García Márquez, Gabriel (1927–)

views updated

García Márquez, Gabriel (1927–)

Gabriel García Márquez (born March 6, 1927) is Colombia's best-known novelist and short-story writer. The two most important years of García Márquez's career are 1967, when his masterpiece Cien años de soledad (1967; One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1970) brought him overnight fame, and 1982, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature.

García Márquez was born in Aracataca, a town near the Atlantic coast, where he spent the first eight years of his life. His law studies at the National University in Bogotá were interrupted in 1948 by El Bogotazo, an outburst of violence triggered by the assassination of a popular politician. The university was closed, and García Márquez returned to the Atlantic coast, where he worked for several years as a journalist. The symbiotic relationship between his journalism and his fiction is one of the hallmarks of much of his work. An early example is the novella Relato de un náufrago (1970; The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor, 1986), which is the result of interviews he held with a young Colombian sailor who spent ten days on a raft after being swept overboard in the Caribbean. The people, landscape, and atmosphere of the coast of Colombia are an important aspect of García Márquez's work. Many of his novels and short stories are set in the coastal towns of Colombia, portrayed either through the mythical town of Macondo or set in the colonial city of Cartagena.

In 1954 García Márquez published his first novel, La hojarasca (Leaf Storm, 1972), whose plot and style recall William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying (1930). Six years later, having lived as a journalist in Europe, Caracas, and New York, he published his novella El coronel no tiene quien le escriba (1961; No One Writes to the Colonel, 1968). It is the masterful portrait of an aging, poverty-stricken ex-military officer who waits for his pension while hoping that his fighting cock will win a fortune in an upcoming contest. This sparsely written volume (one detects Hemingway's influence) is enhanced by veiled allusions to a bloody civil conflict (La Violencia, a period of civil violence in Columbia) and by the good-humored but tenacious protagonist, who embodies the Colombian people's struggle against oppression.

García Márquez moved to Mexico in 1961 and the next year published Los funerales de la Mamá Grande (1962; Big Mama's Funeral, 1979), a collection of eight tales dramatizing the political and social realities of Colombia. In 1965, after several years of writer's block, the author was driving to Acapulco when he envisioned a fictional world he had endeavored to create for more than a decade. Eighteen months later he emerged from his study with the manuscript of One Hundred Years of Solitude. This novel, perhaps the second best (after Don Quixote) ever to be written in Spanish, tells the story of Macondo (the author's native Aracataca) from genesis to apocalypse. Seven generations of the Buendía family, the leading characters of the saga, find themselves caught up in the totality of human experience, ranging from the historical and the mythical to the everyday, the fantastic, the tragic, the comic, and the absurd. Major sections of the novel, which has been seen as a rewriting of history designed to refute official lies, deal with Colombia's nineteenth-century civil wars, the banana boom, and gringo imperialism.

Soon after the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude, García Márquez moved to Barcelona to write El otoño del patriarca (1975; The Autumn of the Patriarch, 1976). This portrait of a prototypical Latin American dictator represents a daring experiment in the use of poetic language and literary technique, which explains in part why it is often considered the author's most significant achievement to date. The novel also is an example of the author's deep-seated interest in denouncing political and social injustice not only in Colombia but in all of Latin America. The protagonist embodies all the evils of despotism, but equally important is the solitude imposed on him by the absolute power he wields. Like its predecessor, The Autumn of the Patriarch is sprinkled with humor and fantasy, but its rambling style and shifting points of view make it far more demanding of the reader.

Continuing with Garcia Marquez's desire to analyze the roots of social injustice in Latin America, his next novel presents a study of irrational violence and unjust murder. Crónica de una muerte anunciada (1981; Chronicle of a Death Foretold, 1982) records the testimony of witnesses to the murder of Santiago Nasar, a youth accused of seducing Ángela Vicario prior to her marriage. When, on her wedding night, Ángela's husband discovers that she is not a virgin, he returns her to her parents. The following morning, her twin brothers kill Nasar on the doorstep of his home. A riveting mélange of journalism and detective story, the novel implicitly condemns not only the Catholic Church but also the primitive code of honor endorsed by the town citizens.

Two of García Márquez's subsequent novels rely on historical and geographical documentation to enrich setting and plot. El amor en los tiempos del cólera (1985; Love in the Time of Cholera, 1988) describes Cartagena between 1870 and 1930, a time when the decaying historic city was plagued by a series of epidemics. The action focuses on the aging process of the protagonists, two of whom, Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza, are patterned after the author's parents. Reviewers have described this novel as one of the best love stories ever written. The protagonist of El general en su laberinto (1989; The General in His Labyrinth, 1990) is Simón Bolívar, the liberator of much of South America. In May 1830, mortally ill and disillusioned by his fruitless efforts to unite the continent under a single leader, Bolívar traveled down the Magdalena River from Santa Fe de Bogotá to the Atlantic coast, hoping to spend his remaining years in Europe. He died shortly after arriving in the port city of Santa Marta. Although the foreground action is a lineal account of Bolívar's arduous journey to his grave, numerous flashbacks evoke remnants of his life, molding an intricate labyrinth of memories, dreams, and hallucinations.

In 1992 Garcia Marquez published Doce cuentos peregrinos (Strange Pilgrims, 1993) and in 1994 Del amor y otros demonios (Of Love and Other Demons, 1995). The former is a collection of short stories about Latin Americans living in Europe; the latter, a novel, is set in a Colombian coastal city during the eighteenth century. Based on a legend, it narrates the strange tale of a young girl, Sierva María de Todos los Ángeles, who is bitten by a rabid dog, falls in love with a priest, and ultimately dies in a convent during the exorcism mandated by the Inquisition. This final episode, in addition to the vivid descriptions of decadence and poverty, dramatizes the negative impact of Spanish colonialism.

Garcia Marquez's Memorias de mis putas tristes (2004; Memories of My Melancholy Whores, 2005) was his first fictional work to appear in ten years. The novel tells the story of an eccentric, solitary old man who decides to celebrate his ninety years by giving himself the present of a night in a brothel with a young virgin. Once he meets her he finds himself close to dying, not of old age, but rather of love. The novel narrates his sexual adventures, for which he always paid, never imagining that this would be the way he would discover true love.

With his broad literary canvases laced with myths and fantasy, García Márquez rescued the contemporary novel from its rigid laws of logic. In its totality, his oeuvre depicts the stark reality of an underdeveloped, strife-torn continent universalized by the humanistic elements of unfettered imagination and aesthetic perception. García Márquez is one of the world's most widely admired writers of fiction. The end result of his prodigious enterprise is an original, comprehensive vision of human experience.

See alsoBolívar, Simón; Literature: Spanish America.


Bell-Villada, Gene H. García Márquez: The Man and His Work. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990.

Luiselli, Alessandra. "Los demonios en torno a la cama del rey: Pederastia e incesto en Memorias de mis putas tristes de Gabriel García Márquez." Espéculo: Revista de Estudios Literarios 32 (2006). Available from

Martin, Gerald. "Translating García Márquez, or the Impossible Dream." In Voice-Overs: Translation and Latin American Literature, ed. Daniel Balderston and Marcy Schwartz. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002.

McNerney, Kathleen. Understanding Gabriel García Márquez. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989.

Oberhelman, Harley D. Gabriel García Márquez: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1991.

Olsen, Margaret M. "La patología de la africanía en Del amor y otros demonios de García Márquez." Revista Iberoamericana 68, no. 201 (2002): 1067-1080.

Palencia-Roth, Michael. "Gabriel García Márquez: Labyrinths of Love and History." World Literature Today: A Literary Quarterly of the University of Oklahoma 65, no. 1 (1991): 54-58. Reprinted in Twayne Companion to Contemporary World Literature: From the Editors of World Literature Today, ed. Pamela A. Genova. New York: Twayne Thomson/Gale, 2003.

Posada Carbó, Eduardo. "La historia y los falsos recuerdos (A propósito de las memorias de García Márquez)." Revista de Occidente 271 (2003): 101-114.

Rincón, Carlos. "Del amor y otros demonios, páginas 9 a 11; o, sobre la reescritura de las 'foundational fictions' norteamericanas." Revista de Crítica Literaria Latinoamericana 50 (1999): 199-224.

Rodríguez Vergara, Isabel. El mundo satírico de Gabriel García Márquez. Madrid: Pliegos, 1991.

Williams, Raymond L. Gabriel García Márquez. Boston: Twayne, 1984.

                                      Maida Watson

About this article

García Márquez, Gabriel (1927–)

Updated About content Print Article


García Márquez, Gabriel (1927–)