Gabriel García Márquez was born in March 6, 1927 in the small town of Aracataca, situated in a tropical region of northern Colombia, between the mountains and the Caribbean Sea. He grew up with his maternal grandparent – his grandfather was a pensioned colonel from the civil war at the beginning of the century. He went to a Jesuit college and began to read law, but his studies were soon broken off for his work as a journalist.
In 1954 he was sent to Rome (In his autobiographical book Vivir para contarla (2002) Gabriel García Márquez mentions Genève as the first town he was sent to) on an assignment for his newspaper, and since then he has mostly lived abroad – in Paris, New York, Barcelona and Mexico – in a more or less compulsory exile. Besides his large output of fiction he has written screenplays and has continued to work as a journalist.
Garcia Marquez is mostly known for his literature, but he always considered himself a journalist. Although most of his adult life was spent overseas, Márquez’s books were always concerned with Colombia, often informed by stories he’d gleamed from the streets or his beloved “granny Mina”.
García Márquez Full Biography and Profile
Born in 1927 in Aracataca, Colombia, Gabriel García Márquez began his writing career as a journalist whilst he was studying law at the University of Cartagena. During this time he became part of the informal ‘Baranquilla Group,’ which would influence his later career.
Márquez studied at the University of Bogotá and later worked as a reporter for the Colombian newspaper El Espectador and as a foreign correspondent in Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Caracas and New York. His first full-length work, One Hundred Years of Solitude, was published in 1967 to immediate worldwide success.
“My books couldn’t have been written if I wasn’t a journalist,” he once told Associated Press in an interview. “Because all my material was taken from reality.”
The book is perhaps the prime example of Márquez’s remarkable ability to present the supernatural as mundane and the mundane as supernatural. It chronicles the history of a family in the fictional town of Macondo – the loves, hates, rivalries, wars, successes and failures. The novel is an example of postmodernism, treating time with ambiguity and crossing genres and narrative styles. Salman Rushdie has described the book as “the greatest novel in any language of the last fifty years”.
In the 16th century, every day at 6pm a drawbridge would raise from the city walls, separating wealthy Spanish families from slaves and workers. Hundreds of years later, it was at this class crossroads, now marked by a spired banana-yellow clock tower, where Gabo would spend most of his time wondering through galleries filled with giant sweetie jars and chatting to shoe shiners in the hope of securing story leads.
Another of Márquez’s masterworks, Love in the Time of Cholera, was published to widespread acclaim in 1985. The book, a complex and compelling study of the myths we make about love, is less fantastical than One Hundred Years of Solitude but just as luminous and unique.
“It was as if God had decided to put to the test every capacity for surprise and was keeping the inhabitants of Macondo in a permanent alternation between excitement and disappointment, doubt and revelation, to such an extreme that no one knew for certain where the limits of reality lay. It was an intricate stew of truths and mirages that convulsed the ghost of Jose Arcadio Buendia with impatience and made him wander all through the house even in broad daylight.” – One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Marquez
He is the author of several novels and collections of stories, including Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Leaf Storm, No One Writes to the Colonel, In Evil Hour, Innocent Eréndira and Other Stories, The Autumn of the Patriach, News of a Kidnapping, The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor, Love in the Time of Cholera, The General in His Labyrinth, Strange Pilgrims, Of Love and Other Demons and the first first volume of his autobiography,Living to Tell the Tale. His most recent book is, Memories of my Melancholy Whores.
One of his bestsellers, Of Love and Other Demons, started life in the Sofitel Santa Clara hotel, a former convent and hospital. One of his bestsellers, Of Love and Other Demons, started life in the Sofitel Santa Clara hotel, a former convent and hospital.
For political reasons, Márquez moved to Europe in 1955 and later settled in Mexico City, but he always felt at home in Cartagena, where he purchased a property in the Eighties.
The international success that García Márquez’s writing received led to his ability to act as a facilitator in negotiations between Colombian authorities and the Guerillas. García Márquez has released many commercially and critically acclaimed books, and has significantly widened and popularized the genre of ‘magical realism.’ Many of his books are published by Penguin.
El Comprimido Newspaper
The son of the telegraph operator of his home town, Aracataca, Garcia Marquez was just 12 years of age he launched his first newspaper: “El Comprimido” – a reference to those small pieces of paper crammed full of condensed facts that students use to cheat in exams.
The newspaper lasted just six days; his journalistic career spanned decades. He began as a reporter in the early 1950s in a period known as La Violencia (“The Violence”) which led to a period of civil conflict in Colombia that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.
He went on to narrate the story of a continent that underwent military coups, dictatorships, guerrilla insurgencies and drug wars, with perspective typically silenced by official accounts.
His dream of owning a paper materialised on several occasions, launching news magazines like El Alternativo, El Otro and a newspaper, Cambio as well as a TV news channel – QAP – which lasted until its licence was not renewed: a thinly veiled move by authorities in a country where power bristles at anything that fails to tow the political line.
“Garcia Marquez used to say that the journalist should be like a mosquito, which is there to irritate those in power, buzzing incessantly,” says Juanita Leon, director at La Silla Vacia, one of the few independent news outlets in Colombia that operate outside the auspices of big private media organisations.
García Márquez was the fourth Latin American and the first Colombian to win the Nobel Prize (1982). After receiving the prize, he told a journalist:
“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.”
Gabriel García Márquez died in 2014. Shakira, who recorded two songs for the film ‘Love in the Time of Cholera,’ posted a video talking about her memories of the famed author. Shakira paid tribute to Gabriel García Márquez on the fifth anniversary of his death with a video in which she talks about her memories of the famed Colombian author.
The singer, who met the Nobel-prize winning author when she was 21 years old, said in the video she posted on social media Wednesday night (April 17), remembered García Márquez “for his sense of humor, his warmth, his humanity; his way of speaking, so adorned with mannerisms.” He died on April 17, 2014 at age 87. Shakira (@shakira) April 17, 2019
Shakira wrote and performed two songs for the 2007 film based on the writer’s book “Love in the Time of Cholera”: “Hay Amores” and “Despedida.” She described them as being among her best.
Interview with Gabriel García Márquez
In Latin America different cultures have come together to create something new and rich. Are Latin Americans aware of this intermixing?
Speaking for myself, I only became aware of it a few years ago, even though my experience as a writer and my frequent contacts with different societies and political systems have increased my understanding of other aspects of Latin American culture. When I was travelling in Africa, I noticed similarities between some forms of popular art there and those of various Caribbean countries. That gave me a clearer understanding of our own cultural situation as well as of the relationship between elements of different cultures generally.
Through such insights, you can discover both what is unique and what is universal in a culture. There is a whole network of links between peoples that they may not necessarily be aware of.
Isn’t that the starting-point of your novels? Their main theme, even?
I wasn’t really conscious of the multicultural influence when I was writing them. It came to me of its own accord. It was only afterwards that I realized that almost unintentionally there were elements of this cultural mingling in my work, elements that had crept in gradually as I was writing.
In Latin America various influences have mixed and spread across the continent: Western culture, the African presence, even some Oriental elements, all added to the native, pre-Columbian tradition. That’s why I don’t think one can talk of a Mexican or Colombian culture as such. Speaking personally, I no longer think of myself as Colombian; first and foremost I am Latin American, and proud of it.
I should add that it’s a mistake to think of the history of Latin America as starting with the Spanish conquest. That’s a colonial viewpoint. We must never forget that the nations forged by the Spanish viceroys were the results of arbitrary decisions from outside, not of our own special needs.
To understand our current problems, we have to go back to the time before the Conquest. The borders that were drawn between the Latin American countries were only created to manipulate us, and still, whenever there’s a need for it, the cry of nationalism goes up. Obviously, that only sets us against one another, stops us from seeing and feeling the problems that we have in common. Each country has its own special circumstances, but what really matters is our underlying common identity.
So is there such a thing as a Latin American culture?
I certainly don’t think one can say there is a homogeneous Latin American culture. For example in Central America, the Caribbean region, there is an African influence that has resulted in a culture different from that of countries with a sizable indigenous population, like Mexico or Peru. You could make a similar point about many other Latin American countries.
In South America, Venezuela and Colombia have more in common with the Caribbean than with the Andean Indians, even though both countries have an Indian population of their own. In Peru and Ecuador, there is a divergence between the coastal regions and the mountains. Similar situations exist throughout the continent.
These diverse influences come together to give Latin American civilization its special flavour, its uniqueness in relation to the world’s other cultures.
What part does Spanish influence play in this context?
There’s no denying the strength of Spanish influence in Latin America, and of Portuguese influence in Brazil. It is there in every aspect of our lives. We even speak Castilian Spanish.
It is a very rich influence, if also a controversial one that is often disparaged. Even though the heritage is part of our cultural personality, there is a mistrust of everything Spanish in Latin America that complicates everything and seems to me to be excessive and dangerous. As far as I’m concerned, I am proud to have inherited that culture, I’m not ashamed of it in any way. Spanish colonization is no longer a problem today. It’s true that we were created in a way from a European overflow, but we’re no mere copy of Europe. Latin America is something else again.
Where did the urge to write come from, the storytelling inspiration that gave us One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Autumn of the Patriarch, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Love in the Time of Cholera…?
I think it all comes from nostalgia.
Nostalgia for your childhood? For your country?
Nostalgia for my country and for life itself. I had an extraordinary childhood, surrounded by highly imaginative and superstitious people, people who lived in a misty world populated by phantasms. For instance, my grandmother used quite unselfconsciously to tell me stories at night that would make my hair stand on end.
Your grandfather seems to have been something of a family legend. Did he play an important part in your childhood?
He was an enormous old man who seemed to be suspended in time and in memory, and I was very fond of him. He died when I was eight years old, and I was deeply upset. He used to tell me about his life and everything that had happened in the village and the surrounding district since time immemorial. He described in detail the wars he had fought in and the terrible massacres in the banana plantations the year I was born, massacres that left a lasting trace on Colombian history.
Did your mother also influence you as a writer?
She’s an enchanting woman. When someone asked her about me, what she attributed her son’s talent to, she replied without batting an eyelid “Scott’s Emulsion” [a children’s tonic]. There’s another revealing anecdote. I have several brothers. Well, whenever one of us takes a plane, she lights a candle and says a prayer that everything will be all right. But we’re no longer all living at home, and the last time I saw her she told me, “Now I always keep a candle burning, in case one of you takes a plane without my knowing about it”.
All my family are very important to me, and they all appear in one way or another in my writings. I never forget that I am the son of an Aracataca postal worker.
Originally you came from the Caribbean, and your books reflect the feverish, overflowing life of the region. Is that where you found the magical realism that has made your work so popular around the world?
In the Caribbean there’s a perfect symbiosis – well, let’s say one more evident than elsewhere – between the people, daily life and the natural world. I grew up in a village hidden away among marshes and virgin forest on the Colombian north coast. The smell of the vegetation there is enough to turn your stomach.
It’s a place the sea passes through every imaginable shade of blue, where cyclones make houses fly away, where villages lie buried under dust and the air burns your lungs. For the Caribbean peoples, natural catastrophe and human tragedy are part of everyday life.
Should add that the area is soaked in myths brought over by the slaves, mixed in with Indian legends and Andalusian imagination. The result is a very special way of looking at things, a conception of life that sees a bit of the marvellous in everything. You find it not just in my novels, but also in the works of Miguel Angel Asturias in Guatemala and Alejo Carpentier in Cuba. There’s a supernatural side to things, a kind of reality that ignores the laws of reason, just like in dreams.
I once wrote a story about the Pope visiting a remote Colombian village, something that seemed quite impossible at the time. Well, a few years later the Pope visited Colombia.
In view of the influences you’ve described, the presence of the marvellous throughout your work, do you think critics are justified in describing you as a fantasy writer, as baroque?
In the Caribbean, and in Latin America in general, we consider so-called magical situations part of everyday life, like any other aspect of reality. It seems quite natural to us to believe in portents, telepathy, premonitions, a whole host of superstitions and fantastical ways of coming to terms with reality. I never try to explain or justify such phenomena in my books. I see myself as a realist, pure and simple.
The relationship between Europe and Latin America has always been full of unhelpful misunderstandings. Do you think it’s necessary to clarify the relationship and to put ill feeling behind us if we are to reach a new equilibrium between North and South?
The problems our continent faces are so huge that they prevent us from seeing things clearly, even though we are right in the midst of the situation. So it’s not surprising if Europe, absorbed by the spectacle of its own culture, lacks adequate means of understanding us. The Europeans have inherited a great rationalist tradition, and it is only to be expected that they should constantly judge us by their own criteria, without taking into account the differences that exist at other latitudes. It’s not surprising either if they fail to see that the need for prosperity and a sense of identity is felt just as keenly in Latin America, or in Africa and Asia, as it once was in Europe, and still is today. Even so, any attempt to interpret one part of the world using the criteria of another is bound to lead to terrible misunderstandings, and can only entrap people more deeply in alienation, solitude and isolation.
Europe should try to see us in the light of its own past. It’s as if the present imbalance has made it lose sight of the vicissitudes of its own history. Who remembers that it took 300 years to build a wall around London? That Rome wasn’t built in a day but over many centuries, or that it was an Etruscan king who took Rome into the arena of history? That Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital, was bigger than Paris when the conquistadors arrived?
Europeans of vision, people doing their best to create a more just and humane society across their continent, could really help us if they changed their way of judging us. Any real sympathy with our dreams and hopes should take the form of aid for people whose only ambition is to live their own lives in a world where there is a real sense of human brotherhood.
Why shouldn’t the southern nations attempt to copy the solutions the Europeans are adopting in Europe, even if the conditions and methods are different?
Do the problems come from inside or outside the continent?
I think we have to stop pretending to ourselves that all the violence, misery and dissension that afflicts Latin America is the result of a plot hatched thousands of kilometres away, as if we couldn’t imagine any other destiny for ourselves than being at the mercy of the global powers.
Confronted with inequality, oppression, exploitation and neglect, our answer must be life itself. Not even centuries of warfare have dimmed its obstinate affirmation. Forty years ago, William Faulkner refused to accept the possibility that mankind might come to an end. Today we know that what he feared is a straightforward scientific possibility. Given that terrible fact, and the knowledge that the links between nations are stronger than ever before and that a new era is dawning, I believe it’s not too late to build a utopia that would allow us to share an Earth on which no one would take decisions for other people, and where people on the margins would be given a fresh chance. A world in which solidarity could become a reality.
It’s an aspiration that is reflected in your work, bound as it is to Latin America and an awareness of its destiny
That’s right. I don’t think one can live with such a nostalgia, try for so long to describe a country or understand a continent, without feeling deeply linked to them, and through them to the entire world.
- García Márquez Biography and Profile (UNESCO / Goodreadbiography)