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Gabriel García Márquez

March 6, 1928, is the birthday of novelist Gabriel García Márquez.  Born in Aracataca in northern Colombia, he is the oldest of eleven children.  He lived with his grandparents for the first eight years of his life, and he often reflects upon those days and his earliest recollections. 

"I grew up in a village hidden away among marshes and virgin forest on the Colombian north coast...a place where 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." 

As a child, Márquez enjoyed listening to his grandfather's tales of the Colombian civil war and his grandmother's stories about ghosts, shamans, premonitions, demons, and deceased family members.  When his grandfather died, his grandmother's increasing blindness forced her to send the child back to live with his parents in Sucre, where his father worked as a pharmacist.  Soon afterwards, he was enrolled in boarding school in in Barranquilla, a port city at the mouth of the Magdalena River.  He acquired a reputation as being a shy boy who wrote humorous poems and drew cartoons.  In fact, he was so introverted and serious that his classmates dubbed him, "the Old Man."

After boarding school, he entered the National University of Bogota and the University of Cartagena, where he studied law and journalism.  He worked as a newspaper editor in Colombia and later as a European correspond in Rome and Paris for El Espectador Márquez had planned on becoming a lawyer, but after the Colombian civil war broke out in 1948, he decided to stay close to home to report on it.  It was a brutal war that lasted for more than a decade.  As armed groups of guerillas roamed the country, towns and villages were burned to the ground and thousands of people--including women and children--were viciously murdered.  Millions more were forced to emigrate to Venezuela.

When a violent demonstration broke out in his neighborhood and rioters set fire to his house, Márquez lost all of his writings.  With little money and only two changes of clothes to his name, he moved into a crowded apartment in a four-story brothel called "the Skyscraper."  He continued writing and trying to support himself as a journalist by writing about what he knew best.  He turned out a series of newspaper stories about the tall tales and superstitions kept alive in small towns and local villages. 

During those dire times, Márquez often met with other writers over coffee, and they would discuss the world in general and writing in particular.  He soon fell under the influence of the works of authors such as Joyce, Faulkner, and Kafka.  After reading a copy of Kafka's The Metamorphosis, Márquez realized that literature doesn't have to follow a straight narrative and unfold along a traditional plot.  For him, it was a liberating experience.  "I thought to myself that I didn't know anyone was allowed to write things like that," he said.  "If I had known, I would have started writing a long time ago."  He also remarked that Kafka's "voice" had the same echoes as his grandmother's--"that's how my grandmother used to tell stories, the wildest things with a completely natural tone of voice."

By the early 1950s, García Márquez knew that he wanted to write fiction more than anything else, but he didn't know about what.  One day, while he was sitting in his favorite cafe, a woman sat down beside him and told him that she was his mother.  He hadn't seen her in so many years that he hardly recognized her.  The woman told him that she was on the way to his grandparents' house, where he was raised, to sell it.  He accompanied his mother on the boat trip home.  Along the way, she told him that she was sorry he had given up law.  She said that it pained her to see him living like a beggar in a brothel.  She begged him to promise her that he would go back to law school as soon as they sold the house.

Before dawn on the morning they reached town, he walked out onto the prow of the ship to get a breath of fresh air.  He said, "From the windows at the prow...the lights of the fishing boats floated like stars in the water....The invisible fishermen conversed...[and] their voices had a phantasmal resonance within the boundaries of the swamp.  As I leaned on the railing, trying to guess at the outline of the sierra, nostalgia's first blow caught me by surprise." 

For the rest of the trip, Márquez was flooded with memories of his childhood and his grandparents' stories.  He began formulating the basis for a novel.  He wrote a story about a fictional time based upon his memories.  He completed it and wrote four other novels, but he wasn't happy with any of them.

In the mid-1950s, García Márquez traveled through Geneva, Rome, Poland, and Hungary, finally settling in Paris where he learned that he was out of a job.  The Colombian government had shut down the presses of El Espectador.  While living in the Latin Quarter, he relied on credit, a good-hearted landlady, and money he scraped up by returning empty bottles for their deposits.  He found himself reading the works of American expatriate Ernest Hemingway, and Hemingway's influence spurred him on to type out eleven drafts of his own No One Writes to the Colonel.

In January, 1965, driving from Mexico City to his home in Acapulco, Márquez had a revelation.  The first chapter of a new book popped into his head.  He began writing as soon as he got home, and he worked on little else but that book for the next two years.  When he finished, he was twelve-thousand dollars in debt.  He sold his wife's hairdryer in order to pay the postage to send the manuscript to his editor.  The novel, titled One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), is the story of several generations of a family in the fictional village of Macondo.  It begins, "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."  Today, One Hundred Years of Solitude is considered one of the most powerful and influential novels of the twentieth century. 

García Márquez went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.  Since then, he has written numerous other books, including Love in the Time of Cholera (1988) and The General in His Labyrinth (1989).  His most recent book is Living to Tell the Tale (2002), the first volume of his autobiography, The General in His Labyrinth.

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