Nobel Prize-winning novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who was praised as the most popular Spanish writer since Cervantes, died today in Mexico City at the age of 87.
Garcia Marquez, a former journalist who was born in Colombia but lived in Mexico for more than 30 years, is best known for his 1967 masterpiece, the epic, hallucinatory novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, about the trials and tribulations of one family over several generations. Widely taught in college, it has sold about 50 million copies in more than 25 languages.
His other novels include Autumn of the Patriarch (1975), about a pathological fascist Caribbean dictator, and Love in the Time of Cholera (1985), about two lovers thwarted in their youth who find each when they are close to 80. Cholera was adapted as a film in 2007 starring Javier Bardem, Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Benjamin Bratt.
When Garcia Marquez was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1982, the Swedish judges praised both his novels and short stories "in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent's life and conflicts."
He was the first Colombian and fourth Latin American to win the world's most prestigious literary award. He later said, "I have the impression that in giving me the prize, they have taken into account the literature of the sub-continent and have awarded me as a way of awarding all of this literature."
Garcia Marquez grew up in the Colombian town of Macondo, the inspiration for the town of Aracataco in his fiction. In real life his hometown was the site of the Banana Strike Massacre of 1928, when historians say that a U.S. company -- the United Fruit Company -- allowed the Colombian army to fire on a workers' protest, killing hundreds.
Throughout South America, he became famous to a degree far beyond any literary writer in the United States. Gerald Martin, in his 2009 biography, Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A Life, noted that every time Garcia Marquez did or said anything, it was widely covered by the Mexican media. His appearances drew thousands.
His longtime friend, the Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes (author of The Old Gringo), who died in 2012, called Garcia Marquez "the most popular and perhaps the best writer in Spanish since Cervantes," who published Don Quixote in two volumes in 1605 and 1615.
The American novelist William Kennedy (Ironweed) once said 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."
Garcia Marquez was a socialist, a friend of Fidel Castro and a sharp critic of what he considered U.S. imperialism. For years, he was denied a visa to enter the U.S. But in 1994, Garcia Marquez dined with President Clinton, who called him "my literary hero."
Clinton was vacationing on Martha's Vineyard, Mass., and later wrote in his memoir, My Life, that "it was a memorable evening" at the home of author William Styron (Sophie's Choice). According to Clinton, they argued about Cuba -- Garcia Marquez wanted him to lift the U.S. trade embargo -- but the novelist lavished most of his attention on the president's daughter, Chelsea, who said she had read two of his novels.
Garcia Marquez couldn't believe a 14-year-old girl could understand his work, "so he launched into an extended discussion with her about One Hundred Years of Solitude," Clinton wrote. "He was so impressed that he later sent her an entire set of his novels."
Professors call Garcia Marquez's style "magic realism" -- employing magic and fantasy in what are otherwise realistic situations. But in 1988, he told The New York Times that his style varied: "In every book I try to make a different path…One doesn't choose the style. You can investigate and try to discover what the best style would be for a theme. But the style is determined by the subject, by the mood of the times."
But he also said, "In Mexico surrealism runs through the streets."
In 1999, he was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer, but after treatment in Los Angeles, it went into remission. He was prompted to begin writing his memoir and told a newspaper in Colombia, "I reduced relations with my friends to a minimum, disconnected the telephone, canceled the trips and all sorts of current and future plans…and locked myself in to write every day without interruption." Living to Tell the Tale was published in 2002.
He's survived by his wife, Mercedes Barcha, and two sons, Rodrigo and Gonzalo.