Winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature for One Hundred Years of Solitude, Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez is widely considered one of the deans of Latin American writing. From his fabulous tales of rural Colombian life to his volumes of journalistic reportage, García Márquez has emerged as "one of the small number of contemporary writers from Latin America who have given to its literature a maturity and dignity it never had before," to quote John Sturrock in the New York Times Book Review. "More than any other writer in the world," declared David Streitfeld in the Washington Post, "Gabriel García Márquez combines both respect (bordering on adulation) and mass popularity (also bordering on adulation)." Time magazine correspondent R. Z. Sheppard simply deemed the author "one of the greatest living storytellers."
One Hundred Years of Solitude is perhaps García Márquez's best-known contribution to the awakening of interest in Latin American literature. It has sold more than twenty million copies and has been translated into over thirty languages. According to an Antioch Review critic, the popularity and acclaim for One Hundred Years of Solitude signaled that "Latin American literature will change from being the exotic interest of a few to essential reading and that Latin America itself will be looked on less as a crazy subculture and more as a fruitful, alternative way of life." So great was the novel's initial popularity, noted Mario Vargas Llosa in García Márquez: Historia de un deicido, that not only was the first Spanish printing of the book sold out within one week, but for months afterwards Latin American readers alone exhausted each successive printing. Translations of the novel similarly elicited enthusiastic responses from critics and readers around the world.
In this outpouring of critical opinion, which Books Abroad contributor Klaus Muller-Bergh called "an earthquake, a maelstrom," various reviewers termed One Hundred Years of Solitude a masterpiece of modern fiction. For example, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, himself a Nobel laureate, was quoted in Time as calling the book "the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since the Don Quixote of Cervantes." Similarly enthusiastic was William Kennedy, who wrote in the National Observer that "One Hundred Years of Solitude is the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race." And Regina Janes, in her study Gabriel García Márquez: Revolutions in Wonderland, described the book as "a 'total novel' that [treats] Latin America socially, historically, politically, mythically, and epically," adding that One Hundred Years of Solitude is also "at once accessible and intricate, lifelike and self-consciously, self-referentially fictive."
The novel is set in the imaginary community of Macondo, a village on the Colombian coast, and follows the lives of several generations of the Buendia family. Chief among these characters are Colonel Aureliano Buendia, perpetrator of thirty-two rebellions and father of seventeen illegitimate sons, and Ursula Buendia, the clan's matriarch and witness to its eventual decline. Besides following the complicated relationships of the Buendia family, One Hundred Years of Solitude also reflects the political, social, and economic troubles of South America. Many critics have found the novel, with its complex family relationships and extraordinary events, to be a microcosm of Latin America itself.
The mixture of historical and fictitious elements that appears in One Hundred Years of Solitude places the novel within that genre of Latin American fiction that critics have termed "magical realism." Janes attributed the birth of this style of writing to Alejo Carpentier, a Cuban novelist and short story writer, and concluded that García Márquez's fiction follows ideas originally formulated by the Cuban author. The critic noted that Carpentier "discovered the duplicities of history and elaborated the critical concept of 'lo maravilloso americano' the 'marvelous real,' arguing that geographically, historically, and essentially, Latin America was a space marvelous and fantastic . . . and to render that reality was to render marvels." García Márquez presented a similar view of Latin America in his Paris Review interview with Peter H. Stone: "It always amuses me that the biggest praise for my work comes for the imagination while the truth is that there's not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality." The author further explained in his Playboy interview with Claudia Dreifus: "Clearly, the Latin American environment is marvelous. Particularly the Caribbean. . . . The coastal people were descendants of pirates and smugglers, with a mixture of black slaves. To grow up in such an environment is to have fantastic resources for poetry. Also, in the Caribbean, we are capable of believing anything, because we have the influences of all those different cultures, mixed in with Catholicism and our own local beliefs. I think that gives us an open-mindedness to look beyond apparent reality."
But along with the fantastic episodes in García Márquez's fiction appear the historical facts or places that inspired them. An episode involving a massacre of striking banana workers is based on a historical incident. In reality, García Márquez told Dreifus, "there were very few deaths . . . [so] I made the death toll 3,000 because I was using certain proportions in my book." But while One Hundred Years of Solitude is the fictional account of the Buendia family, the novel is also, as John Leonard stated in the New York Times, "a recapitulation of our evolutionary and intellectual experience. Macondo is Latin America in microcosm." Robert G. Mead Jr. similarly observed in Saturday Review that "Macondo may be regarded as a microcosm of the development of much of the Latin American continent." Mead added: "Although [One Hundred Years of Solitude] is first and always a story, the novel also has value as a social and historical document." García Márquez responded to these interpretations in his interview with Dreifus, commenting that his work "is not a history of Latin America, it is a metaphor for Latin America."
The "social and historical" elements of One Hundred Years of Solitude reflect the journalistic influences at work in García Márquez's fiction. Although known as a novelist, the author began his writing career as a reporter and still considers himself to be one. In fact, in 1999, he used money from his Nobel prize to buy the then-failing Cambio, a weekly news magazine which employs some of Colombia's finest journalists, according to Frank Bajak in the Melbourne Herald Sun. As García Márquez remarked to Stone, "I've always been convinced that my true profession is that of a journalist." Janes asserted that the evolution of García Márquez's individual style is based on his experience as a correspondent. In addition, this same experience has led Janes and other critics to compare the Colombian to Ernest Hemingway. "[The] stylistic transformation between Leaf Storm and No One Writes to the Colonel was not exclusively an act of will," Janes claimed. "García Márquez had had six years of experience as a journalist between the two books, experience providing practice in the lessons of Hemingway, trained in the same school." And George R. McMurray, in his book Gabriel García Márquez, maintained that Hemingway's themes and techniques have "left their mark" on the work of the Colombian writer.
García Márquez has been compared to another American Nobel-winner, William Faulkner, who also elaborated on facts to create his fiction. Faulkner based his fictional territory Yoknapatawpha County on memories of the region in northern Mississippi where he spent most of his life. García Márquez based Macondo, the town appearing throughout his fiction, on Aracataca, the coastal city of his birth. A Time reviewer called Macondo "a kind of tropical Yoknapatawpha County." Review contributor Mary E. Davis pointed out further resemblances between the two authors: "García Márquez concentrates on the specific personality of place in the manner of the Mississippean, and he develops even the most reprehensible of his characters as idiosyncratic enigmas." She concluded: "García Márquez is as fascinated by the capacity of things, events, and characters for sudden metamorphosis as was Faulkner." Nevertheless, Newsweek writer Peter S. Prescott maintained that it was only after García Márquez shook off the influence of Faulkner that he was able to write One Hundred Years of Solitude. Prescott argued that in this novel García Márquez's "imagination matured: no longer content to write dark and fatalistic stories about a Latin Yoknapatawpha County, he broke loose into exuberance, wit and laughter." Thor Vilhjalmsson similarly observed in Books Abroad that while "García Márquez does not fail to deal with the dark forces, or give the impression that the life of human beings, one by one, should be ultimately tragic, . . . he also shows every moment pregnant with images and color and scent which ask to be arranged into patterns of meaning and significance while the moment lasts." While the Colombian has frequently referred to Faulkner as "my master," Luis Harss and Barbara Dohmann added in their Into the Mainstream: Conversations with Latin-American Writers that in his later stories, "the Faulknerian glare has been neutralized. It is not replaced by any other. From now on García Márquez is his own master."
The phenomenal worldwide success of One Hundred Years of Solitude has proven to be both boon and bane for its author. In Contemporary Popular Writers, Jack Shreve observed that with One Hundred Years of Solitude, García Márquez "emerged as the leading literary talent of the Spanish-speaking world . . . and many began to speak of him as the greatest author in the Spanish language since Cervantes." The critic added: "But like Cervantes after writing Don Quixote, García Márquez has subsequently had to contend with critics who are disinclined to acknowledge that his masterpiece can ever be equaled or surpassed." Indeed, while all of García Márquez's subsequent writings have been praised by critics and bought in quantity by readers, none has elicited the outpouring of praise that attended — and still attends — One Hundred Years of Solitude.
In The Autumn of the Patriarch García Márquez uses a more openly political tone in relating the story of a dictator who has reigned for so long that no one can remember any other ruler. Elaborating on the kind of solitude experienced by Colonel Aureliano Buendia in One Hundred Years, García Márquez explores the isolation of a political tyrant. "In this fabulous, dream-like account of the reign of a nameless dictator of a fantastic Caribbean realm, solitude is linked with the possession of absolute power," described Ronald De Feo in the National Review. Rather than relating a straightforward account of the general's life, The Autumn of the Patriarch skips from one episode to another using detailed descriptions. Times Literary Supplement contributor John Sturrock found this approach appropriate to the author's subject, calling the work "the desperate, richly sustained hallucination of a man rightly bitter about the present state of so much of Latin America." Sturrock noted that "García Márquez's novel is sophisticated and its language is luxuriant to a degree. Style and subject are at odds because García Márquez is committed to showing that our first freedom — and one which all too many Latin American countries have lost — is of the full resources of our language." Time writer R. Z. Sheppard similarly commented on García Márquez's elaborate style, observing that "the theme is artfully insinuated, an atmosphere instantly evoked like a puff of stage smoke, and all conveyed in language that generates a charge of expectancy." The critic concluded: "García Márquez writes with what could be called a stream-of-consciousness technique, but the result is much more like a whirlpool."
Some critics, however, found both the theme and technique of The Autumn of the Patriarch lacking. J. D. O'Hara, for example, wrote in the Washington Post Book World that for all his "magical realism," García Márquez "can only remind us of real-life parallels; he cannot exaggerate them." For the same reason, the critic added, "although he can turn into grisly cartoons the squalor and paranoia of actual dictatorships, he can scarcely parody them; reality has anticipated him again." Newsweek columnist Walter Clemons found the novel somewhat disappointing: "After the narrative vivacity and intricate characterization of the earlier book [The Autumn of the Patriarch] seems both oversumptuous and underpopulated. It is — deadliest of compliments — an extended piece of magnificent writing." Other critics believed that the author's skillful style enhances the novel. Referring to the novel's disjointed narrative style, Wendy McElroy commented in World Research INK that "this is the first time I have seen it handled properly. Gabriel García Márquez ignores many conventions of the English language which are meant to provide structure and coherence. But he is so skillful that his novel is not difficult to understand. It is bizarre; it is disorienting . . . but it is not difficult. Moreover, it is appropriate to the chaos and decay of the general's mind and of his world." Similarly, De Feo maintained that "no summary or description of this book can really do it justice, for it is not only the author's surrealistic flights of imagination that make it such an exceptional work, but also his brilliant use of language, his gift for phrasing and description." The critic concluded: "Throughout this unique, remarkable novel, the tall tale is transformed into a true work of art."
"With its run-on, seemingly free-associative sentences, its constant flow of images and color, Gabriel García Márquez's last novel, The Autumn of the Patriarch, was such a dazzling technical achievement that it left the pleasurably exhausted reader wondering what the author would do next," commented De Feo in the Nation. The author's next work, Chronicle of a Death Foretold "is, in miniature, a virtuoso performance," stated Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post Book World. In contrast with the author's "two masterworks, One Hundred Years of Solitude and The Autumn of the Patriarch," continued the critic, "it is slight . . . its action is tightly concentrated on a single event. But in this small space García Márquez works small miracles; Chronicle of a Death Foretold is ingeniously, impeccably constructed, and it provides a sobering, devastating perspective on the system of male 'honor'." In the novella, described Douglas Hill in the Toronto Globe and Mail, García Márquez "has cut out an apparently uncomplicated, larger-than-life jigsaw puzzle of passion and crime, then demonstrated, with laconic diligence and a sort of concerned amusement, how extraordinarily difficult the task of assembling the pieces can be." The story is based on a historical incident in which a young woman is returned after her wedding night for not being a virgin and her brothers set out to avenge the stain on the family honor by murdering the man she names as her "perpetrator." The death is "foretold" in that the brothers announce their intentions to the entire town, but circumstances conspire to keep Santiago Nasar, the condemned man, from this knowledge, and he is brutally murdered.
"In telling this story, which is as much about the townspeople and their reactions as it is about the key players, García Márquez might simply have remained omniscient," observed De Feo. But instead "he places himself in the action, assuming the role of a former citizen who returns home to reconstruct the events of the tragic day — a day he himself lived through." This narrative maneuvering, claimed the critic, "adds another layer to the book, for the narrator, who is visible one moment, invisible the next, could very well ask himself the same question he is intent on asking others, and his own role, his own failure to act in the affair contributes to the book's odd, haunting ambiguity." This recreation after the fact has an additional effect, as Gregory Rabassa noted in World Literature Today: "From the beginning we know that Santiago Nasar will be and has been killed, depending on the time of the narrative thread that we happen to be following, but García Márquez does manage, in spite of the repeated foretelling of the event by the murderers and others, to maintain the suspense at a high level by never describing the actual murder until the very end." Rabassa explained: "Until then we have been following the chronicler as he puts the bits and pieces together ex post facto, but he has constructed things in such a way that we are still hoping for a reprieve even though we know better." "As more and more is revealed about the murder, less and less is known," wrote Leonard Michaels in the New York Times Book Review, "yet the style of the novel is always natural and unselfconscious, as if innocent of any paradoxical implication."
In approaching the story from this re-creative standpoint, García Márquez once again utilizes journalistic techniques. As Chicago Tribune Book World editor John Blades maintained, "García Márquez tells this grisly little fable in what often appears to be a straight-faced parody of conventional journalism, with its dependence on 'he-she-they told me' narrative techniques, its reliance on the distorted, contradictory and dreamlike memories of 'eyewitnesses'." Blades added, however, that "at the same time, this is precision-tooled fiction; the author subtly but skillfully manipulates his chronology for dramatic impact." New York Times correspondent Christopher Lehmann-Haupt similarly noted a departure from the author's previous style: "I cannot be absolutely certain whether in Chronicle Gabriel García Márquez has come closer to conventional storytelling than in his previous work, or whether I have simply grown accustomed to his imagination." The critic added that "whatever the case, I found Chronicle of a Death Foretold by far the author's most absorbing work to date. I read it through in a flash, and it made the back of my neck prickle." "It is interesting," remarked Times Literary Supplement contributor Bill Buford, that García Márquez chose to handle "a fictional episode with the methods of a journalist. In doing so he has written an unusual and original work: a simple narrative so charged with irony that it has the authority of political fable." Buford concluded: "If it is not an example of the socialist realism [Garcia] Marquez may claim it to be elsewhere, Chronicle of a Death Foretold is in any case a mesmerizing work that clearly establishes [Garcia] Marquez as one of the most accomplished, and the most 'magical' of political novelists writing today." In Review, Edith Grossman concluded: "Once again García Márquez is an ironic chronicler who dazzles the reader with uncommon blendings of fantasy, fable and fact."
Another blending of fable and fact, based in part on García Márquez's recollections of his parents' marriage, Love in the Time of Cholera "is an amazing celebration of the many kinds of love between men and women," according to Elaine Feinstein of the London Times. "In part it is a brilliantly witty account of the tussles in a long marriage, whose details are curiously moving; elsewhere it is a fantastic tale of love finding erotic fulfillment in ageing bodies." The novel begins with the death of Dr. Juvenal Urbino, whose attempt to rescue a parrot from a tree leaves his wife of fifty years, Fermina Daza, a widow. Soon after Urbino's death, however, Florentino Ariza appears on Fermina Daza's doorstep. The rest of the novel recounts Florentino's determination to resume the passionate courtship of a woman who had given him up over half a century before. In relating both the story of Fermina Daza's marriage and her later courtship, Love in the Time of Cholera "is a novel about commitment and fidelity under circumstances which seem to render such virtues absurd," recounted Times Literary Supplement contributor S. M. J. Minta. "[It is] about a refusal to grow old gracefully and respectably, about the triumph sentiment can still win over reason, and above all, perhaps, about Latin America, about keeping faith with where, for better or worse, you started out from."
Although the basic plot of Love in the Time of Cholera is fairly simple, some critics have accused García Márquez of over-embellishing his story. Calling the plot a "boy-meets-girl" story, Chicago Tribune Books contributor Michael Dorris remarked that "it takes a while to realize this core [plot], for every aspect of the book is attenuated, exaggerated, overstated." The critic also argued that "while a Harlequin Romance might balk at stretching this plot for more than a year or two of fictional time, García Márquez nurses it over five decades," adding that the "prose [is] laden with hyperbolic excess." Some critics have claimed that instead of revealing the romantic side of love, Love in the Time of Cholera "seems to deal more with libido and self-deceit than with desire and mortality," as Angela Carter termed it in the Washington Post Book World. Dorris expressed a similar opinion, writing that while the novel's "first 50 pages are brilliant, provocative, . . . they are [an] overture to a discordant symphony" which portrays an "anachronistic" world of machismo and misogyny. In contrast, Toronto Globe and Mail contributor Ronald Wright believed that the novel works as a satire of this same kind of "hypocrisy, provincialism and irresponsibility of the main characters' social milieu." Wright concluded: "Love in the Time of Cholera is a complex and subtle book; its greatest achievement is not to tell a love story, but to meditate on the equivocal nature of romanticism and romantic love."
Other reviewers have agreed that although it contains elements of his other work, Love in the Time of Cholera is a development in a different direction for García Márquez. Author Thomas Pynchon, writing in the New York Times Book Review, commented that "it would be presumptuous to speak of moving 'beyond' One Hundred Years of Solitude but clearly García Márquez has moved somewhere else, not least into deeper awareness of the ways in which, as Florentino comes to learn, 'nobody teaches life anything'." Countering criticisms that the work is overemotional, Minta claimed that "the triumph of the novel is that it uncovers the massive, submerged strength of the popular, the cliched and the sentimental." While it "does not possess the fierce, visionary poetry of One Hundred Years of Solitude or the feverish phantasmagoria of The Autumn of the Patriarch," as New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani described it, Love in the Time of Cholera "has revealed how the extraordinary is contained in the ordinary, how a couple of forgotten, even commonplace lives can encompass the heights and depths of grand and eternal passion." "The result," concluded the critic, "is a rich commodious novel, a novel whose narrative power is matched only by its generosity of vision." "The Garcimarquesian voice we have come to recognize from the other fiction has matured, found and developed new resources," asserted Pynchon, "[and] been brought to a level where it can at once be classical and familiar, opalescent and pure, able to praise and curse, laugh and cry, fabulate and sing and when called upon, take off and soar." Pynchon concluded: "There is nothing I have read quite like [the] astonishing final chapter, symphonic, sure in its dynamics and tempo. . . . At the very best [this remembrance] results in works that can even return our worn souls to us, among which most certainly belongs Love in the Time of Cholera, this shining and heartbreaking novel."
For his next novel, The General in His Labyrinth, García Márquez chose another type of story. His protagonist, the General, is Simon Bolivar. Known as "the Liberator," Bolivar is remembered as a controversial and influential historical figure. His revolutionary activities during the early nineteenth century helped free South America from Spanish control. The labyrinth evoked in the title consists of what John Butt described in the Times Literary Supplement as "the web of slanders and intrigues that surrounded [Bolivar's] decline." The book focuses on Bolivar's last months, once the leader had renounced the Colombian presidency and embarked on a long journey that ended when he died near the Caribbean coast on December 17, 1830. Even as he neared death, Bolivar staged one final, failed attempt to reassert leadership in the face of anarchy. In the New York Times Book Review author Margaret Atwood declared: "Had Bolivar not existed, Mr. García Márquez would have had to invent him." Atwood called the novel "a fascinating literary tour de force and a moving tribute to an extraordinary man," as well as "a sad commentary on the ruthlessness of the political process."
The political process is, indeed, an integral aspect of The General in His Labyrinth. "Latin American politicians and intellectuals have long relied on a more saintly image of Bolivar to make up for the region's often sordid history," Tim Padgett wrote in Newsweek. Although García Márquez presents a pro-Bolivar viewpoint in his novel, the book was greeted with controversy. Butt observed that García Márquez had "managed to offend all sides. . . . From the point of view of some pious Latin Americans he blasphemes a local deity by having him utter the occasional obscenity and by showing him as a relentless womanizer, which he was. Others have detected the author's alleged 'Caribbean' tropical and lowland dislike of cachacos or upland and bogotano Colombians." The harshest criticism, Butt asserted, emanated from some Colombian historians "who claim that the novel impugns the basis of their country's independence by siding too openly with the Liberator" to the detriment of some of Bolivar's political contemporaries. García Márquez earned wide praise for the quality of documentary research that contributed to the novel, although Butt, for one, lamented that the book "leaves much unexplained about the mental processes of the Liberator." He elaborated: "We learn far more about Bolivar's appearance, sex-life, surroundings and public actions than about his thoughts and motives."
In the works, off and on, for nearly two decades, Strange Pilgrims: Twelve Stories marked García Márquez's return to the short story collection. García Márquez's pilgrims are Latin American characters placed in various European settings, many of them in southern Italy. "Thematically, these dozen stories explore familiar Marquesan territory: human solitude and quiet desperation, unexpected love (among older people, between generations), the bizarre turns of fate, the intertwining of passion and death," Michael Dirda asserted in the Washington Post Book World. At each story's core, however, "lies a variant of that great transatlantic theme — the failure of people of different cultures, ages or political convictions to communicate with each other." In Strange Pilgrims, Margaret Sayers Peden asserted in the Chicago Tribune, "Latins do not fare well in their separation from native soil." In "The Saint," for example, an old Colombian man has brought the intact corpse of his young daughter to Rome. For decades he journeys through the Vatican bureaucracy, trying to get his child canonized. "Absurd and oddly serene," Richard Eder wrote in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "['The Saint'] says a great deal about Latin American boundlessness in a bounded Europe." In another story, "I Only Came to Use the Phone," a Mexican woman is mistakenly identified as a mental patient and is trapped in a Spanish insane asylum — no one heeds her cry that she only entered the building to place a telephone call.
"Rich with allusion and suggestion, colourful like a carnival," wrote Ian Thomson in Spectator, "these short stories nevertheless lack the graceful charm of Love in the Time of Cholera, say, or of other novels by [Garcia] Marquez. There's a deadpan acceptance of the fantastic, though, which allows for a degree of comedy." In a similar vein, Dirda asserted: "Many of the stories in Strange Pilgrims might be classified as fantastic. . . . Still, none of them quite possesses the soul-stirring magic of García Márquez's earlier short fiction." He continued: "For all their smooth execution, [the stories] don't feel truly haunted, they seldom take us to fictive places we've never been before. . . . And yet. And yet. One could hardly wish for more readable entertainments, or more wonderful detailing." Edward Waters Hood, however, declared in World Literature Today that these "interesting and innovative stories . . . complement and add several new dimensions to Gabriel García Márquez's fictional world."
García Márquez returned to his Maconderos in his next novel, Of Love and Other Demons. The story stems from an event the author witnessed early in his journalistic career. As a reporter in Cartagena in 1949, he was assigned to watch while a convent's tomb was opened to transfer burial remains — the convent was being destroyed to clear space for a hotel. There soon emerged twenty-two meters of vibrant human hair, atttached to the skull of a young girl who had been buried for two centuries. Remembering his grandparents' stories about a twelve-year-old aristocrat who had died of rabies, García Márquez began to reconstruct the life and death of a character named Sierva Maria. Jonathan Yardley remarked in the Washington Post Book World that the author's mood in this novel "is almost entirely melancholy and his manner is, by contrast with his characteristic ebullience, decidedly restrained." In the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Eder judged the novel to be "a good one though not quite among [García Márquez's] best."
As the daughter of wealthy but uninterested parents, Sierva Maria grows up with the African slaves on her family's plantation. When she is bitten by a rabid dog, a local bishop determines that she requires exorcism. The girl is taken to the Convent of Santa Clara, where the bishop's pious delegate, Father Cayetano Delaura, is charged with her case. But Delaura himself is soon possessed by the demon of love, his forbidden love for the young woman. Yardley wrote: "Here most certainly we are in the world of Gabriel García Márquez, where religious faith and human love collide in agony and passion." In Time magazine R. Z. Sheppard asserted that in telling "a story of forbidden love," García Márquez "demonstrates once again the vigor of his own passion: the daring and irresistible coupling of history and imagination." Yardley warned, however, that "readers hoping to re-experience 'magical realism' at the level attained in the author's masterpieces will be disappointed." In the Nation, John Leonard stated: "My only complaint about this marvelous novella is its rush toward the end. Suddenly, [the author is] in a hurry . . . when we want to spend more time" with his characters.
The origins behind Of Love and Other Demons emphasize once again the dual forces of journalism and fiction in García Márquez's oeuvre. The author elaborated in his interview with Dreifus: "I'm fascinated by the relationship between literature and journalism. I began my career as a journalist in Colombia, and a reporter is something I've never stopped being. When I'm not working on fiction, I'm running around the world, practicing my craft as a reporter." His work as a journalist has produced controversy, for in journalism García Márquez not only sees a chance to develop his "craft," but also an opportunity to become involved in political issues. His self-imposed exile from Colombia was prompted by a series of articles he wrote in 1955 about the sole survivor of a Colombian shipwreck, claiming that the government ship had capsized due to an overload of contraband. In 1986, García Márquez wrote Clandestine in Chile: The Adventures of Miguel Littin, a work about an exile's return to the repressive Chile of General Augusto Pinochet. The political revelations of the book led to the burning of almost 15,000 copies by the Chilean government. In addition, García Márquez has maintained personal relationships with such political figures as Cuban President Fidel Castro, former French President Francois Mitterand, and the late Panamanian leader General Omar Torrijos.
Because of this history of political involvement, García Márquez has often been accused of allowing his politics to overshadow his work, and has also encountered problems entering the United States. When asked by the New York Times Book Review's Marlise Simons why he is so insistent on becoming involved in political issues, the author replied that "If I were not a Latin American, maybe I wouldn't [become involved]. But underdevelopment is total, integral, it affects every part of our lives. The problems of our societies are mainly political." The Colombian further explained that "the commitment of a writer is with the reality of all of society, not just with a small part of it. If not, he is as bad as the politicians who disregard a large part of our reality. That is why authors, painters, writers in Latin America get politically involved."
Perhaps not surprisingly, García Márquez's political involvement has led him to examine the role that drug cartels have played in destabilizing Colombian society. News of a Kidnapping, a nonfiction account of several audacious kidnappings engineered by the Medellin drug cartel, is written in a consciously even-handed journalistic style but nevertheless reflects the author's dismay not only with the native drug dealers but with the American government that seeks to extradite and punish them. In the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani wrote: "News of a Kidnapping not only provides a fascinating anatomy of 'one episode in the biblical holocaust that has been consuming Colombia for more than 20 years,' but also offers the reader new insights into the surreal history of Mr. García Márquez's native country. Indeed, the reader is reminded by this book that the magical realism employed by Mr. García Márquez and other Latin American novelists is in part a narrative strategy for grappling with a social reality so hallucinatory, so irrational that it defies ordinary naturalistic description."
Centered on the abduction of three prominent Colombian women, News of a Kidnapping describes the women's suffering as hostages of the drug lords as well as the negotiations to free them. "By now the world is well acquainted with hostage holding as a grotesque basis for personal relationships," noted R. Z. Sheppard. "But here the unusual experience of living in close quarters with your potential killers is intensified in prose as precise and deadpan as a coroner's report. And as he does so often, García Márquez makes the fantastic seem ordinary." In the New York Times Book Review, Robert Stone declared: "Mr. García Márquez is a former journalist, and News of a Kidnapping resembles newspaper journalism of the better sort, with a quick eye for the illuminating detail and a capacity for assembling fact. It will interest those who follow the details of the drug problem more than it will appeal to the literary following of Mr. García Márquez. . . . Still, the horrors and the absurdities, the touches of tender humanity and the stony cruelty that are part of this story — and of Colombia — all appear."
Despite the controversy that his politics and work have engendered, García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude is enough to ensure the author "a place in the ranks of twentieth century masters," claimed Curt Suplee of the Washington Post. The Nobel-winner's reputation, however, is grounded in more than this one masterpiece. The Swedish Academy's Nobel citation states, "Each new work of his is received by critics and readers as an event of world importance, is translated into many languages and published as quickly as possible in large editions." "At a time of dire predictions about the future of the novel," observed McMurray, García Márquez's "prodigious imagination, remarkable compositional precision, and wide popularity provide evidence that the genre is still thriving." Janes, in the Reference Guide to World Literature, noted, "Often humorous, at times bitterly ironic or grotesque, occasionally tinged with pathos, García Márquez's work possesses a rare power of invention. Deficient in the psychological and linguistic density characteristic of some modern writers, García Márquez at his best achieves continuous surprise in the elaboration of a rococo, tessellated prose surface that makes the reader aware of the simultaneous insistence and insufficiency of interpretation." And as Tribune Books contributor Harry Mark Petrakis described him, García Márquez "is a magician of vision and language who does astonishing things with time and reality. He blends legend and history in ways that make the legends seem truer than truth. His scenes and characters are humorous, tragic, mysterious and beset by ironies and fantasies. In his fictional world, anything is possible and everything is believable." Concluded the critic: "Mystical and magical, fully aware of the transiency of life, his stories fashion realms inhabited by ghosts and restless souls who return to those left behind through fantasies and dreams. The stories explore, with a deceptive simplicity, the miracles and mysteries of life."
García Márquez continues, too, to elude those who wish to pigeonhole him and to resist pressure to be "politically correct." He has continued to support the actions of Cuba's Fidel Castro against sometimes loud objections, while at the same time pointing out that he has helped many Cubans leave Cuba safely. He has returned to journalism in his later years, buying the failing newspaper Cambio in 1999 and writing regularly for it thereafter and increasing its sales five-fold. Of his (and other South American writers') early and continuing political involvement, Brooke Allen in the New Leader said, "There is hardly an ivory tower litterateur among the bunch. Their vital engagement seems to derive from the continual political chaos in South and Central America. 'In both America and Latin America,' commented Manuel Puig, 'the young writer usually doesn't like the system, with a capital "S," in his country. But in Latin America the possibility exists of actually shaking that system, because Latin American systems are shaky. Young writers who don't like the American way of life feel impotent, because it's really tough to shake Wall Street. You may not like Wall Street, but it works somehow. . . . Ironically, Latin American countries, in their instability, give writers and intellectuals the hope that they are needed. In Latin America there's the illusion that a writer can change something; of course, it's not that simple.' It is therefore not surprising that so many prominent Latin American writers have taken active political roles."
2002 saw the publication of García Márquez's memoir, volume one covering approximately the first thirty years of his life, Vivir Para Contarla. Two million copies were sold between late November and May 2003, not counting pirate copies that flooded the streets, prompting Knopf to publish the U.S. and Spanish versions a year ahead of their planned time. Elise Christensen of Newsweek recounted, "Photocopied versions have been peddled in Puerto Rico, and armed police guarded bookstores in Mexico in October after a delivery truck was reportedly hijacked in Colombia." And, according to Sandra Hernandez in a May, 2003 Knight Ridder report, "In an unprecedented move, major newspapers including the Los Angeles Times reviewed the Spanish language version rather than wait for the English edition due out in November together with the next volume in Spanish." Adriana Lopez of the New York Times reported that "for weeks, propelled by the buzz in the Latin American news media, Latino readers have been flocking to Little Colombia, where copies have found their way to street vendors and independently owned Latino bookstores. On Roosevelt Avenue, under the shadow of the elevated No. 7 train, street vendors like Ms. Luna do a brisk business hawking copies of the memoir, which they get from her buyers in South America and Spain, for up to $40 apiece. . . . Some customers shy away from the street vendors in response to a Colombian news media campaign urging readers not to buy illegal copies of the book. Some pirated copies are said to be circulating clandestinely. But the majority of Little Colombia's street booksellers appear to be selling the real thing, a quality-bound edition whose cover bears a haunting sepia image of the author as a child. Mr. Ramirez's wife, Irma, recalls the day she realized how much the book was touching a nerve among her fellow Colombians. 'I saw a young man sitting in Flushing Meadows Park reading a copy,' she said. 'And the tears were just running down his face'." The English translation appeared in late 2003 as Living to Tell the Tale.
Caleb Bach, with his son Joel photographing, conducted an informal interview with García Márquez for the May-June 2003 Americas. They found him working six hours a day on the next volume of the memoir because as García Márquez told them, "If I don't write, I get bored," adding, "I keep writing so as not to die." He confided that he has a prodigious memory and uses no outside researchers: "I was a chain smoker for thirty years, but at age fifty abruptly I quit after a doctor in Barcelona told me my habit would cause memory loss." "If I can't remember something, it didn't happen," he said. Bach and his son found García Márquez to be a "kind, thoughtful, dignified man who has enriched the lives of so many people the world over never forgets his own humble origins and struggle to give purpose to his life. It is his nature to help others, especially young people, as they set out on their own journey." This impression was confirmed by an Economist (U.S.) reviewer who remarked, "Interestingly, his memoir reveals its author to be a man of few deep convictions, for whom friendship is far more important than politics."
Nicaraguan poet Gioconda Belli relished the memoir, saying that she ultimately realized that, hoping to find the boundary between García Márquez's fiction and reality, "This is a journey in which each family anecdote and tale brings us back to characters we've met in his books or reveals to us the promise of many stories yet to be written. Through it, we find the hidden genetic codes of the Buendias, of Remedios the Beauty and Petra Cotes, and we come to realize that we've penetrated the looking glass, thinking we would be able to separate fiction from reality only to discover that they're inseparable." She went on, "Vivir para contarla is, from the start, an empirical argument to demonstrate both the reality of magic and the magic of reality. García Márquez brings up the idea more than once in that playful way of his, so far removed from academic parsimony. Referring to The Arabian Nights, for example, he says: 'I even dared to think that the wonders Scheherazade told about had really happened in the daily life of her time and that they stopped happening because of the disbelief and cowardice of succeeding generations'." She concluded, "His talent to blend magic and reality relieves us from the rationalist Cartesian split — so unhealthy for the spirit — and presents an alternative, wholesome way to embrace both. This is precisely why his writings provoke such a sensual joy. They let our imagination roam free in our bodies and infuse us with the magical powers inherent in the human condition. His writing shows us, Latin Americans, a credible version of our own history: not the academic vision of the history books that in no way resembles our experience but the version we learned by living in forsaken towns and in cities where lunatics and crocodiles roamed the streets and where dictators kept prisoners in cages alongside their pet lions and jaguars. In a world increasingly suffering the unreal, García Márquez has fooled reality once more, this time by remaining faithful to it." Belli also cited the memoir as explanation of the author's political development from the moment he was witness to the murder of presidential candidate, Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, a populist in whom many had hope for peace, in 1948.
Searching for those who did not relate positively to the memoir was a futile task, though the U.S. Economist's writer did find, "This memoir may not win over those who have resisted being persuaded that Mr. García Márquez is a great, rather than a very good, writer. His style is one of much poetry but sometimes less meaning than meets the eye: in a typical sentence, he says of his grandfather that 'I knew what he was thinking by the changes in his silence.' And fecund though it was, magical realism has much to answer for: Mr. García Márquez has rarely let historical fact get in the way of a good story, and Latin American journalism has suffered much from the blurring of its boundaries with fiction. But most readers will not mind. They will simply enjoy the anecdotes and the prose of a master of the narrative art and of the Spanish language." Given Latin American commentary on the different view taken of the seam between "cold" reality and "magic" in less rationalistic South American countries (as evidenced in Belli's review), even this slight denigration can be seen as a cultural misprision. Hopefully, there is rather something to be learned from the understanding that reality, imagination, magic, history are bound together in such a way they cannot be so easily separated and reduced. The first volume of the memoir, presenting García Márquez' early life, reveals in it the realities that appear as magic in the novels. As Lois Zamora commented in the Houston Chronicle, "García Márquez is often called a 'magical realist,' but when you finish this autobiography you will be convinced of what he has long insisted in repudiation of the term: that he is not a magical realist but a realist and has never written about anything that he hasn't seen himself or known someone who has."
On November 6, 2003, a tribute in honor of the American publication of his memoir was held at the Town Hall Theater in Manhattan. García Márquez did not attend the event, but he sent a statement. In December of that year, the book was named a New York Times Editor's Choice for 2003. In 2004, García Márquez received even more recognition when talk-show host Oprah Winfrey chose One Hundred Years of Solitude as her January book club selection.
García Márquez continued to stir up controversy in September of 2004 when he was barred from the International Congress of the Spanish Language because he objects to the formal teaching of spelling, a position that angers many of the conference's organizers. On October 18, 2004, his novel Memorias de Mis Putas Tristes (Memories of My Sad Whore), was published a week early in Colombia in order to deter people from buying pirated copies. He thwarted bootleggers by changing the last chapter at the last minute, revealing the fact as one million copies of the book shipped to stores throughout Latin America and Spain. With the November 9, 2004, sale of the film rights to his novel Love in the Time of Cholera, García Márquez is certain to keep his name in the news.
Family: Born March 6, 1928, in Aracataca, Colombia; son of Gabriel Eligio Garcia (a telegraph operator) and Luisa Santiaga Marquez Iguaran; married Mercedes Barcha, March, 1958; children: Rodrigo, Gonzalo. Education: Attended Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 1947-48, and Universidad de Cartagena, 1948-49. Memberships: American Academy of Arts and Letters (honorary fellow). Addresses: Home: P.O. Box 20736, Mexico City D.F., Mexico. Agent: Agencia Literaria Carmen Balcells, Diagonal 580, Barcelona 08021, Spain.
Colombian Association of Writers and Artists Award, 1954, for story "Un dia despues del sabado"; Premio Literario Esso (Colombia), 1961, for La mala hora; Chianciano Award (Italy), 1969, Prix de Meilleur Livre Etranger (France), 1969, and Romulo Gallegos prize (Venezuela), 1971, all for Cien anos de soledad; LL.D., Columbia University, 1971; Books Abroad/Neustadt International Prize for Literature, 1972; Nobel Prize for Literature, 1982; Los Angeles Times Book Prize nomination for fiction, 1983, for Chronicle of a Death Foretold; Los Angeles Times Book Prize for fiction, 1988, for Love in the Time of Cholera; Serfin Prize, 1989; Ariels (Mexican equivalent of Oscars) for scripwriting from La Academia Mexicana de Ciencias y Artes Cinematograficas; Reconocimiento a las Humanidades y Ciencias Sociales Tecnologico de Monterrey, Mexico, July 2003.
Began career as a journalist, 1947; reporter for Universal, Cartegena, Colombia, late 1940s, El heraldo, Baranquilla, Colombia, 1950-52, and El espectador, Bogota, Colombia, until 1955; freelance journalist in Paris, London, and Caracas, Venezuela, 1956-58; worked for Momento magazine, Caracas, 1958-59; helped form Prensa Latina news agency, Bogota, 1959, and worked as its correspondent in Havana, Cuba, and New York City, 1961; writer, 1965 — . Fundacion Habeas, founder, 1979, president, 1979 — .
A play, Blood and Champagne, was based on García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude; Maria de me Corazon film 1983; I'm the One You're Looking For, Letters from the Park (extracted from Love in the Time of Cholera), Miracle in Rome, The Summer of Miss Forbes, films 1988; Nobody Writes to the Colonel, adapted for film, 1999; an adaptation of the story "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings" was put on the stage for children in Minneapolis, MN, September 2002; the novella Chronicle of a Death Foretold produced by Repertorio Espanol in New York City 1999-2003, and by the The National Theatre of Colombia, January 2003, in Sydney; the novella Erendira and her Heartless Grandmother were adapted for the stage in New York, NY, in March 2003.
Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2007. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale. 2007.