The Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez, who died in his Mexico City home on April 17, has been mourned around the world as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. His breakthrough novel, “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” had a revolutionary impact on world literature when it was published in 1967. In the years since its publication, it has been translated into more than 35 languages, and has sold over 30 million copies.
García Márquez had worked as a journalist before achieving worldwide acclaim as a novelist, and his writing reflects a deep understanding of history, class struggle, and the devastating impact U.S. imperialism has had on the working class in South America. He was a staunch supporter of Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution. His political insight should come as no surprise.
He was born on March 6, 1927 near the Caribbean coast, in the Colombian town of Aracataca. The U.S.-based United Fruit Company, which had a long, exploitive and violent history in several Latin American countries, owned banana farms in the region. In 1928 the Colombian army massacred more than 1,000 striking workers. This was just one of many acts of violence that shaped his world view, exposing the links between repressive regimes and U.S. imperialist interests.
The impact of this violence is reflected in his fiction. The narrative of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” includes a massacre of banana workers. Macondo, the fictional town immortalized in his novel, was the name of a United Fruit Company plantation.
Some of his other highly acclaimed novels include “Love in the Time of Cholera,” “The General in His Labyrinth,” a historical novel about Simón Bolívar, and “The Autumn of the Patriarch.”
Although García Márquez could have enjoyed a life of leisure as a celebrity author, he stopped writing fiction in 1973 after the fascist coup against the democratically elected government led by Salvador Allende in Chile. He returned to journalism, writing about the coup, and U.S. involvement, in Alternativa, a political magazine he co-founded in his native Colombia. The magazine was bombed the following year, and eventually closed after
years of government pressure.
García Márquez is closely associated with magical realism, a literature which blends realistic depictions with elements that are clearly not of this world. In one famous example, the blood of a man who has been shot dead runs through a village, finally reaching the home of his mother. Although he was sometimes credited for creating magical realism, he gave credit to earlier writers who had influenced him, including Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, Juan Rulfo, Alejo Carpentier, and Miguel Ángel Asturias.
By weaving hard political truths about Latin American history with elements of folklore, myth and fantasy, he found a new way to explore, and draw attention, to the region. In doing so, he inspired a wave of writers and increased awareness of the richness of world literatures beyond the confines of North America and Europe.
Perhaps it is best to close a tribute to Gabriel García Márquez by quoting the words of a renowned communist, the Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who described “One Hundred Years of Solitude” as “the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since the Don Quixote of Cervantes.”