The Students’ Federation of India mourns the demise of Gabriel García Márquez (6 March 1927 – 17 April 2014), who held millions of readers spellbound with his dazzling depiction of Latin America’s quotidian charms and the maddening contradictions of its social life. Undoubtedly one of the greatest writers of our time, Márquez shot to fame with the publication of his 1967 novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, one of the most beloved works of world literature that continues to enthrall generation after generation of readers. His other important works include The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975), Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1981), Love in the Time of Cholera (1985), and The General in his Labyrinth (1989).
Born in Aracataca, Colombia, Márquez’s writings were deeply influenced by his early childhood, and his works constantly returned to the torrid region where he was raised by his grandparents. He struggled as a journalist and writer for several years in Colombia and Europe, before shifting to New York following the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 as the correspondent of Prensa Latina, the Cuban press agency. Later he moved to Mexico, where he wrote his magnum opus One Hundred Years of Solitude which enraptured readers with its intricate engagement with Latin American politics and profound conversance of folkloric beliefs.
Márquez, along with several others including Julio Cortázar, Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa, became one of the leading lights of the Latin American Boom in literature during the decades following the Cuban Revolution. The children of the Caribbean and Latin America and the sensuous fantasies of the region came alive in the works of Gabo (as Márquez was affectionately called) and his contemporaries. Márquez became known as the most famous practitioner of magical realism, which referred to the poetic use of supernatural elements such as fairy tale and folklore within a poker-faced objective reality, which made the extraordinary seem almost routine. It turned out to be an apt form to depict the bewildering political tumult in Latin America during the 1960s and 70s.
The Nobel Laureate’s leftist political views informed and energised his writings. The banana massacre in One Hundred Years of Solitude, for instance, was based on the massacre of hundreds of striking workers of the United Fruit Company by the Colombian army in 1928. Gabo was a fierce critic of Latin America’s social inequality and the human rights abuses of the region’s dictatorships. He said in his Nobel Lecture in 1982: “A promethean president (Salvador Allende of Chile), entrenched in his burning palace, died fighting an entire army, alone… There have been five wars and seventeen military coups; there emerged a diabolic dictator (Efraín Ríos Montt of Guatemala) who is carrying out, in God's name, the first Latin American ethnocide of our time. In the meantime, twenty million Latin American children died before the age of one - more than have been born in Europe since 1970… Numerous women arrested while pregnant have given birth in Argentine prisons, yet nobody knows the whereabouts and identity of their children who were furtively adopted or sent to an orphanage by order of the military authorities. Because they tried to change this state of things, nearly two hundred thousand men and women have died throughout the continent, and over one hundred thousand have lost their lives in three small and ill-fated countries of Central America: Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. If this had happened in the United States, the corresponding figure would be that of one million six hundred thousand violent deaths in four years.”
Márquez maintained a long friendship with Fidel Castro as an early ally of the Cuban Revolution, and campaigned for peace in Colombia. He was a staunch opponent of US imperialist aggression from Vietnam to Chile, and his political views caused the US to deny him entry visa for years. In 1981 he was “accused” of sympathizing with M-19 rebels in Colombia and sending money to a Venezuelan guerrilla group which was fighting state oppression.
Gabriel García Márquez will continue to be an inspiration, for his writings that conjured the extraordinary out of the ordinary while laying bare the marvels of love, myth and the pain of unbridled reality, for the exemplary courage he showed in standing up against imperialism and dictatorships, and for the steely determination with which he came to the defence of the struggle for socialism. Salutes, Gabo. Adiós!