Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez died on April 17 at the age of 87. Marquez and his writing have been so thoroughly talked about, celebrated and dissected over the past half century that it seems impossible to write something here that hasn’t been put down elsewhere, and better. Still, Marquez was above all things a made man, and worthy of remembrance.
Garcia is arguably the 20th century’s most influential Latin American writer—hell, he’s probably the most influential, period. He came on the scene in 1967 with One Hundred Years of Solitude, his masterpiece chronicling seven generations of a family in a town called Macondo. It’s all but impossible to have any measure of literacy and not at some point to have come across either One Hundred Years or his 1985 book, Love in the Time of Cholera.
Because of this literary omnipresence, Márquez never much interested me personally. It was years before I even bothered picking up one of his books. Any writer who was this widely read and loved, however many Nobels they had on the mantle, my bulletproof reasoning went, couldn’t be worth a damn.
Let it not be said that I’m not an idiot. Gabo, as he was widely known, wasn’t so widely read because he catered to the lowest common denominator. Gabo is so widely read because he’s speaks a language we can all understand: Family, memory, magic.
As great of a writer as he was, the debt we all owe Márquez goes far beyond the literary value of his novels. With the possible exception of Jorge Luis Borges, no writer has done more to bring Latin American literature to the wider world. As far as I’m concerned, that’s his greatest legacy.
Without Gabo’s universal appeal, it’s very possible that the English-speaking world would never have been exposed to the likes of Roberto Bolaño or Cesar Aría. Not only did his notoriety pave the way for other Latin American writers, but his position at the top of the mountain was something that other writers who followed had to account for and stake positions around. He inspired a legion of imitators, and not a few detractors.
And it wasn’t just his outsized literary influence that inspired debate. Márquez’s long friendship with and tacit approval of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro is in many people’s opinion a black mark on his reputation. In this judgment lapse, Márquez joins a long line of celebrated writers who for whatever reason turned a blind eye to political reality. It shouldn’t diminish enjoyment of their work, but serves as a useful reminder that artists, however great, are just as flawed as the rest of us.