One of the greatest novelists and writers of the 20th century has died. Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez passed away Thursday in Mexico at the age of 87. It has been reported that only the Bible has sold more copies in the Spanish language than the works of García Márquez, who was affectionately known at “Gabo” throughout Latin America. His book “One Hundred Years of Solitude” is considered one of the masterful examples of the literary genre known as magic realism, and it won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. The Swedish Academy described it as a book “in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent’s life and conflicts.” We air clips of him speaking in his own words about writing his acclaimed book.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: One of the greatest novelists and writers of the 20th century has died. Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez, whose masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude, won the Nobel Prize for Literature, passed away Thursday in Mexico at the age of 87. Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, has declared three days of mourning.
PRESIDENT JUAN MANUEL SANTOS: [translated] As a government, and in homage to the memory of Gabriel García Márquez, I have declared a state of national mourning for three days, and I have ordered all public institutions to fly the national flag at half-mast. And we also hope Colombians will do the same in their homes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Today we’ll spend the hour discussing Gabriel García Márquez’s life and work, which have sold tens of millions of copies, and we’ll feature clips of the writer himself. It’s been reported that only the Bible has sold more copies in the Spanish language than the works of García Márquez, who was affectionately known at “Gabo” throughout Latin America. Among his best-known books, in addition to One Hundred Years of Solitude, are Love in the Time of Cholera, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Autumn of the Patriarch, The General in His Labyrinth.
Gabriel García Márquez was born in Colombia in 1927. In the 1950s, he began working as a journalist in the capital city of Bogotá. He wrote a series of articles about a Colombian sailor that drew the ire of the conservative government, so he left to report from Europe, where he began writing fiction. He eventually returned to Colombia and in 1967 published what would become his most famous novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude. It weaves together the misfortunes of a family over seven generations and is based in a town called Macondo, which many take to represent the town where García Márquez was born and raised by his grandparents until he was nine years old. The book is considered one of the masterful examples of the literary genre known as magical realism, and it won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. The Swedish Academy described it as a book, quote, “in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent’s life and conflicts.” This is an excerpt from García Márquez accepting the Nobel award.
GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ: [translated] The country that could be formed of all the exiles and forced emigrants of Latin America would have a population larger than that of Norway. I dare to think that it is this outsized reality, and not just its literary expression, that has deserved the attention of the Swedish Academy of Letters. A reality not of paper, 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. Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable. This, my friends, is the crux of our solitude.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Gabriel García Márquez speaking in 1982 when he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature. One of his biographers, Gerald Martin, described One Hundred Years of Solitude as, quote, “the first novel in which Latin Americans recognized themselves, that defined them, celebrated their passion, their intensity, their spirituality and superstition, their grand propensity for failure.”
García Márquez’s writing was shaped by his political outlook, which was informed in part by a 1928 military massacre of banana workers striking against United Fruit Company, which later became Chiquita. He was an early ally of Fidel Castro in Cuba and a critic of the U.S.-backed coup in Chile. For decades, he was denied a visa to travel to the U.S. until President Bill Clinton lifted the ban in 1995.
In 1998, when he was in his seventies, García Márquez used the money from his Nobel award to buy a controlling interest in the Colombian news magazine Cambio. He told reporters at the time, quote, “My books couldn’t have been written if I weren’t a journalist because all the material was taken from reality.”
Soon we’ll be joined by Chilean novelist Isabel Allende to discuss García Márquez’s life. But first, this is part of a speech García Márquez gave after he sold his one millionth copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude.
GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ: [translated] When I was 38 years old and with four books published since I was 20, I sat down at the typewriter and began: “Many years later, facing the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” I had no idea of the meaning nor the origin of that phrase or where it was leading me. What I know today is that I did not stop writing for a single day for 18 straight months, until I finished the book.
It seems incredible, but one of my most pressing problems was finding paper for the typewriter. I had the bad manners of believing that misspelled words, language mistakes or errors in grammar were actually created. And whenever detected, I would tear up the page and throw it into the trash basket to start again. With the pace I had gained in a year of practice, I figured it would take me about six months working every morning to complete the book.
Esperanza Araiza, the unforgettable Pera, was a typist for poets and filmmakers who completed the final versions of the great works of Mexican writers, including Where the Air is Clear by Carlos Fuentes; Pedro Páramo, Juan Rulfo; and several original scripts of Luis Buñuel. When I asked her to finish the final version, the novel was a draft of riddled patches, first in black ink and then in red to avoid confusion. But that was not unusual for a woman used to being in a den full of wolves.
A few years later, Pera confessed to me that when she was going home with the final version of the manuscript that I had corrected, she got off the bus, slipped and fell under a torrential rain. The pages went floating in the mire of the streets. With the help of other passengers, she was able to
collect the drenched and near-illegible pages and took them home to dry page by page with a clothes iron.
What could be the topic of an even better book would have been how we survived—Mercedes and I with our two children—during that time when I did not gain a dime anywhere. I don’t even know how Mercedes managed during those months to not miss a single day’s food in the house. We resisted the temptation to take out loans with interest, until we got the courage in our hearts and we started our first forays to Mount Mercy [Monte de Piedad] pawn shop. After the fleeting relief of having pawned certain small things, we had to pawn the jewels that Mercedes had received from family members over time. The expert examined them with the rigor of a surgeon. He checked with his magical eye the diamonds of the earrings, emeralds of the necklace, rubies of the rings, and in the end he returned them after a long pause. “All this is pure glass.”
In the times of greatest difficulty, Mercedes did her astral accounting and told her patient landlord without the slightest tremor in her voice, “We can pay you all together in six months.”
“Excuse me ma’am,” replied the owner, “do you realize that this will be a huge sum?”
“I do realize this,” Mercedes said impassively, “but then we’ll have it all figured out, rest assured.”
The good man, who was a senior official of the state and one of the most elegant and patient men that we ever met, did not tremble his voice either and responded, “Very well, ma’am, your word is all I need.” And he calculated his mortal accounts and said, “I await you on September 7th.”
Finally, at the beginning of August 1966, Mercedes and I went to the post office of Mexico City to send to Buenos Aires the final version of One Hundred Years of Solitude, a package of 590 typewritten pages, double-spaced on ordinary paper and addressed to Francisco Porrúa, literary director of the South American publisher. The postal employee put the package on the scale, made his mental calculations and said, “It will cost 82 pesos.” Mercedes counted the bills and loose change she had left in her purse and faced reality: “We only have 53.”
We opened the package. We divided it into two equal parts and sent one part to Buenos Aires, without even asking how we were going to get the money to send the rest. Only later did we realize that we had not sent the first part, but the last. But before we got the money to send it, Paco Porrúa, our man in the South American publisher, eager to read the first half of the book, sent us the money we needed to send the first part. That was how we came to be born in our lives today.
AMY GOODMAN: Gabriel García Márquez. He passed away at the age of 87 yesterday. We’re dedicating today’s show to remembering the man considered one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. When we come back, we’ll discuss his life and his work, with Isabel Allende, the best-selling Chilean writer and one of Latin America’s most renowned and revered novelists. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a moment.