Gabriel García Márquez, the Colombian novelist whose “One Hundred Years of Solitude” established him as a giant of 20th-century literature, died Thursday at his home in Mexico City. He was 87.
Mr. García Márquez, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, wrote fiction rooted in a mythical Latin American landscape of his own creation, but his appeal was universal.
His books were translated into dozens of languages. He was among a select roster of canonical writers — Dickens, Tolstoy and Hemingway among them — who were embraced both by critics and by a mass audience.
“Each new work of his is received by expectant critics and readers as an event of world importance,” the Swedish Academy of Letters said in awarding him the Nobel.
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Mr. García Márquez was considered the supreme exponent, if not the creator, of the literary genre known as magic realism, in which the miraculous and the real converge.
In his novels and stories, storms rage for years, flowers drift from the skies, tyrants survive for centuries, priests levitate and corpses fail to decompose.
And, more plausibly, lovers rekindle their passion after a half-century apart.
Magic realism, he said, sprang from Latin America’s history of vicious dictators and romantic revolutionaries, of long years of hunger, illness and violence.
Like many Latin American intellectuals and artists, Mr. García Márquez felt impelled to speak out on the political issues of his day.
He viewed the world from a left-wing perspective, bitterly opposing Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the right-wing Chilean dictator, and unswervingly supporting Fidel Castro in Cuba.
Castro became such a close friend that García Márquez showed him drafts of his unpublished books.
No draft had more impact than the one for “One Hundred Years of Solitude “ which would sell more than 20 million copies. Chilean poet Pablo Neruda called it “the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since ‘Don Quixote.’” The novelist William Kennedy hailed it as “the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race.”
Mr. Márquez was rattled by the praise. He grew to hate “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” he said in interviews, because he feared his subsequent work would not measure up to it in readers’ eyes.
He need not have worried. Almost all his 15 other novels and short-story collections were lionized by critics and devoured by readers.
Oldest of 12
Gabriel García Márquez was born in Aracataca, a small town near Colombia’s Caribbean coast, on March 6, 1927.
His father, a postal clerk and telegraph operator, could barely support his wife and 12 children; Gabriel, the oldest, spent his early childhood living in the large, ramshackle house of his maternal grandparents. It influenced his writing; it seemed inhabited, he said, by the ghosts his grandmother conjured in the stories she told.
Mr. García Márquez moved to Bogotá as a teenager. He studied law there but never received a degree; he turned instead to journalism.
The late 1940s and early ’50s in Colombia were a period of civil strife known as La Violencia. The ideological causes were nebulous, but the savagery was stark: as many as 300,000 deaths. La Violencia would become the background for several of his novels.
Mr. García Márquez eked out a living writing for newspapers in Cartagena and then Barranquilla, where he lived in the garret of a brothel and saw a future in literature.
“It was a bohemian life: Finish at the paper at 1 in the morning, then write a poem or a short story until about 3, then go out to have a beer,” he said in an interview in 1996. “When you went home at dawn, ladies who were going to Mass would cross to the other side of the street for fear that you were either drunk or intending to mug or rape them.”
He read intensely — the Americans Hemingway, Faulkner, Twain and Melville; the Europeans Dickens, Tolstoy, Proust, Kafka and Virginia Woolf.
“I cannot imagine how anyone could even think of writing a novel without having at least a vague of idea of the 10,000 years of literature that have gone before,” Mr. Márquez said. But, he added, “I’ve never tried to imitate authors I’ve admired. On the contrary, I’ve done all I could not to imitate them.”
Mr. García Márquez alternated between journalism and fiction in the late 1950s.
In 1961 he moved to Mexico City, where he would live on and off for the rest of his life. It was there, in 1965, after a four-year dry spell in which he wrote no fiction, that García Márquez began “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”
The inspiration for it, he said, came to him while he was driving to Acapulco.
Returning home, he began an almost undistracted 18 months of writing while his wife, Mercedes, looked after the household.
“When I was finished writing,” he recalled, “my wife said, ‘Did you really finish it? We owe $12,000.’ ”
With the book’s publication in 1967, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the family never owed a penny again. “One Hundred Years of Solitude” was sold out within days.
In following the rise and fall of the Buendía family through several generations of war and peace, affluence and poverty, the novel seemed to many critics and readers the defining saga of Latin America’s social and political history.
A powerful writer
Mr. García Márquez made no claim to have invented magic realism; he pointed out that elements of it had appeared before in Latin American literature. But no one before him had used the style with such artistry, exuberance and power.
Magic realism would soon inspire writers on both sides of the Atlantic, most notably Isabel Allende in Chile and Salman Rushdie in Britain.
“Love in the Time of Cholera,” published in 1985, was Mr. García Márquez’s most romantic novel, the story of the resumption of a passionate relationship between a recently widowed septuagenarian and the lover she had broken with more than 50 years before.
By the 1980s, Mr. García Márquez appeared to have reached the pinnacle of his talent. But with each new work, he complained, he depleted the memories and life experiences that informed his fiction.
“I have realized as I grow older that history, in the end, has more imagination than oneself,” he told The New York Times in 1991. “So I find myself working more and more on research.”
As his fame grew, Mr. García Márquez — or Gabo, as he was called by friends — enjoyed a lifestyle he would have found inconceivable in his struggling youth.
He kept homes in Mexico City; Barcelona, Spain; Paris; and Cartagena, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. He dressed fastidiously, preferring a white monotone encompassing linen suits, shirts, shoes and even watchbands.
He contributed his prestige, time and money to left-wing causes. He helped finance a Venezuelan political party. He served on the Bertrand Russell Tribunal, which investigated human-rights violations in Latin America.
For more than three decades the State Department denied Mr. García Márquez a visa to travel in the United States, supposedly because he had been a member of the Colombian Communist Party in the 1950s, but almost certainly because of his continuing espousal of left-wing causes and his friendships with Castro.
The ban was rescinded in 1995 after President Clinton invited him to Martha’s Vineyard.
The time of memoirs
Suffering from lymphatic cancer, which was diagnosed in 1999, Mr. García Márquez devoted most of his subsequent writing to his memoirs. One exception was the novel “Memories of My Melancholy Whores,” about the love affair between a 90-year-old man and a 14-year-old prostitute, published in 2004.
In July 2012, his brother, Jaime, was quoted as saying that Mr. García Márquez had senile dementia and had stopped writing.
“Sometimes I cry because I feel like I’m losing him,” he said.
But Jaime Abello, director of the Gabriel García Márquez New Journalism Foundation in Cartagena, said the condition had not been clinically diagnosed.
Cristobal Pera, the author’s editor at Random House Mondadori, said at the time that Mr. García Márquez had been working on a novel, “We’ll See Each Other in August,’’ but that no publication date had been scheduled.
The author seemed disinclined to have it published, Pera said: “He told me, ‘This far along I don’t need to publish more.’ ”
Dozens of television and film adaptations were made of Mr. García Márquez’s works, but none achieved the critical or commercial success of his writing, and he declined requests for the movie rights to “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”
The novel’s readers, he once said, “always imagine the characters as they want, as their aunt or their grandfather, and the moment you bring that to the screen, the reader’s margin for creativity disappears.”
Besides his wife, Mercedes, his survivors include two sons, Rodrigo and Gonzalo.