Gabriel Garcia Marquez, author of "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and 10 other works of fiction, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature yesterday.
In honoring the 54-year-old Colombian novelist, the Swedish Academy of Letters praised his creation of "a world of his own which is his microcosm. In its tumultuous, bewildering yet graphically convincing authenticity, it reflects a continent and its human riches and poverty . . . a cosmos in which the human heart and the combined forces of history time and again burst the bounds of chaos."
Although he is reportedly the best-selling Spanish-language author and a four-time nominee for the Nobel Prize, Garcia Marquez said yesterday at his Mexico City home that he was "surprised and astonished -- I imagined I was going to be one of those eternal candidates." He told reporters that "I don't feel old enough yet to receive a Nobel Prize, since really the only person younger than me to win the award was Albert Camus."
When Garcia Marquez first published "One Hundred Years of Solitude" in 1967, Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda hailed it as "perhaps the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since the 'Don Quixote' of Cervantes." But the author was not widely known in the United States until 1970, when Gregory Rabassa's English translation was published here to immediate critical praise.
Alfred Kazin found it "utterly original," and said he read it "with the same recognition of the New World epic that one feels about 'Moby Dick'." William McPherson, writing in this paper, called the book "a vast jungle of a novel -- at once so rich, so dense and so extravagant as to be overwhelming; a fabulous creation of magic and metaphor and myth."
It has sold more than 5 million copies in dozens of languages, assured Garcia Marquez a place in the ranks of 20th century masters, and placed him alongside Jorge Luis Borges of Argentina as a world symbol and spokesman for Latin American literature. Borges, 83, often nominated for the Nobel Prize himself, yesterday described the award to Garcia Marquez as "excellent, a notably good show."
"One Hundred Years of Solitude" is a work of lush and prodigious imagination, tracing the century-long saga of the lusty, eccentric Buendia family from rural obscurity in the hamlet of Macondo through political upheaval and the piecemeal encroachment of civilization to the final obliteration of the clan.
In Garcia Marquez' lavish and sensuous prose, the world of the novel is both realistically vivid and marvelously fantastic. One woman flourishes on a diet of dirt, another is drawn up into heaven while hanging her laundry, "in the midst of the flapping sheets that rose with her." Yellow flowers fall from the sky all night when the family patriarch dies; a priest levitates when he drinks hot chocolate; it rains for more than four years, followed by a 10-year drought.
"Surrealism," Garcia Marquez has said, "comes from the reality of Latin America," and many critics regard the book as a symbolic recreation of that region's social and political history.
Macondo is modeled after the author's birthplace, Aracataca, near Colombia's Caribbean coast. The son of a telegraph operator and a local beauty, Garcia Marquez was one of 16 children. The family was poor, and he was raised by his grandparents, listening to their tales of civil wars, ghosts and spirits and the vanished wealth of earlier decades.
As a child he played at being a newspaper publisher and drew comic books -- which he still reads. "Lots of them," he told the Associated Press.
As a teen-ager he published his first story, came to admire Time magazine's journalism and Ernest Hemingway's prose, and became infatuated with the novels of William Faulkner -- an influence which he could not shake off until the mid-'60s. He studied law briefly, but decided on a career in journalism after Colombia's civil disturbances of 1948 gave him the leftist sensibility he carried through two migratory decades as a reporter: in Colombia, in Havana, in New York as the correspondent for for the Cuban news agency, in Mexico -- where he wrote "One Hundred Years of Solitude" -- and in Barcelona. Along the way, he became devoted to Marxist causes.
But if his real-life itinerary was urban and engaged, his literary subjects remained largely rural and apolitical. He had been writing fiction since 1955, and Macondo-like locales appear in the stories collected in "No One Writes to the Colonel & Other Stories," "Leaf Storm and Other Stories" and "Innocent Erendira and Other Stories."
His early prose was terse and spare, partly in homage to Hemingway, but "One Hundred Years" -- still his longest and most ambitious work -- proved a stylistic watershed. He told an interviewer in 1973 that the first chapter came to him suddenly as he was driving from Mexico City to Acapulco. He returned home, told his wife not to bother him about anything, especially money, barricaded himself in his room and wrote the book in 18 months of 10-hour days. "When I was finished writing, my wife said, 'Did you really finish it? We owe $12,000.' "
In 1975, he turned to an overtly political theme in "The Autumn of the Patriarch," a fable about the vicious repressions of a dictator who seems a composite of many familiar Latin American strongmen. A New York Times review called it "a most complex and terrible vision of Latin America's ubiquitous, unkillable demon."
The author has lived in exile in Mexico City for many years with his wife Mercedes Barcha. Two sons, Rodrigo, 22, and Gonzalo, 20, are studying at Harvard and in Paris respectively. Garcia Marquez sought political asylum in March 1981 at the Mexican Embassy in Bogota, saying he was being "politically persecuted" and the Army suspected him of aiding in Cuban training of Colombian guerrillas.
Some Colombian observers criticized the action variously as paranoia, a promotional stunt for his books or a calculated gesture to discredit the government. According to the Associated Press, Colombia's recently elected president, Belisario Betancur, telephoned Garcia Marquez yesterday "to tell him that I put Colombia's heart in his hands," and the author said he would return there "very soon."
Garcia Marquez has long been an outspoken critic of rightist Latin American regimes, as well as an avid partisan of Cuba and personal friend of Fidel Castro. He once called the U.S. boycott of Cuba "the greatest violation of human rights in this century" and yesterday told reporters, "I'd be interested in knowing what the CIA thinks of my Nobel Prize."
He cannot obtain a visa to enter the United States because he is considered "a member of the communist or affiliated party," said a State Department official but does come to this country by obtaining a waiver.
In the mid-'70s, when Cuban troops were sent to Angola, Garcia Marquez traveled there several times and in 1977 wrote what was, in effect, the first Cuban-authorized version of the Angolan civil war. A Swedish Academy spokesman yesterday alluded to these activities, remarking that Garcia Marquez, "like most of the other important writers, is strongly committed on the side of the poor and the weak against domestic oppression and foreign economic exploitation."
But his latest novel, "Chronicle of a Death Foretold," published last year in Latin America to vast public acclaim, retreats from political concerns. It is based on the death, 30 years ago, of a friend of Garcia Marquez. The friend was suspected of violating a young woman's honor and was pursued by her two brothers, who hacked him to death with machetes.
Garcia Marquez reportedly considers the 122-page volume one of his most important. Knopf is to publish the English translation by Rabassa next spring.