Gabriel Garcia Marquez

In 1928, the year when more than 100 local strikers were massacred, Garcia Marquez was born in Aracataca, Colombia. His first years were spent with a large extended family in his grandfather’s house in Aracataca. This environment contributed greatly to his future career as a writer. His grandfather, Colonel Nicolas Ricardo Marquez Mejia, took him to the circus, told him stories, and admonished him against listening to the tales of women. His grandmother, Tranquilina Iguaran de Marquez, told him fantastically superstitious stories with such a deadpan style that he was more often scared than not. It was this style that the author used to such great success in his masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude. After his grandfather died, Garcia Marquez went to live in Sucre, Colombia, with his parents, telegraph operator Gabriel Eligio Garcia (a Conservative frowned on by the family) and Luisa Santiaga Marquez de Garcia.

He won a scholarship to the Liceo Nacional de Zipaquira, a high school near Bogota. He then entered the National University in the capital city of Bogota to study law. After liberal political leader Jorge Gaitan was assassinated in 1948, civil war broke out and he had to transfer to the University of Cartagena. Disliking law and encouraged by the writing of Franz Kafka (especially The Metamorphosis), he took up writing. He left school and began working for several newspapers, including El Espectador in Bogota.

A 1955 serialization of a story about a shipwrecked Colombian almost brought Garcia Marquez journalistic fame. The journalist’s account of the sailor’s story, however, scandalized the government. Fearing reprisal, the newspaper’s editors sent him to Europe but military dictator General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla shut down El Espectador for other reasons. Bereft of his steady source of income, Garcia Marquez worked as a freelance writer in Paris. Meanwhile, friends rescued his novella La hojarasca (translated as Leaf Storm) from a drawer. Published in 1955, it drew little attention. Although Rojas stepped down in 1957, it was still unsafe for the journalist to return home. He moved to Caracas, Venezuela, and, in 1958, he married “the most interesting person” he had ever met: Mercedes Barcha, whom he first encountered in 1946, when she was thirteen. Their first child, Rodrigo, was born in 1959; their second, Gonzalo, in 1962.

In 1959 Garcia Marquez went to Cuba, where he befriended its socialist leader, Fidel Castro. He set up Prensa Latina, a Cuban press agency, in Bogota, and reported for them from Cuba and New York. (These Cuban connections later caused visa problems for Garcia Marquez with America as Cuban-American relations soured.) Garcia Marquez then settled in Mexico City in 1961, where he worked in film and advertising. Finally solving his Macondo puzzle in 1965, he sequestered himself for eighteen months and emerged with One Hundred Years of Solitude. After its success, the family moved to Barcelona, Spain, where his study of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco contributed to the 1975 novel El otono del patriarca (translated as The Autumn of the Patriarch). After that novel, Garcia Marquez swore he would be silent until Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, leader of a military coup against the elected government in 1973, stepped down. Fortunately, he recanted; subsequent novels, including Cronica del muerte anunciada (1981, translated as Chronicle of a Death Foretold), El amor en los tiempos del colera (1985, translated as Love in the Time of Cholera), and El general en su laberinto (1989, translated as The General in His Labyrinth), were published to great acclaim. In 1982 the exiled native son was awarded the Nobel Prize and was welcomed home to Colombia with honors.

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