Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombian Nobel laureate who helped define Latin America, dies at 87

The Associated Press

ALTERNATIVE CROP OF XLAT301 - FILE - This undated file photo of Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez is seen in an unknown location. Marquez died Thursday April 17, 2014 at his home in Mexico City. Garcia Marquez's magical realist novels and short stories exposed tens of millions of readers to Latin America's passion, superstition, violence and inequality. (AP Photo/Hamilton, File)

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Garcia Marquez returned to Colombia in 1958 to marry Mercedes Barcha, a neighbor from childhood days. They had two sons, Rodrigo, a film director, and Gonzalo, a graphic designer.

Garcia Marquez's writing was constantly informed by his leftist political views, themselves forged in large part by a 1928 military massacre near Aracataca of banana workers striking against the United Fruit Company, which later became Chiquita. He was also greatly influenced by the assassination two decades later of Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, a galvanizing leftist presidential candidate.

The killing would set off the "Bogotazo," a weeklong riot that destroyed the center of Colombia's capital and which Castro, a visiting student activist, also lived through.

Garcia Marquez would sign on to the young Cuban revolution as a journalist, working in Bogota and Havana for its news agency Prensa Latina, then later as the agency's correspondent in New York.

Garcia Marquez wrote the epic "One Hundred Years of Solitude" in 18 months, living first off loans from friends and then by having his wife pawn their things, starting with the car and furniture.

By the time he finished writing in September 1966, their belongings had dwindled to an electric heater, a blender and a hairdryer. His wife then pawned those remaining items so that he could mail the manuscript to a publisher in Argentina.

When Garcia Marquez came home from the post office, his wife looked around and said, "We have no furniture left, we have nothing. We owe $5,000."

She need not have worried; all 8,000 copies of the first run sold out in a week.

President Clinton himself recalled in an AP interview in 2007 reading "One Hundred Years of Solitude" while in law school and not being able to put it down, not even during classes.

"I realized this man had imagined something that seemed like a fantasy but was profoundly true and profoundly wise," he said.

Garcia Marquez remained loyal to Castro even as other intellectuals lost patience with the Cuban leader's intolerance for dissent. The U.S. writer Susan Sontag accused Garcia Marquez in 2005 of complicity by association in Cuban human rights violations. But others defended him, saying Garcia Marquez had persuaded Castro to help secure freedom for political prisoners.

Garcia Marquez's politics caused the United States to deny him entry visas for years. After a 1981 run-in with Colombia's government in which he was accused of sympathizing with M-19 rebels and sending money to a Venezuelan guerrilla group, he moved to Mexico City, where he lived most of the time for the rest of this life.

Garcia Marquez famously feuded with Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa, who punched Garcia Marquez in a 1976 fight outside a Mexico City movie theater. Neither man ever publicly discussed the reason for the fight.

"A great man has died, one whose works gave the literature of our language great reach and prestige," Vargas Llosa said Thursday.

His voice shaking, face hidden behind sunglasses and a baseball cap, Vargas Llosa said Garcia Marquez's "novels will survive him and keep gaining readers around the world."

A bon vivant with an impish personality, Garcia Marquez was a gracious host who would animatedly recount long stories to guests, and occasionally unleash a quick temper when he felt slighted or misrepresented by the press.

Martin, the biographer, said the writer's penchant for embellishment often extended to his recounting of stories from his own life.

From childhood on, wrote Martin, "Garcia Marquez would have trouble with other people's questioning of his veracity."

Garcia Marquez turned down offers of diplomatic posts and spurned attempts to draft him to run for Colombia's presidency, though he did get involved in behind-the-scenes peace mediation efforts between Colombia's government and leftist rebels.

In 1998, already in his 70s, Garcia Marquez fulfilled a lifelong dream, buying a majority interest in the Colombian newsmagazine Cambio with money from his Nobel award.