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Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Renowned Novelist, Dies

  • In this March 6, 2014 photo, Colombian Nobel Literature laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez greets fans and reporters outside his home on his 87th birthday in Mexico City. Garcia Marquez died Thursday April 17, 2014 at his home in Mexico City. The author's magical realist novels and short stories exposed tens of millions of readers to Latin America's passion, superstition, violence and inequality. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

    In this March 6, 2014 photo, Colombian Nobel Literature laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez greets fans and reporters outside his home on his 87th birthday in Mexico City. Garcia Marquez died Thursday April 17, 2014 at his home in Mexico City. The author's magical realist novels and short stories exposed tens of millions of readers to Latin America's passion, superstition, violence and inequality. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

  • In this 1975 photo released by the Fundacion Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano (FNPI), Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez sits with wife Mercedes Barcha at an unknown location. The Nobel laureate died on Thursday, April 17, 2014 at his home in Mexico City. His magical realist novels and short stories exposed tens of millions of readers to Latin America's passion, superstition, violence and inequality. The FNPI was founded by Garcia Marquez. (AP Photo/FNPI)

    In this 1975 photo released by the Fundacion Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano (FNPI), Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez sits with wife Mercedes Barcha at an unknown location. The Nobel laureate died on Thursday, April 17, 2014 at his home in Mexico City. His magical realist novels and short stories exposed tens of millions of readers to Latin America's passion, superstition, violence and inequality. The FNPI was founded by Garcia Marquez. (AP Photo/FNPI)

  • In this March 6, 2014 photo, Colombian Nobel Literature laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez greets fans and reporters outside his home on his 87th birthday in Mexico City. Garcia Marquez died Thursday April 17, 2014 at his home in Mexico City. The author's magical realist novels and short stories exposed tens of millions of readers to Latin America's passion, superstition, violence and inequality. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)
  • In this 1975 photo released by the Fundacion Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano (FNPI), Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez sits with wife Mercedes Barcha at an unknown location. The Nobel laureate died on Thursday, April 17, 2014 at his home in Mexico City. His magical realist novels and short stories exposed tens of millions of readers to Latin America's passion, superstition, violence and inequality. The FNPI was founded by Garcia Marquez. (AP Photo/FNPI)

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Nobel Prize-winning Colombian writer who immersed the world in the powerful currents of magic realism, creating a literary style that blended reality, myth, love and loss in a series of emotionally rich novels that made him one of the most revered and influential writers of the 20th century, died April 17 at his home in Mexico City. He was 87.

The Associated Press reported his death. In July 2012, his brother Jaime Garcia Marquez announced that the author had dementia.

Mr. Garcia Marquez, who was affectionately known throughout Latin America as “Gabo,” was a journalist, novelist, screenwriter, playwright, memoirist and student of political history and modernist literature. Through the strength of his writing, he became a cultural icon who commanded a vast public following and who sometimes drew fire for his unwavering support of Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

In his novels, novellas and short stories, Garcia Marquez addressed the themes of love, loneliness, death and power. Critics generally rank One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975) and Love in the Time of Cholera (1985) as his masterpieces.

“The world has lost one of its greatest visionary writers — and one of my favorites from the time I was young,” President Obama said in a statement, calling the author “a representative and voice for the people of the Americas.”

Garcia Marquez established his reputation with One Hundred Years of Solitude an epic novel about multiple generations of the Buendia family in the fantastical town of Macondo, a lush settlement based on the author’s birthplace on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. The novel explored social, economic and political ideas in a way that captured the experience of an entire continent, but it also included supernatural elements, such as a scene in which a young woman ascends to heaven while folding the family sheets.

By fusing two seemingly disparate literary traditions — the realist and the fabulist — Garcia Marquez created a dynamic literary form, magic realism, that seemed to capture both the mysterious and the mundane qualities of life in a decaying South American city. For many writers and readers, it opened up a new way of understanding their countries and themselves.

In awarding Garcia Marquez the literature prize in 1982, the Nobel committee said he had created “a cosmos in which the human heart and the combined forces of history, time and again, burst the bounds of chaos.”

One Hundred Years of Solitude has been translated into more than 30 languages and has sold more than 20 million copies. The Chilean poet and Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda described the book as “the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since the Don Quixote of Cervantes.”

Garcia Marquez parlayed his literary triumphs into political influence, befriending international dignitaries such as President Bill Clinton and François Mitterrand, the late president of France. The celebration for Garcia Marquez’s 80th birthday was attended by five Colombian presidents and the king and queen of Spain.

Yet few knew the penury the author endured before achieving fame. “Everyone’s my friend since One Hundred Years of Solitude,” Garcia Marquez once told a brother, “but no one knows what it cost me to get there.”

Gabriel Jose Garcia Marquez was born March 6, 1927, in Aracataca, a town near Colombia’s Caribbean coast. He was the eldest child of a local beauty and a telegraph-operator-turned-itinerant-pharmacist — some called him a “quack doctor” — but Garcia Marquez was raised mostly by his maternal grandparents, the pragmatic Col. Nicolas Marquez Mejia and the superstitious Tranquilina Iguaran Cote.

Garcia Marquez later called the colonel, a veteran of two civil wars, “the most important figure in my life” and “my umbilical cord with history and reality.”

They lived in a rambling complex of rooms and terraces, which Garcia Marquez would often call simply “the House.”

The author had a charmed yet melancholy childhood. Aracataca once flourished under the banana business of the U.S.-based United Fruit Co. but slowly declined after December 1928, when more than 1,000 striking banana workers in nearby Cienaga were massacred by the Colombian army. Macondo, the town in One Hundred Years of Solitude was named after a United Fruit plantation.

Eventually, Garcia Marquez was reunited with his parents and siblings in Sucre, a river settlement in Colombia that became the setting for some of his darkest books.

He escaped this backwater by winning a scholarship to a secondary school near Bogota, the capital of Colombia. After graduating in 1946, he enrolled in law school at the National University. Poor and rail-thin, he asserted himself through his literary prowess. Neglecting his classes, he devoted himself to reading and writing, publishing short fiction in the Bogota newspaper El Espectador.

His literary endeavors were interrupted when the populist leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan was assassinated in 1948. The killing led to days of rioting in Bogota and marked the beginning of a period of political repression known as “La Violencia.” Within about 10 years, between 200,000 and 300,000 Colombians were killed.

When the riots caused the law school to close, Garcia Marquez moved to Cartagena, where he launched a career in journalism. Later he would say that the assassination greatly influenced his understanding of politics.

During these years, the author was often so poor that he had no place to live.

In Barranquilla, just up the coast from Cartagena, he found his first apartment: a cheap room in a brothel nicknamed “the Skyscraper.” He said this was the perfect environment for a writer — quiet during the day, the scene of a party every night.

It was not until 1954, when he joined the staff of the El Espectador, that he gained financial stability. The next year, he published his first novel, Leaf Storm, a tale about the burial of a reclusive doctor in Macondo. It went virtually unnoticed.

In 1955, he became El Espectador’s European correspondent, visiting the Eastern Bloc and studying at the Experimental Film Center of Cinematography in Rome between deadlines. He was on assignment in Paris when his newspaper was closed by the Colombian government.

Rather than return home, Garcia Marquez remained in the French capital for two years, living hand to mouth while completing No One Writes to the Colonel, a glittering short novel about a war veteran who would rather starve than sell his fighting cock.

The story, published in 1961, was influenced by Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and Italian director Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist films, such as Umberto D.

After returning to South America in 1957, Garcia Marquez held a series of journalism jobs. He married his longtime fiancee, Mercedes Barcha, in 1958. He moved to Mexico in 1961, beginning one of the most disheartening and exhilarating periods of his life.

When he arrived in Mexico City, Garcia Marquez had few friends and no prospects of work.

He aimed for the movie industry, but when his family ran out of food, he took a job editing a women’s magazine and a crime magazine on the condition that his name never appear in either. Later he landed jobs as a scriptwriter and as an advertising copywriter.

In his mid-30s, his ability to write fiction appeared to have dried up. His last novel had been written in Paris, and he couldn’t seem to finish another. According to the Uruguayan critic Emir Rodriguez Monegal, who first met Garcia Marquez around this time, he was “a tortured soul, an inhabitant of the most exquisite hell: that of literary sterility.”

Yet several important events occurred during his creative drought. First, Garcia Marquez began reading the original magic realists: Mexican Juan Rulfo, Cuban Alejo Carpentier and Guatemalan Miguel Angel Asturias, who would later win the Nobel Prize in literature. Next, he discovered the sophisticated Latin American novels that were being published in the movement known as “El Boom,” including those by the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes, who embraced Garcia Marquez as part of the group despite his lack of recent work.

One day in 1965, as Garcia Marquez drove from Mexico City to Acapulco for a holiday weekend, everything changed. According to legend, he was navigating a twisting highway when the first sentence of Solitude suddenly formed in his mind:

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

In that line’s mix of past and present, military and miraculous, lay the germ of the entire book.

For the next year, Garcia Marquez did nothing but write while his wife pawned almost all their possessions to feed the family.

“I didn’t know what my wife was doing, and I didn’t ask any questions,” he told an interviewer. “But when I finished writing, my wife said: ‘Did you really finish it? We owe $12,000.’ ”

Their financial gamble paid off. A few weeks after the novel’s publication in Buenos Aires, the couple visited the Argentine capital’s most prestigious theater. As they looked for their seats, the entire audience gave them a spontaneous standing ovation.

In Gerald Martin’s biography of Garcia Marquez, journalist Tomas Eloy Martínez recalled: “At that precise moment, I saw fame come down from the sky, wrapped in a dazzling flapping of sheets, like Remedios the Beautiful, and bathe Garcia Marquez in one of those winds of light that are immune to the ravages of time.”

Although magic realism had existed long before Solitude appeared, Garcia Marquez’s version of it captivated readers because it was informed by both a gritty engagement with Latin American politics (thanks to his years in journalism) and an intimate knowledge of folkloric beliefs (thanks to his grandmother in Aracataca).

Its characters include both the Colonel Aureliano Bueniía (father of 17 sons by 17 women, perpetrator of 32 uprisings and survivor of 14 assassination attempts) and the gypsy Melquiades, who can see the future and cast spells. Its plot includes both a massacre of banana workers and a rainstorm that lasts four years, 11 months and two days. And its prose was a revelation: luminous, opulent, ecstatic.

The result, William Deresiewicz wrote in The Nation, is that Garcia Marquez’s “impossible fusion of subject and tone gives utterance to the Latin American soul: by fronting the continent’s tragic history with the unquenchable fiesta of his style.”