Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel Prize-Winning Novelist, Dies at 87

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude” put Latin America and the style known as magical realism on the international literary map, has died. He was 87.

He died yesterday at his home in Mexico City surrounded by his family, Rafael Tovar y de Teresa, head of the Mexico’s cultural agency, said in a telephone interview.

With the success of his 1967 novel, Garcia Marquez won wealth, fame and access to world leaders after years of struggle as a journalist steeped in left-wing politics. In his native Colombia, he served as an intermediary between rebels and the government, and he was a longtime supporter and friend of Cuban leader Fidel Castro. In 1982, he won the Nobel Prize in literature.

“A rare phenomenon,” biographer Gerald Martin wrote in “Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A Life” (2008). “He is a serious but popular writer -- like Dickens, Hugo or Hemingway -- who sells millions of books and whose celebrity approaches that of sportsmen, musicians or film stars.”

Garcia Marquez lived in Mexico for several periods of his life, starting in the early 1960s. It was at his home on the south side of Mexico City where he wrote “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and where, in March 2014, he welcomed -- with his signature yellow rose on his lapel -- a mariachi group that serenaded him for his 87th birthday.

Rich Imagination

The social and political struggles of Latin Americans formed the basis of Garcia Marquez’s stories, including “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

The novel tells the multigenerational story of a family in a poor Colombian village called Macondo, where the men dream, the women are strong and civil war is a constant. Rich in imagination, the book reflects both the hard clarity of Garcia Marquez’s years in journalism and the magic of the many stories and ghosts that colored his own youth in a small village.

His injection of the supernatural into depictions of everyday life made Garcia Marquez an oft-cited practitioner of the artistic technique known as magical realism.

Among Garcia Marquez’s other major works of fiction are “The Autumn of the Patriarch” (1975), “The General in His Labyrinth” (1989) and “Love in the Time of Cholera” (1985). The last was made into a film released in 2007, directed by Mike Newell and starring Benjamin Bratt and Javier Bardem.

Writing Screenplays

Garcia Marquez had a lifelong interest in cinema and spent several years as a freelance screenwriter. When riches came, he donated substantial sums to support film studies in Latin America.

Though he remained involved in his own film projects into the late 1990s, he never allowed “One Hundred Years of Solitude” to be adapted as a movie, even after actor Anthony Quinn offered $1 million for the rights, according to Martin.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez was born in the village of Aracataca -- the model for the fictional Macondo -- near Colombia’s Caribbean coast. The date was March 6, 1927, according to Martin, his biographer. Garcia Marquez had claimed to be one year younger, born on March 6, 1928, which is the date given on his biography on the Nobel Prize website.

Separated from his parents in infancy, he was raised for a time by his grandparents in their large, busy home. The house haunted him for years, inspired his first efforts at a novel and figured prominently in “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

Philandering Father

Reunited with his parents around age 8, he came to know a life unsettled by his father’s itinerant work habits and philandering, yet anchored by his durable mother, who would ultimately bear 11 children.

The eldest and brightest academically, Garcia Marquez completed primary and secondary schooling, showing strong interest in reading, writing and eventually sex.

During law studies that took him to two universities before he quit without a degree, he began to work as a journalist in Cartagena at 21. The demands of regular reporting and opinion columns honed his powers of observation and revealed the strength and cleverness of left-wing views he was able to convey through periods of censorship and violent repression by conservative Colombian governments.

In 1950, his mother came to him asking for help in selling the old family house in Aracataca. With that Proustian return to things past, Garcia Marquez said years later that he “realized that everything that had occurred in my childhood had a literary value that I was only now appreciating.”

Literary Heritage

He also began to see himself as Colombia’s heir to James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner and other postmodernists.

During the 1950s, Garcia Marquez twice visited Eastern Europe, surveying the effects of communism. He was one of the first journalists to visit post-revolutionary Cuba, arriving 18 days after Castro entered Havana on Jan. 1, 1959. Their lifelong camaraderie was why, for 30 years, he could travel to the U.S. only on a restricted visa.

He married Mercedes Barcha in 1958, more than 12 years after he proposed to her, and they soon had two sons, Rodrigo and Gonzalo Garcia Barcha. In the early 1960s, he wrote movie scripts and advertising copy to support himself. He also chipped away at the big novel, and during a period of about 12 months from 1965 to 1966, he banged out several pages a day of “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

Pawns Possessions

When it came to mail the finished manuscript to a publisher, Garcia Marquez discovered at the post office that he had only enough money to send half. He and his wife returned home and pawned possessions so they could mail the rest.

With the celebrity and wealth that came from his most famous work, Garcia Marquez promoted human rights, press freedom (he set up the Foundation for a New Ibero-American Journalism in Colombia) and Latin American cinema. He established a foundation and school on film in Cuba. “Here, more than ever,” Martin wrote in his biography, “he would put his capitalist money where his revolutionary mouth was.”

By 1994, Garcia Marquez had “important relationships” with the presidents of the U.S., Mexico, Cuba, France and Spain, Martin wrote. He would eventually have seven homes in five countries.

Garcia Marquez had a cancerous tumor removed from his lungs in 1992 and was treated for lymphoma seven years later. At 77 he wrote the novel “Memories of My Melancholy Whores,” creating a stir with his story of a 90-year-old man’s relationship with a 14-year-old girl.

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