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`One Hundred Years' -- and counting

Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez makes a declaration for his birthday: He's not retiring.

March 07, 2007|Chris Kraul | Times Staff Writer

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA — After a career that included 11 novels, four collections of short stories and several compilations of journalism, Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez last year gave friends the disappointing news that he had "run out of gas" and was quitting writing. The author was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1999, and after treatment at UCLA Medical Center, he recently was pronounced free of the disease.

But now Garcia Marquez, who turned 80 on Tuesday, has told friends that he has begun writing his second volume of memoirs. The news arrives as an unexpected birthday present for Colombians, who are gearing up for a monthlong celebration as the nation pays tribute to its most famous son. Capping off the month will be a gala event in the colonial city of Cartagena on March 26, with a guest list befitting a global personage and including famous authors, monarchs, statesmen and former President Clinton.

His longtime friend and collaborator Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza said by telephone last week from Portugal that "Gabo," as Garcia Marquez is known here, is picking up with his memoirs in Paris in the mid-1950s, where his first bestselling volume, "Live to Tell the Tale" (2004), left off.

"He asked about dates and places for some help in refreshing his memory," said Mendoza, who recently ended a stint as Colombian ambassador to Portugal. "I told him, 'Gabo, be faithful to your memories, not your biography.' " Mendoza is godfather to one of Garcia Marquez's two sons, Rodrigo, a successful Hollywood film director.

Garcia Marquez declined a request for an interview. No publication date has been set for the next installment of memoirs, but if his past works are prologue, it will sell millions in various translations around the world.

In addition to Garcia Marquez's birthday, the celebrations are marking the 25th anniversary of his 1982 Nobel Prize for literature and the 40th anniversary of the 1967 publication of the book that won it for him, "One Hundred Years of Solitude."

Also being observed is the 60th anniversary of the 1947 publication of his first work of fiction, the short story "The Third Resignation."

The Cartagena Film Festival, now underway, is showing all nine films made from his works. The 10th, "Love in the Time of Cholera," recently wrapped shooting in Cartagena. Directed by Mike Newell and starring Javier Bardem, it is slated for release this year.

A cultural milestone and publishing phenomenon, "One Hundred Years of Solitude" has sold 20 million copies worldwide, ranking it second in popularity only to "Don Quixote" among Spanish-language novels, said his biographer, Gerald Martin.

The Colombian writer may be the best-known global literary personage since Ernest Hemingway, Martin contends. "He brings nothing but positive news to a country that unfortunately receives very little of it," said Martin, who is a modern languages professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

At the very least, Garcia Marquez is a Colombian national icon, although he rarely visits his native country for security concerns. He has for the most part maintained his principal residence in Mexico City since the early 1960s. He finances a journalism school in Cartagena, but his only regular public appearance is at the annual presentation in Monterrey, Mexico, of journalism awards underwritten by the Mexican industrial giant Cemex, said his brother Jaime Garcia Marquez, who helps run the school in Cartagena.

Famous Colombian

"Gabriel Garcia Marquez is the first Colombian since the presidency of Simon Bolivar to gain true international renown," said David Bushnell, a retired University of Florida professor who wrote a leading English-language history of Colombia. "In doing so he made his country known, with its often frustrating yet fascinating contradictions."

With "One Hundred Years," Garcia Marquez established "magic realism" as a literary style, combining the fantastic with the hard-boiled. Garcia Marquez has said he absorbed his style from tales told by his grandmother and from the oral traditions of the African and indigenous groups who populate the Caribbean coast of Colombia where Garcia Marquez grew up.

Another name Garcia Marquez minted is Macondo, the fictional place where "One Hundred Years" and other stories take place, modeled after Aracataca, the run-down former banana depot a few hours east of Cartagena and where he was born March 6, 1927.

Aracataca, with a population of 21,000, has tried to capitalize on the fame of the writer to convert itself into a tourist destination.

Last year, city officials launched a voter referendum to change the town's name officially to Macondo. The measure, which received no backing from Garcia Marquez, failed ignominiously at the polls amid low voter turnout.

Raul Jimenez, Aracataca's cultural coordinator, said nevertheless that the town held a five-day agenda of tributes ending Tuesday, many of them in the house where he was born, which is now a museum.

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