Gabriel García Márquez (nicknames: Gabo, Gabito) was born March 6, 1928. Like the strange banana town of Macondo in 100 Hundred Years of Solitude, his home was a tiny Colombian village called Aracataca, near the Caribbean coast. He seems not to have known his father and did not meet his mother until he was almost eight years old. He was raised by his grandparents, who, in his words, were "the most decisive literary influence for me. After the death of my grandfather [when García Márquez was eight years old], nothing really happened to me any more." When a reporter once asked him where he got his rich, yet pungent style, he replied: "It's the style of my grandmother."
The author's grandfather, who became the model for "the Colonel" in the novel and the short stories, had participated in the civil war known as "The War of a Thousand Days." It was a traumatic event in Colombia's historical consciousness. Following the signing of the peace treaty, a revolution suddenly erupted and the country lost its Panama territory, the canal zone. A United States-backed republic arose in its place. Before this time, the village of Aracataca had vegetated along in almost total isolation from the world. Like the fictional Macondo, the village of Aracataca had been founded by Colombian civil war refugees, and when the United Fruit Company established a banana headquarters there, Aracataca became the scene of many labor protests and massacres. Eventually the banana company was forced to leave. All this becomes material for the action in the author's fiction.
In 1940, García Márquez left Aracataca for Bogotá, where he attended a Jesuit school. After graduation, he began to study law at the University of Bogotá but found, as he says, that law "had nothing to do with justice." When political violence closed the university, he transferred his studies to the city of Cartagena; he was, at best, a desultory student. He began working as a journalist there and in the port town of Barranquilla. From 1950 to 1952, he wrote a column called "La Jirafa" ("The Giraffe") for El Heraldo in Barranquilla. His writings at the time were heavily spiced with the irony and mordant humor so characteristic of his later fiction. His first published stories, however, appeared in 1947 while he was a student at Bogotá. Quitting law school, he moved to Barranquilla, where he became involved with a small group of writers and newsmen who knew his work. He had now turned altogether to journalism, taking a job as a newspaper columnist. In 1954, he returned to Bogotá as a film critic and reporter for the Colombian newspaper El Espectador.
"As a reporter," he once said, "I was the lowest on the paper and wanted to be. Other writers always wanted to get to the editorial page but I wanted to cover fires and crimes." He appeared then, as critic William Kennedy put it, to have "as much Ben Hecht as Hemingway in him." (See "The Yellow Trolly Car in Barcelona and Other Visions — a Profile of García Márquez," Atlantic, Jan. 1973.) One might add that he also had a touch of Barnum and Bailey showmanship in him as well. Once an El Espectador correspondent falsely reported a rebellion in Quibdo, a remote jungle village, and García Márquez and a photographer were dispatched there. They arrived after very difficult travel through the bush only to discover a sleepy village and the correspondent trying to find relief from the heat in a hammock. The story had been faked to protest the correspondent's assignment. With the help of sirens and drums, García Márquez gathered a crowd and took action photos of a staged rebellion. When he sent back his "story," an army of reporters arrived to cover the "rebellion."
Perhaps the most important point in his career as a newspaperman came in 1966 when a sailor named Luis Alejandro Velasco came to El Espectador to tell of his incredible survival at sea. An editor on the paper suggested that the sailor talk to García Márquez. Alejandro was a survivor of a Colombian naval destroyer crew that was struck by storm en route home from New Orleans. The survival was already well-publicized, but only newspapers friendly to Colombian dictator Gustavo Rojas Pinilla had been permitted interviews with Alejandro. García Márquez' interview turned out to be a fourteen-chapter exposé, narrated in the first-person and signed by the twenty-year-old seaman. Among other revelations, the sailor reported that the destroyer had not encountered a storm at all but, instead, had been carrying black market goods on deck. High winds had knocked the cargo loose and the eight victims who survived, including Alejandro, had been knocked overboard during the storm. These facts, which turned out to be substantially true, made the article an instant success but deeply embarrassed the government. Later, the account was published in book form under García Márquez' name in 1970, the first time he was credited with authoring the piece. The title of the book was: The Tale of A Shipwrecked Sailor, who was adrift ten days on a life raft without food or water, who was proclaimed a hero of the nation, kissed by beauty queens and made rich by publicity, and then loathed by the government and forgotten forever.
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