The writer Michael Jacobs, who died in January 2014, met the legendary Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez by chance when he arrived in the country to undertake a journey on the river Magdalena. He was introduced to Marquez by a friend as “an Englishman obsessed by the river Magdalena.” Describing this encounter in his travelogue, The Robber of Memories, Jacobs writes of Marquez: “He burst into a smile, his eyes glowed and he held tightly to my wrist without seeming to want to let go. He looked up at his brother, like a child asking for a favour, and suggested that I be invited to their house, where he would love to talk to me at length about the Magdalena, the river of his life, the river that gave him the one reason for wanting to be young again. So that he could sail along it one more time.” Marquez passed away at the age of 87 on April 17 in Mexico, where he had shifted in 1981 after feeling threatened by the Colombian military’s efforts to question him over his alleged links with the country’s Communist guerrillas. But Colombia formed the backdrop of his works – the Colombia where people remained impoverished and democracy a miasma.
Fondly called Gabo, Marquez was known for his magical realism that came to him through stories he heard as a child from his grandmother. In 1965, he began work on his most famous novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, for which he locked himself in a room for 18 months with cigarette packs as sole companions. The book sold more than 20 million copies and was translated into over 30 languages. This novel was a major influence on the committee that awarded him the Nobel Prize in literature in 1982. Marquez remained a friend of Cuban President Fidel Castro, and as a result of his outspoken views on U.S. policies, he was denied a visa for years — till Bill Clinton came to power and lifted the ban, citing the fact that One Hundred Years of Solitude was his own favourite novel. In an interview to The Paris Review, Marquez likened writing to carpentry. “Both are very hard work,” he said. “Writing something is almost as hard as making a table. With both you are working with reality, a material just as hard as wood. Both are full of tricks and techniques.” That skill showed in his every work. In the opening of Love in the Time of Cholera, Marquez writes: “It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.” In an instant, the reader becomes Dr. Juvenal Urbino — and can smell bitter almonds.