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updated: 4/19/2014 7:31 PM

Colombia loses a literary giant

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  • 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)

      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)

  • FILE - In this June 20, 2008 file photo, Puerto Rican composer and salsa singer Cheo Feliciano performs at The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Puerto Rican salsa legend, Feliciano, died in a car accident early Thursday April 17, 2014, in the U.S. territory. He was 78. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

      FILE - In this June 20, 2008 file photo, Puerto Rican composer and salsa singer Cheo Feliciano performs at The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Puerto Rican salsa legend, Feliciano, died in a car accident early Thursday April 17, 2014, in the U.S. territory. He was 78. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

 
From news wire reports

• Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez crafted intoxicating fiction from the fatalism, fantasy, cruelty and heroics of the world that set his mind churning as a child growing up on Colombia's Caribbean coast.

One of the most revered and influential writers of his generation, he brought Latin America's charm and maddening contradictions to life in the minds of millions and became the best-known practitioner of "magical realism," a blending of fantastic elements into portrayals of daily life that made the extraordinary seem almost routine.

In his works, clouds of yellow butterflies precede a forbidden lover's arrival. A heroic liberator of nations dies alone, destitute and far from home. "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings," as one of his short stories is called, is spotted in a muddy courtyard.

Garcia Marquez's own epic story ended Thursday, at age 87, with his death at his home in southern Mexico City.

Known to millions simply as "Gabo," Garcia Marquez was widely seen as the Spanish language's most popular writer since Miguel de Cervantes in the 17th century. His extraordinary literary celebrity spawned comparisons with Mark Twain and Charles Dickens.

"A thousand years of solitude and sadness because of the death of the greatest Colombian of all time!" Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said on Twitter. "Such giants never die."

His flamboyant and melancholy works -- among them "Chronicle of a Death Foretold," ''Love in the Time of Cholera" and "The Autumn of the Patriarch" -- outsold everything published in Spanish except the Bible. The epic 1967 novel "One Hundred Years of Solitude" sold more than 50 million copies in more than 25 languages.

The first sentence of "One Hundred Years of Solitude" has become one of the most famous opening lines of all time: "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."

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.

• Basil Paterson, a longtime New York political powerhouse and the father of former Gov. David Paterson, has died, his family said Thursday. He was 87.

Puerto Rican salsa legend Cheo Feliciano died in a car accident early Thursday, prompting the governor of the U.S. territory to declare three days of mourning.

Feliciano, 78, a member of the Fania All Stars, was one of the most recognized salsa singers, with hits including "Una en un millón," "Mi promesa," and "Contigo aprendi."

• Jacques Servier, 92, the founder of France's second-largest pharmaceutical group who became ensnared in a scandal over a diabetes drug widely used for weight loss, has died.

Servier and his lab were at the center of one of France's biggest health scandals, in which the drug Mediator was alleged to be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people. The European Medicines Agency pulled Mediator from shelves when it found that its active ingredient, benfluorex, could lead to a dangerous thickening of heart valves. The ingredient is a derivative of fenfluramine, whose use in a diet drug in the U.S. was linked to similar problems.

• Phillip Hayes Dean, a playwright, director and theater actor who wrote the one-man play "Paul Robeson" starring James Earl Jones on Broadway in 1978, has died at 83.

His plays include "The Last American Dixieland Band," "Moloch Blues," "Freeman," "The Owl Killer and Dink's Blues" and "The Sty of the Blind Pig," which Time magazine called one of the best plays of 1971.

• Romanian poet and translator Nina Cassian, who obtained political asylum in the United States after the Communist-era secret police found her critical poems scribbled in a friend's diary, has died in New York City. She was 89.

The Securitate found her poems in 1985 in the diary of Gheorghe Ursu, who was questioned and later died after being beaten by a fellow prisoner. Cassian, then visiting the United States, was granted asylum.

In 2003, the Securitate officers who ordered Ursu's beating were sentenced to 11 years in prison.

• Former major league baseball player Hal Smith of Fort Smith, Ark., has died at 82.

Smith signed with the St. Louis Cardinals as a catcher in 1949. He played for the Cardinals from 1956-61 and was named to three National League All-Star teams.

• Patrick Seale, a veteran journalist and author on Middle Eastern affairs as well as one of the world's leading historians on Syria, has died in London after a battle with cancer, according to family and friends. He was 83.

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