Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Nobel laureate whose novels, stories and reports introduced readers around the world to the passion, charm, corruption and enduring essence of Colombia, passed away on April 17 at 87. The master of magic realism—the literary technique that blends the real and fantastic until the distinction between the two fades—captured the spirit, setting and atmosphere of Latin America—even when the places he described never existed.
Garcia Marquez is perhaps best remembered for Love in the Time of Cholera, a glorious tale of great love consummated after fifty years, nine months and four days, memorably set in a dusty 19th-century town on the Caribbean coast of Columbia. And his masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude, a breathtaking, life-altering tale of life and love that transcends both time and place, lives on almost everyone's list of the greatest books of all time. Garcia Marquez’s lesser-known works of non-fiction also expertly evoke Latin American culture and identity. In his captivating memoir Living to Tell the Tale, the writer describes his native Aracataca, a remote, desolate place, which he recast as the fictional Macondo on Colombia’s Caribbean coast in One Hundred Years of Solitude. In Clandestine in Chile he describes the secret return of the exiled filmmaker Miguel Littin to his homeland to investigate life under Pinochet. And in News of a Kidnapping Garcia Marquez applied his genius for language to the 1990 kidnapping of ten notable Colombians by the head of the Medellin drug cartel.
With a poet’s sensibility he depicted the bizarre drama of the negotiations for the captives’ release while evoking the sickness that penetrated every layer of his beloved country, from the peasants to the president. The books Garcia Marquez leaves behind are so poignant that fictitious landscapes become real, until one imagines that travelers, upon reaching Colombian shores, might look around and find themselves ensconced in the fantastical setting of one of Garcia Marquez’s novels in which men sprout tails and angels fall to earth.