In northern Colombia in the 1920s, Gabriel Eligio Garcia was a young man desperately seeking the affections of Ms Luisa Santiaga Márquez Iguarán. By day Gabriel worked as a telegraph operator, and when he wasn't working he relentlessly courted Luisa with love poems, letters, serenades at her home, telephone messages, etc. Luisa's parents disapproved of Gabriel, partly because he was born out of wedlock to a destitute young mother, partly because his political views were opposed to theirs, and otherwise because he had a local reputation as a womaniser. They would not allow a marriage, and for some time Luisa's father sent her to live away from home just to keep the two of them apart. Eventually the family capitulated, and the two were married. In 1927 the first of their eleven children was born—the child was Gabriel Garcia Márquez, who many years later said that the "…history of their forbidden love was one of the wonders of my youth," and he wrote the story of their courtship into his most famous novel, Love in the Time of Cholera.
In his earliest years Gabriel Jr. lived with his grandparents, his grandfather being a retired Colonel who entertained the young boy with bloody stories of Colombia's Thousand Days War. As a young man he began studying Law, but his passion always lay in stories—he explained with these words:
“Before I could read or write I used to draw comics at school and at home. The funny thing is that I now realize that when I was in high school I had the reputation of being a writer, though I never in fact wrote anything… At the university in Bogotá … a friend lent me a book of short stories by Franz Kafka. I went back to the [hotel] where I was staying and began to read The Metamorphosis … The first line reads, “As Gregor Samsa awoke that morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” When I read the line I thought to myself that I didn’t know anyone was allowed to write things like that. If I had known, I would have started writing a long time ago. So I immediately started writing short stories.” †
He abandoned his legal studies and became a journalist, writing investigative reports and film criticism while also publishing a steady stream of short stories and novellas. When he began devoting all his time to writing his first novel, 100 Years of Solitude, his family came very close to utter destitution, but upon its publication in 1967 he very quickly became famous worldwide. When he was asked about the relationship between his fantastical fiction and factual journalistic work, he replied:
“Journalism has helped my fiction because it has kept me in a close relationship with reality … It always amuses me that the biggest praise for my work comes for the imagination, while the truth is that there’s not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality. The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination.”
From then onwards he devoted himself mostly to fiction, and remained an acclaimed author internationally. He often used his fame to speak out against the Caribbean politics of the time, but he always remained sceptical about that fame. When asked about his feelings towards his fame and critical admiration, he said:
“A famous writer who wants to continue writing has to be constantly defending himself against fame … I was asked the other day if I would be interested in the Nobel Prize, but I think that for me it would be an absolute catastrophe. I would certainly be interested in deserving it, but to receive it would be terrible. It would just complicate even more the problems of fame.”
The next year he won the Nobel Prize for literature.
Love in the Time of Cholera was published shortly afterwards, in 1985, again to great acclaim and success. In the late 1990s he was diagnosed with cancer. He was reportedly cured soon afterwards, but apart from an incomplete memoir he thereafter retired from writing altogether. He went on to live in relative seclusion in South America, and he died in 2014.
Colombian president Juan Manual Santos publicly bemoaned the loss of the man he called “the greatest Colombian of all time”. Marquez himself had said that “The only thing I really regret in life is not having a daughter.”
† - This and all other quotes are from his 1981 interview in The Paris Review. http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/3196/the-art-of-fiction-no-69-gabriel-garcia-marquez
In a sense this is me noding my homework. My book club did Love in the Time of Cholera recently, and I volunteered to do a one-page biography of Gabo for the get-together.