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Literary master of magical realism

April 18, 2014|Chris Kraul and Thomas Curwen
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, sitting with his wife, Mercedes Barcha, is asked by admirers in May 2007 to dedicate their books before boarding the train to visit his hometown of Aracataca, Colombia, for the first time in 20 years.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, sitting with his wife, Mercedes Barcha, is asked… (Alejandra Vega, AFP/Getty…)

When Colonel Aureliano Buendia faced the firing squad, time slipped away, and his life became a dream. Before him rose the mythical town of Macondo and its retinue of gypsies and their pipes and kettle drums and magical inventions.

Of course Buendia's dream belonged to the teller of the tale, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose novel "One Hundred Years of Solitude" casts a spell upon readers that can never be broken.

A Spanish galleon lies in the jungle, its hull "an armor of petrified barnacles and soft moss," its sails dirty rags, the rigging adorned with orchids. A child is born with the tail of a pig. Lovers tryst among butterflies and scorpions, and when it rains, it rains for four years, 11 months and two days.

Garcia Marquez may not have invented magical realism, but he was its most adept practitioner, capable of mixing the transcendent and the bawdy, the whimsical and the tragic, in equal proportions.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, April 22, 2014 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 51 words Type of Material: Correction
Gabriel Garcia Marquez: An obituary of Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the April 18 Section A said he had published a memoir titled "Live to Tell the Tale" in 2001. The memoir, published in 2002, was titled "Vivir Para Contarla" in Spanish and "Living to Tell the Tale" in English.

The 87-year-old Colombian writer died Thursday at his home in Mexico City, according to Rafael Tovar y de Teresa, president of the official Mexican cultural association.

The cause was not immediately announced, but Garcia Marquez had been in failing health for some time. He was released from the hospital just over a week ago.

The author of seven novels and numerous short stories and the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1982, Garcia Marquez filled his pages with the lives of dreamers, philanderers, anarchists, thieves and prophets, men and women driven by their appetites and often isolated by their folly. As fantastic as his fictions were, they were never far from reality.

In his speech to the Swedish Academy, Garcia Marquez recounted the tragedy of Latin America, "that boundless realm of haunted men and historic women, whose unending obstinacy blurs into legend." He talked about the wars, the military coups, a dictator intent upon "ethnocide," and of all the missing and imprisoned.

"A reality not of paper," he said, "but one that lives within us and determines each instant of our countless daily deaths, and that nourishes a source of insatiable creativity, full of sorrow and beauty, of which this roving and nostalgic Colombian is but one cipher more, singled out by fortune."

He was known to his admirers as "Gabo," and his influence helped fuel what is known as the "Boom," the international popularity of Latin American literature in the years after World War II.

"Being a contemporary of Gabo was like living in the time of Homer," said Colombian writer Hector Abad Faciolince. "In a mythic and poetic way, he explained our origins. His verbal imagination and creative force were astonishing."

Novelist Isabel Allende first read "One Hundred Years of Solitude" in Spanish in the mid-1960s and found her life, growing up in Peru and Chile, mirrored in its stories.

"It was a hurricane of ideas, images and voices," she said. "It was my family and my grandfather. It was a way of explaining Latin America to the world -- and to ourselves."

Edith Grossman, who has been his translator since 1985, described Garcia Marquez as "an alchemist."

"The man writes like an angel," she said. "He is so deft in his use of language, and he is so profound in his perception of emotions and the psychology of his characters. That combination is extraordinary."

Grossman doesn't like to refer to his work as magical realism. "He uses fantasy in a way that writers always have," she says. "He uses fantasy to tell the truth; that is what literature does. It tells the truth through invention and make-believe. The magic comes from encountering a writer of genius who turns everything he touches into gold."

Even though Garcia Marquez's blending of fantasy and outrageous facts "told with a straight face," as he once put it, was pioneered by Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier, Mexico's Juan Rulfo and Argentina's Jorge Luis Borges, he lifted the technique from obscurity with the publication of "One Hundred Years of Solitude."

Even today as the surprise and power of magical realism have waned, Garcia Marquez continues to be influential.

"His voice is in the heart and mind of every writer in Latin America, even if you react against him," said Allende. "Younger writers abhor magical realism and want to be as far away from Garcia Marquez as possible, but again he is still the measure."

Political opinions

The 1967 novel -- "Cien Anos de Soledad" -- was published shortly before he turned 40. Until then, he had scraped by as a newspaper reporter, advertising copy writer and screenwriter. He was so poor that he had to mail the manuscript to his Argentine publisher in two packages because he couldn't afford to send it all at once.

Known for his opinions on Cuba, military dictatorship and Latin American cultural autonomy, Garcia Marquez counted among his friends Bill Clinton, French President Francois Mitterrand and the dictators Omar Torrijos of Panama and Fidel Castro of Cuba.

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