I kissed a book, and I liked it!

March 8, 1970

Memory and Prophecy, Illusion and Reality Are Mixed and Made to Look the Same By ROBERT KIELY

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April 18, 2014 1:35 am

Gabriel García Márquez, author, 1927-2014

Colombian Nobel Prize laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez listens to a speech during the New Journalism Prize awards ceremony at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MARCO) in Monterrey in this October 2, 2007 file photo. Garcia Marquez, the Colombian author whose beguiling stories of love and longing brought Latin America to life for millions of readers and put magical realism on the literary map, died on April 17, 2014. He was 87. Known affectionately to friends and fans as "Gabo", he is arguably Latin America's best-known author and his books have sold in the tens of millions. REUTERS/Tomas Bravo/Files (MEXICO - Tags: SOCIETY OBITUARY)©Reuters

Gabriel García Márquez, the revered Colombian writer, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, and once described by Fidel Castro as “the most powerful man in Latin America,” died at the age of 87 in his Mexico City home on Thursday. He had recently been hospitalised for different infections.

One of the greatest writers in the Spanish language, he was also a controversial figure. In 1993, he called for the legalisation of drugs and urged the Colombian government to cease what he called its “useless” war against drug traffickers. He was also a long-term supporter of the cause of his close friend Castro’s revolution in Cuba. Yet he was one of the favourite writers of US President Bill Clinton.

The present occupant of the White House, Barack Obama, is also an admirer, on Thursday calling García Márquez one of the world’s “greatest visionary writers” and paying tribute to his inspiration to other authors, saying his work “will live on for generations to come.”

In Bogotá, “Gabo” was once known as “nuestro hombre en La Habana” – our man in Havana – at the same time his writing would frequently appear in that epitome of capitalism, Playboy.

He was a prolific novelist who started his career in journalism, which he once described as “the greatest profession in the world”. Praised by Pablo Neruda for having the purest Castilian of any writer since Cervantes, García Márquez’s most critically applauded and widely read novel, Cien Años de Soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude), was published in 1967 and brought to international attention the type of fiction known as magical realism. It was a blend of fantasy and naturalism not invented by him, but which thereafter became inextricably linked with his name and influenced many.

García Márquez once claimed, in a 1994 interview with the Spanish newspaper El País, that he “never” discussed his books and said that he had come to detest the novel that had brought him so much fame. Much given to fabulism in his life as in his fiction, García Márquez frequently discussed the genesis of his writing and clearly loved his most famous novel. How could he not, since it was based on the highly superstitious, coincidence-ridden atmosphere in which he grew up? He once said that a comment from a character in one of his short stories (The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother) – “what I like about you is the serious way you make up nonsense” – was an “absolutely autobiographical statement”, which was “not only a definition of my work, it is a definition of my character.”

He relished his shoulder-rubbing with powerful political figures, who, besides Castro, included François Mitterrand, the former French president, and his wife Danielle, as well as General Omar Torrijos, the former Panamanian dictator

He was born in 1927 and grew up in his grandparents’ house in Aracataca, a banana-producing centre on the northeast coast of Colombia, but he spent much of his adult life in France, Mexico and Spain. His first stories were written under the influence of Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentine writer, but he emerged from under that spell to develop his own inimitable voice.

For many years García Márquez was denied a US visa because of his support for Castro, though he attributed the problem to his having worked for Prensa Latina, the Cuban news agency, in New York in 1961. In an interview with Playboy in February 1983, García Márquez somewhat disingenuously said: “I wasn’t even a bureau chief.” In fact, he was deputy head of the New York office of Prensa Latina. His difficulties with the US authorities eased in 1971 when Columbia University awarded him an honorary degree and the ban was eventually lifted in the 1990s.

In 1987, the Chilean junta ordered 15,000 copies of García Márquez’s non-fiction work Clandestine in Chile: The Adventures of Miguel Littín to be burnt, despite the lifting of book censorship in 1983. In 1993, he ordered that his books be withdrawn from sale in Colombia, exasperated at the proliferation of pirate editions.

He attended universities in Bogotá and Cartagena and worked initially as a correspondent in Rome and then Paris, having left Colombia in 1955 during the dictatorship of Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, who eventually closed down the newspaper García Márquez worked for, El Espectador.

He relished his shoulder-rubbing with powerful political figures, who, besides Castro, included François Mitterrand, the former French president, and his wife Danielle, as well as General Omar Torrijos, the former Panamanian dictator.

But García Márquez claimed not to be a political creature; he insisted that when he and Castro met they always discussed literature and cooking, never politics. His lasting fame is based on the succession of novels that appeared after Cien Años, among the finest being El Otoño del Patriarca (The Autumn of the Patriarch) 1975; Crónica de una Muerte Anunciada (Chronicle of a Death Foretold) 1981; El Amor en los Tempos del Cólera (Love in the Time of Cholera) 1984; and El General en su Laberinto (The General in his Labyrinth) 1989.

In the mid-1990s, he founded the Ibero-American New Journalism Foundation, an independent group focused on narrative and investigative journalism based in Cartagena. After all, as he said in a 1981 interview with the Paris Review: “I’ve always been convinced that my true profession is that of a journalist.” He did so masterfully in his later years as well, with Noticia de un Secuestro (News of a Kidnapping) a book published in 1996, which reconstructs kidnappings by cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar at the apex of Colombia’s drug wars.

Three years later, using his Nobel Prize money that had been in a Swiss bank for years, he became the majority owner of a Colombian weekly news magazine, Cambio, where he published a profile on Venezuela’s charismatic former leader, Hugo Chávez, after accompanying him on a flight to Caracas from Havana. He brilliantly described Chávez as “two opposing men. One to whom the caprices of fate had given an opportunity to save his country. The other, an illusionist, who could pass into the history books as just another despot”.

That same year, he was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer. He then spent most of his writing time in his autobiography, Vivir para Contarla (Living to Tell the Tale) published in 2002 and Memoria de mis Putas Tristes (Memories of My Melancholy Whores), published two years later.

In recent years, there had been many rumours about his memory problems, which were not publicly diagnosed. On his last birthday in March this year, as many people showed up on his doorstep to greet him, he surprised the well-wishers by coming out and joining them in singing Las Mañanitas, the song used to wake Mexicans celebrating their birthdays.

For many he was the greatest embodiment of Latin American fiction. Had he not been a novelist, he once said, he would have liked to be a piano player in a bar because “I could have made a contribution to making lovers feel even more toward each other”.

García Márquez was married to Mercedes Barcha; they had two sons, who now survive him. He said in 1985 that he wrote “so that my friends will love me more”. His novels were internationally loved; his friends are legion.







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