Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Plagues of insomnia and memory loss, an old man with wings sprouting improbably from his back, a love affair that is rekindled after fifty years, nine months, and four days: these are just a few examples of the wonders that are to be found in the work of Gabriel García Márquez.

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    The Colombian Nobel Prize winner is most famous for One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), a sweeping and magical story regarded as one of the greatest novels ever written. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, as well as his other novels and short stories, García Márquez popularised a literary genre called magical realism, combining fantastical elements with realistic narration techniques to make for an unforgettable body of work.

    Gabriel García Márquez: Biography

    Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez was born on March 6, 1927, in the Colombian river town of Aracataca.

    García Márquez‘s Childhood and Early Life

    The oldest of twelve children, García Márquez was nicknamed Gabo or Gabito by his family and close friends. When he was still a baby, his parents moved to another Colombian city, leaving young García Márquez in the care of his maternal grandparents. Both of his grandparents significantly influenced García Márquez in his early life. His grandfather was a well-respected veteran of the Colombian civil war known as the Thousand Days War and imparted many life lessons to the young García Márquez.

    Gabriel Marquez Garcia, Aracataca Church, StudySmarterFig 1: Gabriel Garcia Marquez was born in Aracataca, Colombia. This is the Church the author was baptized in.

    Both of his grandparents were wonderful, if very different, storytellers. His grandfather told young García Márquez about history, the war, and problems with the United Fruit Company and local banana plantations. On the other hand, his grandmother was a superstitious woman who believed strongly in ghosts, spirits, and the supernatural and filled her stories to that effect.

    In 1937, García Márquez moved back with his parents to the town of Sucre, where he started attending school. He enjoyed writing poetry and drawing comic strips, and some of his poems were published in his high school’s newspaper.

    García Márquez later received a government scholarship and moved to Bogotá, Colombia, to complete his high school education.

    The Banana Massacre

    In 1928, the year following García Márquez's birth, a tragic event known as the Banana Massacre occurred in Colombia. Workers went on strike to protest inhumane working conditions at a United Fruit Company plantation near Santa Marta, Colombia.

    The United Fruit Company, an American corporation, refused to negotiate with the workers, and somewhere between 47 and 2,000 workers were massacred by the Colombian Army. García Márquez's grandfather was an outspoken critic of the government and the United Fruit Company's actions.

    García Márquez’s Adulthood

    García Márquez graduated high school in 1947 and enrolled in the National University of Colombia, where he studied law while nursing a growing interest in writing. The following year massive riots and the assassination of a popular left-wing politician forced García Márquez’s university to close. He transferred to the University of Cartagena and began his first job in journalism.

    Gabriel Marquez Garcia, Journal and Camera, StudySmarterFig 2: García Márquez's first writing work was in journalism.

    In 1950, García Márquez left the university for good to focus on his journalism career. For the next several years, he worked as a reporter for various newspapers and became a member of the Barranquilla Group, a loose association of writers and journalists who introduced García Márquez to literature that would influence him throughout his career.

    García Márquez's collected works of journalism span three volumes and more than 3,000 pages. In 1955, he became famous in Colombia for a series of interviews published in the newspaper El Espectador with the sole survivor of a shipwreck. The Colombian government officially announced that the ship sank in a storm, but García Márquez uncovered that the ship actually sank because it was overloaded with illegal goods from the United States. This work was later compiled and published as The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor in 1970.

    Gabriel García Márquez always considered himself a journalist rather than a novelist, and journalism hugely affected his fiction writing. He believed that journalism was just as valuable, if not more, than other literary categories, and he hoped that he would be remembered for his work as a journalist rather than for his novels.

    García Márquez’s Politics and Criticism

    Gabriel García Márquez was a staunch leftist and socialist throughout his life. He was, sometimes controversially, close friends with Cuban president Fidel Castro and was denied a visa to the United States for some years because of his outspoken opposition to US imperialist policies.

    García Márquez’s friendship with and support of Fidel Castro drew criticism from some, including the exiled Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas.

    Fidel Castro was the political leader of Cuba from 1959 to 2008. The communist leader became a symbol of the Latin American revolutionary movement. However, his government was also responsible for a repressive system guilty of numerous human rights violations. Despite the atrocities committed under his watch, García Márquez was never publicly critical of Castro's regime.

    García Márquez’s Literary Career

    García Márquez’s first two novels, Leaf Storm (1955) and In Evil Hour (1962) were published with little to note. In 1967, however, García Márquez’s third novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, was published and almost immediately hailed as one of the greatest books of the twentieth century. The novel was translated into English by Gregory Rabassa in 1970 and went on to sell more than fifty million copies. It is without a doubt García Márquez’s best-known work; it led to numerous literary prizes and cemented him as one of the great novelists of the century.

    Over the next 37 years, Gabriel García Márquez would go on to publish a multitude of other books. Some of the most notable include Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1981) and Love in the Time of Cholera (1985).

    In 1982, García Márquez was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his body of work. He was only the fourth Latin American writer ever to receive the prize.

    García Márquez’s End of Life and Death

    Gabriel García Márquez moved to Mexico City in 1961 and lived there on and off for the rest of his life. In 1999, the writer’s health began to decline. He was diagnosed and successfully treated for lymphatic cancer, which inspired him to begin writing a memoir. Living to Tell the Tale, the first of a proposed trilogy of memoirs, was published in 2002. His final work of fiction, Memories of My Melancholy Whores, was published two years later in 2004.

    Gabriel García Márquez died of pneumonia on April 17, 2014, in Mexico City. He was 87 years old.

    Gabriel García Márquez and Magical Realism

    Gabriel García Márquez is perhaps best known for pioneering the use of magical realism in literature. As its name states, magical realism is a style of writing based on reality but which uses magical or fantastical elements. Importantly, these elements are included in the story as if they were also real; they are not treated as unusual or remarkable in any way.

    In One Hundred Years of Solitude, for example, the entire town of Macondo suddenly comes down with a sickness that prevents them from sleeping. As a result of this sickness, the residents begin to lose their memory, and they must label everything in the town so as not to forget the names of things.

    García Márquez would often claim that there was nothing fantastical about his writing; he was simply describing the reality of Latin America. His style of storytelling was also strongly influenced by his grandmother, who would recount tales of ghosts and the supernatural as if they were real.

    Gabriel García Márquez is an important figure in the so-called Latin American Boom, a literary movement of the 1960s and 1970s that saw a rapid increase in the popularity of Latin American writers around the world. Some other important Boom writers include Argentina’s Julio Cortázar, Mexico’s Carlos Fuentes, and Peru’s Mario Vargas Llosa.

    Gabriel García Márquez: Books

    Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Small Town by Lake in Colombia, StudySmarterFig 3: One Hundred Years of Solitude takes place in an imaginary town called Macondo. However, Macondo has many similarities with Aracataca and many other Colombian towns.

    • One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) is Gabriel García Márquez’s most famous novel and one of the most important literary works of the twentieth century. It tells the multigenerational story of the Buendía family and the founding of the fictional town of Macondo. García Márquez was inspired by his childhood and the storytelling of both his grandparents. There are various events in One Hundred Years of Solitude that allude to important moments in Colombian history, and Macondo is thought to be based on García Márquez’s hometown of Aracataca. One Hundred Years of Solitude is often cited as one of the best examples of the genre of magical realism.
    • Love in the Time of Cholera (1985) is perhaps Gabriel García Márquez’s best-known novel after One Hundred Years of Solitude. It tells of a decades-long love story between Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza. The two meet as children, but life pulls the lovers in different directions and they find each other again after 50 years. The novel was adapted into a movie in 2006.
    • García Márquez’s other novels include In Evil Hour (1962), The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975), Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1981), The General in His Labyrinth (1989), Of Love and Other Demons (1994), and Memories of My Melancholy Whores (2004).
    • Gabriel García Márquez is also known for his short stories, including the classic example of magical realism, "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings."
    • Also noteworthy is the non-fiction The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor (1970). Originally published in fourteen instalments in the newspaper El Espectador in 1955, this is an example of García Márquez’s journalistic work. It tells the story of a survivor of a real shipwreck in the 1950s.

    Gabriel García Márquez: Quotes

    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. -One Hundred Years of Solitude (ch. 1).

    The opening line from One Hundred Years of Solitude is among the most iconic first sentences in literary history. In just one incredibly compelling sentence, García Márquez alludes to the expanse of time the novel will cover and the strange way in which time often moves in Macondo. The childlike sense of wonder associated with the discovery of ice suggests the magical realism that will permeate the rest of the novel.

    He was still too young to know that the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past. -Love in the Time of Cholera (ch. 2).

    Memory, ageing, and the passage of time are important themes in García Márquez’s work. Many of his novels, such as One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, span long periods of time, decades or more, and examine how the passage of time changes places, people, and relationships. Writing stories with such long timelines allows García Márquez to explore the insights gained over a lifetime and allows characters to reflect on their own development.

    On the third day of rain they had killed so many crabs inside the house that Pelayo had to cross his drenched courtyard and throw them into the sea, because the newborn child had a temperature all night and they thought it was due to the stench. The world had been sad since Tuesday. Sea and sky were a single ash-gray thing and the sands of the beach, which on March nights glimmered like powdered light, had become a stew of mud and rotten shellfish. The light was so weak at noon that when Pelayo was coming back to the house after throwing away the crabs, it was hard for him to see what it was that was moving and groaning in the rear of the courtyard. He had to go very close to see that it was an old man, a very old man, lying face down in the mud, who, in spite of his tremendous efforts, couldn’t get up, impeded by his enormous wings. - "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings."

    Gabriel García Márquez’s short story "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" is one of the most often cited examples of magical realism. This opening passage introduces the first truly fantastical element of the story, the old man’s enormous wings. But even before that, there are many details in the text that convey a sense of strangeness. The profusion of crabs, for example, or the personification of the sad world, or the sea that has "become a stew of mud and rotten shellfish." However, at the same time, the entire passage is narrated in the same, matter-of-fact, realistic prose that is exemplary of magical realism.

    I dare to think that it is this outsized reality, and not just its literary expression, that has deserved the attention of the Swedish Academy of Letters. A reality not of paper, but one that lives within us and determines each instant of our countless daily deaths, and that nourishes a source of insatiable creativity, full of sorrow and beauty, of which this roving and nostalgic Colombian is but one cypher more, singled out by fortune. Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable. This, my friends, is the crux of our solitude. -Nobel Lecture (1982).

    Gabriel García Márquez’s Nobel banquet speech, titled the "Solitude of Latin America", eloquently describes the history of Latin America in a way that highlights the outside view of the region as a strange and magical place. This assumption, however, has led to all aspects of Latin American existence appearing unbelievable to the outside observer, including the social unrest and political upheaval occurring in the region during the period of García Márquez’s Nobel speech. Latin America is left in solitude because their problems are accepted as part of their madness. However, this history has also created an entire region of writers and artists that cannot use European models to explain their reality.

    Gabriel García Márquez: Accomplishments

    • In 1972, Gabriel García Márquez won the prestigious Neustadt International Prize for Literature.
    • Additionally, in 1972, One Hundred Years of Solitude was awarded the Rómulo Gallegos International Novel Prize.
    • In 1980 Gabriel García Márquez was awarded the Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service for Outstanding Achievement in Literature.
    • In 1982 Gabriel García Márquez was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

    Gabriel Garcia Marquez - Key takeaways

    • Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez was born on 6 March 1927.
    • As a young child, he was raised by his maternal grandparents, whose storytelling influenced his work.
    • Gabriel García Márquez began his writing career as a journalist.
    • His most important novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, was published in 1967.
    • Gabriel García Márquez was awarded the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature.
    • He is known for pioneering the use of magical realism in his writing.
    • Gabriel García Márquez died in Mexico City on 17 April 2014.


    1. Fig 1: Aracataca's church where Garcia Marquez was baptized ( by Tim Buendia is licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 (
    Frequently Asked Questions about Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    Where did Gabriel García Márquez live?

    Gabriel García Márquez was born in Colombia and lived in several other countries, including Venezuela, Spain, and Mexico.

    When did Gabriel García Márquez die?

    Gabriel García Márquez died of pneumonia on 17 April 2014.

    How many books has Gabriel García Márquez written?

    Gabriel García Márquez wrote approximately 24 books, including novels, short story collections, and non-fiction works.

    What was Gabriel García Márquez most famous for?

    Gabriel García Márquez was most famous for his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude and for popularizing the use of magical realism.

    How did Gabriel García Márquez impact the world?

    Gabriel García Márquez had a huge impact in enhancing the visibility of Latin American literature. His novel One Hundred Years of Solitude and his use of magical realism influenced writers worldwide.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What is generally considered to be Gabriel García Márquez’s most important work?

    Why did Gabriel García Márquez leave the university?

    What does Florentino Ariza do immediately after Dr. Juvenal Urbino dies?


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