Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1194, (24-30 April 2014)
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1194, (24-30 April 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Goodbye Gabo

Obituary:  Gabriel Garcia Marquez : March 1927-April 2014

Goodbye Gabo
Goodbye Gabo

“No medicine cures what happiness cannot,” was one of Gabriel Garcia Marquez most memorable sayings. The Colombian-born novelist was affectionately nicknamed Gabo throughout Latin America. The quintessential author-activist pioneered a new genre, magical realism.

His oeuvre, One Hundred Years of Solitude, published in 1967 is to this day the best-selling book in the world, second only to the Bible. The tale is telling. Inspired by his birthplace Aracataca, colloquially called Cataca in Columbia’s Caribbean region, a tiny provincial backwater. He was born on 6 March 1927, a time of social upheaval highlighted by the Banana Massacre, when workers of the United Fruit Company of the United States plantation workers were butchered at the behest of the multinational by the authorities in the Colombian capital Bogota dispatched a military regiment. The Banana Massacre and stories narrated by his grandmother provided the setting for One Hundred Years of Solitude. His parents moved to the provincial metropolis of Barranquilla and he was left behind to be raised by his maternal grandparents.

The dichotomy between Liberal linearity and Conservative chromaticism coloured Gabo’s work. The political establishment of Colombia for years was dominated by the Liberals and the Conservatives, who invariably had the upper hand. “The Liberals, he said, were Freemasons, bad people, wanting to hang priests, to institute civil marriage and divorce, to recognize the rights of illegitimate children as equal to those of legitimate ones,” the father-in law admonished Colonel Aureliano, one of the characters in One Hundred Years of Solitude when he detected his leftist tendencies.

“The Conservatives, on the other hand, who had received their power directly from God, proposed the establishment of public order and family morality,” he quoted Aureliano’s father-in-law as saying. Aureliano is a fictional character, but the reader instinctively suspects that he is either Gabo, or the person Gabo deep within aspires to be. As a Piscean, perhaps Gabo had a predilection for Aureliano’s premonitions.

This masterpiece has been translated into thirty-seven languages and has sold more than 30 million copies, and yet a note of caution from the author himself. “Most critics don’t realize that a novel like One Hundred Years of Solitude is a bit of a joke, full of signals to close friends. And so, with some preordained right to pontificate they take on the responsibility of decoding the book and risk making terrible fools of themselves”.

His tragicomic Love in the Time of Cholera was another great success. Love was a consistent theme in most of his novels. “Sex is the consolation you have when you can’t have love,” he wrote, perhaps half in jest, in his Memories of My Melancholy Whores.

He won the Nobel Prize for Literature on 8 December 1982 “for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent’s life and conflicts”.

Gabo developed a close friendship with the legendary Cuban leader Fidel Castro. “A man of austere habits and insatiable illusions, with an old-fashioned formal education of cautious words and subdued tones, and incapable of conceiving any idea that is not colossal,” Gabo praised Castro.

Tributes and eulogies came from presidents and leading literary figures from around the globe. “His unique characters and exuberant Latin America will remain marked in the hearts and memories of his millions of readers,” remarked Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. “With the passing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the world has lost one of its greatest visionary writers,” concurred United States President Barack Obama.

And, paeans from across the political spectrum, too. “Gabo’s death is a loss for Colombia and for the entire world. His work will safeguard his memory,” the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia tweeted.

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