca begins with the discovery of the General's rotting corpse (the cause of death is unexplained) in his presidential palace. The narrative moves quickly to several stories about the General's life. The most important of these anecdotes is what is identified as his "first death," actually that of his government-appointed double, Patricio Aragonés. The action of the second chapter is centered on the woman with whom the General falls in love, Manuela Sánchez. The politics of power are the focus of the third chapter, and his power seems limitless: he is capable of altering the weather and even signaling with his finger so that men prosper, trees give fruit, and animals grow. In the fourth chapter, the General's power begins to wane, and he suffers from a limited ability to understand this loss and his diminishing contact with empirical reality. His final demise is the subject of the last two chapters. The dictator celebrates his one-hundredth anniversary in power, but his reign is decadent in every sense of the word. When the General finally dies, he is unsure of the power he exercised and by which he was tormented in the solitude of his dictatorship. His constant suffering of solitude connects him to many of the characters of the cycle of Macondo.
As a master modernist García Márquez manipulates an external and an internal view of the protagonist. In contrast to the god-like power that the General possesses (allowing him to manipulate the citizenry), a view of the General's psyche consistently emphasizes his pettiness and puerility. This contrast is a basis for much of the humor in the book. Throughout the novel, the General carefully locks an elaborate combination of locks, crossbars, and bolts in his room, thus underlining his paranoia. Despite his supreme self-confidence, the only person allowed to defeat the General in a game of dominoes is his friend Rodrigo de Aguilar.
In El otoño del patriarca, García Márquez also presents the maintenance of power as a result of the protagonist's ability to manipulate the visible and the invisible. Once an assassination attempt fails, the General not only orders the responsible party put to death but also orders that the different parts of the assassin's body be put on public display throughout the nation, thus providing a graphic demonstration of the consequences of questioning power. When the General feels the need to exert maximum power, he observes its functioning. This need helps to explain the General's strange behavior each morning: he must watch the milking of the cows he owns.
The question of the visible and the invisible and its relation to the theme of power is also developed by means of the presence of the sea in this novel. As the most important visible object in the General's daily life, the sea is his most treasured "possession." The General's sea, his window, and power become so closely associated that the General insists upon maintaining possession of his window and his sea as persistently as his power. When he begins to realize that he is losing his power, he becomes even more adamant about not losing his sea. The opening of a seen reality into a mixture of the visible and the invisible makes the experience of the novel similar to the principal theme it develops: the multiple illusions of reality and of power.
Following the publication of El otoño del patriarca, García Márquez remained actively involved in his lifetime passions: literature, journalism, cinema, and politics. He explored new genres, such as the testimonio and the literary memoir, at the same time that he continued writing fiction. He wrote journalistic pieces regularly throughout the 1970s and has even stated more than once that he considers himself primarily a journalist. He has remained close to the world of movies by leading movie-making workshops in Cuba, organizing an annual international festival in Cartagena, and serving in other capacities in the international cinema scene. With respect to politics, García Márquez has also taken a variety of roles, often acting as a de facto ambassador-at-large for the Colombian government and political groups within Colombia. He has often been called upon to serve as an intermediary, for example, with Castro, given the Colombian's relationship with Castro since the early 1960s.
García Márquez's two major novels since 1975 have been Crónica de una muerte anunciada (1981, translated as Chronicle of a Death Foretold , 1982) and El Amor en los tiempos del cólera (1985, translated as Love in the Time of Cholera, 1988). The former was his last novel before being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982, and the latter was his first novel after this international recognition. Since his early experience as a journalist in Cartagena and Barranquilla, García Márquez had often come across unusual events and individuals that later found a place in his fiction. Crónica de una muerte anunciada was inspired by a newspaper account of an assassination in 1951 based on a case of the medieval codes of honor that became part of the colonial legacy and, eventually, codes of contemporary daily life in Colombia. The newspaper account explained that a person named Cayetano Gentile Chimento was brutally killed by two brothers in the Department of Sucre in January 1951 because their sister had claimed that she lost her virginity to Gentile Chimento before her marriage to another man. Holding the belief that the honor of their sister and their family had been ruined by Gentile Chimento, the brothers butchered the man with machetes. García Márquez took this grisly series of events and constructed a parody of a detective novel. The genre of the detective novel had interested García Márquez since his youth, and Crónica de una muerte anunciada is his detective novel in reverse: he announces the death and the assassins at the beginning and dedicates the remainder of the novel to keeping the reader intrigued with the details.
The Colombian's mastery of the arresting beginning is not lost in this novel, which opens with the sentence "El día en que lo iban a matar, Santiago Nasar se levantó a las 5:30 de la mañana para esperar el buque en que llegaba el obispo" (On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five thirty in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming on). From this first line, the reader follows the details on how the murder takes place. As the novel develops, the exact circumstances surrounding Nasar's death become increasingly incredible: there is so much evidence about what is happening that everyone in the town except Nasar realizes exactly what is transpiring. The novel consists of five chapters which are hardly a "chronicle" if one holds to a strict definition of the genre--a chronological record of historical events. The first chapter tells of the morning of the assassination by the two brothers, Pedro and Pablo Vicario. The second narrates the background of the relationship between the bride, Angela Vicario, and her groom, Bayardo San Román. The third chapter recounts the evening of the wedding vows--the night before Nasar's death. The fourth chapter jumps ahead in time to relate the events subsequent to the killing, such as Angela's life during the years after the failed marriage. The final chapter returns to the chronology of events surrounding the actual murder, culminating in a detailed and bloody description of the death.
As in much of García Márquez's fiction, there is not an underlying belief system that can provide a rational and coherent understanding of the series of events that comprise this novel. Rather, as in the early fictions of Macondo, life is determined by inexplicable forces and irrational acts. The narrator explains directly that all attempts at rational explanation have failed, and the narrator does not offer speculation as to how things happened as they did.
In the end, Crónica de una muerte anunciada leaves more questions than it solves, and one of the author's main strategies for creating ambiguity is to employ detailed particularity concerning irrelevant matters and vague descriptions about points of real importance. This basic procedure is like much journalism that abounds in detailed facts but fails to provide the broad picture of the events at hand. And contrary to what has been announced in the title, this novel is not a chronicle: a narrative situation in which the narrator only relates "versions" of what others have said, in effect, subverts any historical pretension underlying the literariness of this verbal construct.
When García Márquez received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982, many critics in Latin America had been speculating that he, Carlos Fuentes, or Octavio Paz might well be chosen. The selection of García Márquez was well received throughout Latin America, and particularly in Colombia, where many intellectuals belonging to the ruling elite had tended to be either distant or openly critical of this leftist writer before 1982. When the Nobel laureate returned from Stockholm to Colombia, he was received by the president, Belisario Betancur, as a national hero, and the entire country celebrated. New editions of his works appeared immediately in Spanish as well as many other languages. Another result of the Nobel Prize was the writer's new role as quasi-diplomat: from 1982 to the late 1990s, he often served as intermediary or spokesperson for President Betancur and for Castro, mostly in issues regarding international politics.
After receiving the Nobel Prize, García Márquez began spending less time in Mexico and more time living and writing in Cartagena, the colonial city where he had begun writing journalism in order to eke out a living as an aspiring writer. The ancient city is still surrounded by the walls that the Spaniards built in the seventeenth century to protect it from the pirates who navigated freely in the Caribbean. This now quaint and picturesque place is the main setting for Amor en los tiempos del cólera. More than just an improbable love story, this novel is about aging. In it, an older man returns to the love of his youth (after the death of her husband) and courts her on a steamboat. This romantic tale is the author's most lengthy novel (more than five hundred pages in the original Spanish); yet, this first book after the Nobel Prize does not represent as much of the typical García Márquez as some readers had expected, with relatively little of the magic realism, circular structures, and hyperbole that have characterized his most widely read work. Nevertheless, the ghost of a woman who waves at passing ships and the presence of a parrot who speaks Latin and French do remind the reader fleetingly of the magical world of Macondo. The love story begins as Florentino Ariza, at the age of seventeen, falls in love with Fermina Daza. Fermina's family, however, pressures her to marry the aristocratic Dr. Juvenal Urbino. Fifty years later, Urbino dies; Florentino proposes to the widow; and their love is consummated on a boat going down the Magdalena River. This novel and El general en su laberinto (1989, translated as The General in His Labyrinth, 1990) have been best-selling entertainments, with occasional touches of magic realism, Latin American history, and political critique. El general en su laberinto is García Márquez's rewriting of the history of the liberator of Latin America, Simón Bolívar. This mythical figure in Colombia is presented as suffering much of the solitude of power and confusion of the General in El otoño del patriarca.
García Márquez's journalistic background is evident in Noticia de un secuestro (1996, translated as News of a Kidnapping , 1997), a testimonio or semidocumentary account of the real kidnapping of ten Colombian journalists by drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. The author offers a day-by-day account of the violent and tense daily life in Colombia as a nation under constant siege by drug traffickers and armed guerrillas. This book is the culmination of a lifetime dedicated to writing not only fiction but also journalism. His journalistic writing from the late 1940s to the 1990s provides many insights into his interests and strategies as a writer. His nonfiction pieces published from 1948 to 1952 would be of considerable interest even if they had not been written by a future Nobel laureate. They offer firsthand insights into this period in Western history, with acute observations on famous people (such as Harry Truman), the movies of the times, and the invention of the atom bomb. During these years, García Márquez published more than four hundred short pieces, ranging in subject from the cultural to the political.
These early articles also demonstrate that the author's interest in detective novels far predates the writing of Crónica de una muerte anunciada. One of his more serious expositions on detective fiction, published in 1952, deals with the enigmas of the genre, and he states that the genre has an attraction that no academic can explain. Always more fascinated with enigmas and ambiguities than coherence and rational explanation, he claims in many of these journalistic pieces that science and reason can only partially explain the human experience.
Best known in much of the world as a magic realist, García Márquez has claimed more than once that he is merely a "realist" who describes the everyday reality of his nation and of Latin America. His claim is true in several ways, even though he has always been more interested in writers who invent reality (Kafka, Faulkner, Jorge Luis Borges) than those who merely describe it. The term "magic realism" actually harks back to the 1920s: German art critic Franz Roh coined the term in 1925. For Roh, it was synonymous with postexpressionist painting (1920-1925) because it revealed the mysterious elements hidden in everyday reality. Magic realism expressed the astonishment some perceive in the wonders of empirical reality. For example, José Arcadio Buendía's amazement over the arrival of ice is an indication why the term "magic realism" seems appropriate in the context of García Márquez. Several critics of Spanish-American literature popularized the term later, in the 1950s.
Today, most critics consider magic realism a blend of reality and fantasy in a literary text. The concept often embodies complex aesthetics. Nevertheless, the combination of real-life descriptions and the fantastic, as well as the use of understatement in conjunction with hyperbole, have become the hallmark characteristics of García Márquez's fiction and the de facto commonly accepted descriptions of magic realism. By the 1980s, almost any Latin American writer offering a strong element of fantasy--from Isabel Allende to Laura Esquivel--has been described as a "magic realist."
García Márquez belongs to a generation of Latin American writers committed to modernizing the literatures of their respective nations. In the 1950s García Márquez and his peers were reading modernist fiction writers such as Joyce, Faulkner, and Marcel Proust and embracing them with great enthusiasm as models for breaking from the tradition-bound past of Latin American literature. García Márquez, Fuentes, and Vargas Llosa have also spoken about one of the most influential figures for Latin American intellectuals of the 1950s: Jean-Paul Sartre. During the Boom years of the 1960s, each of these major Latin American writers regularly cited and paraphrased Sartre's ideas about the writer's role in progressive social change and revolution. They spoke often of Sartre's idea of the engagé or politically committed writer. In Colombia, García Márquez collaborated with the cultural magazine Mito, which carried out this modernizing agenda in that nation. In Mexico, García Márquez's closest intellectual friends were members of the "Generación de Medio Siglo" (Mid-Century Generation) that had a similar agenda and had started a cultural journal, the Revista Mexicana de Literatura. The awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to García Márquez in 1982 represented, for many of the writers of this generation, a universal acceptance of the fact that they did successfully modernize Latin American literature during the second half of the twentieth century. Certainly his role in this effort will be a significant part of García Márquez's legacy.
García Márquez has dedicated a lifetime to serving as an agent in favor of progressive social change in Latin America. He has written fictional and journalistic critiques of authoritarian uses of power, including power exercised in a broad range of governmental and ecclesiastic institutions. García Márquez was born and raised in an impoverished region with severe class distinctions and intense political conflict. Given the sociopolitical conditions he experienced as a child, he was seemingly born to be a leftist writer. As he matured with the intellectuals of Mito in the 1950s and with the writers of the Boom in the 1960s, he became increasingly strident in his political positions. In the 1970s García Márquez was most vocal about his progressive agenda, financing the leftist political magazine Alternativa in Colombia and publishing his highly critical El otoño del patriarca. In the 1980s and 1990s he was a more moderate political voice for the disenfranchised, and he promoted dialogue among such diverse political forces as the U.S. government, the Colombian government, Cuban leader Castro, and the French head of state François Mitterrand.
In the later years of his life and career, Gabriel García Márquez has suffered from ill health, but he has written his literary memoirs under the title Vivir para contarla and the novel Memoria de mis putas tristes (2004, translated as Memories of My Melancholy Whores, 2005). Like many of the everyday people of his stories, he has prevailed into old age with dignity and faith in the causes of the common man. As an adolescent reading Kafka's The Metamorphosis, García Márquez decided that if this text was literature, then he wanted to be a writer. In Kafka he saw the writer freely exercising the right of invention. This exploration of the human imagination has been García Márquez's passion for more than a half century. In his later years, when asked about the writer's role in society, he has affirmed more than once that it is simply to tell a good story.
From: Williams, Raymond Leslie. "Gabriel Garcia Marquez." Nobel Prize Laureates in Literature, Part 2, Gale, 2007. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 330.