????THE Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez popularized magical realism in Latin American literature by writing fantastical novels that drew on the folk tales and ghost stories he had heard as a child on Colombia’s poor, sun-baked Caribbean coast.
????Garcia Marquez, who died in his Mexico City home at age 87 Thursday after being hospitalized for infections, was best known for his 1967 masterpiece, “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” which recounted the travails of the abundant and obsessive Buendia clan.
????Translated into dozens of languages and selling 30 million copies, the book is considered literature’s exemplar of magical realism, generating countless imitations and inspiring a generation of writers in Latin America and beyond.
????Though Garcia Marquez didn’t invent the technique, he became the leading exponent of the style, which balances dreamlike, fantastical vignettes with sharply focused realism, all of it solemnly delivered through an eccentric cast of whimsical characters.
????Readers of his books have delighted in stories populated with tin-pot dictators, cows that invade a palace, women that levitate, self-obsessed characters that don’t age and brokenhearted suitors.
????The news triggered an outpouring of grief from Colombians, who venerate Garcia Marquez and see his literature as reflecting the soul of their country.
????“All of Colombia is in mourning,” President Juan Manuel Santos said in a nationally televised speech Thursday night.
????In a career spanning more than 60 years, Garcia Marquez wrote some of the Spanish language’s most revered books. They included “Autumn of the Patriarch,” about a Caribbean tyrant; “Chronicle of a Death Foretold,” which painstakingly narrates a small-town murder; “Love in the Time of Cholera,” about two lovers who wait half a century to reunite, and “The General in his Labyrinth,” detailing independence hero Simon Bolivar’s inglorious last days.
????Garcia Marquez was an accomplished journalist, whose lyrical, deeply reported stories first caught the eye of readers in Colombia’s capital, Bogota, in the early 1950s.
????He later became renowned not only for his profiles of presidents and despots but for the real-life close ties he cultivated with leaders ranging from Fidel Castro to Bill Clinton to Francois Mitterrand.
????Proudly leftist and anti-imperialist, he used his fame to try to lobby for Latin American unity and an end to U.S. meddling in the region.
????Garcia Marquez’s friendship with Castro, though, caused him trouble. Other Latin American writers, among them the Cuban exile Guillermo Cabrera Infante, criticized him for cultivating warm ties with a dictator.
????Garcia Marquez said he was able to use his direct line to Castro to win the release of jailed dissidents.
????“I know how far I can go with Fidel,” the author told the New Yorker. “Sometimes he says no. Sometimes later he comes and tells me I was right.”
????Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa famously ended his once-close friendship with Garcia Marquez when he punched him in a Mexico City theater in 1976 after accusing him of betrayal, wrote Gerald Martin in biography, “Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A Life.”
????Garcia Marquez also had strained relations with the United States, with his close ties to Cuba and sharp criticism of American policies leading the State Department to deny him a visa for years.
????Garcia Marquez had humble beginnings, born in the sleepy town of Aracataca on March 6, 1927, and raised for much of his early years by his maternal grandparents — Tranquilian Iguaran Cotes and Col. Nicolas Marquez — and two aunts.
????The superstitions and otherworldly tales he heard in their small, wood-plank home would fire his imagination, especially those from the colonel. A veteran of the War of a Thousand Days — a Colombian civil conflict — Col. Marquez told his precocious grandson about the country’s harrowing history, like the mass killing of United Fruit Co. banana workers.
????“The great old man didn’t tell me about Little Red Riding Hood,” Garcia Marquez said years later. “He told me terrible stories about war, about the massacre of the banana workers that took place the year I was born.”
????The colonel’s stories of massacres, feuds and duels, the solitude of Aracataca and even his introduction to ice all found their way into Garcia Marquez’s books. The colonel himself is a recognizable figure in the author’s fiction, notably as Colonel Aureliano Buendia in “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”
????The novel’s historic sweep and timeless writing helped Garcia Marquez win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982. Though Garcia Marquez has said “Autumn of the Patriarch” was his best book and readers gravitated to “Love in the Time of Cholera,” it was “One Hundred Years of Solitude” that first cemented his fame.