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Colombia Mourns Death Of Favorite Son: Gabriel Garcia Marquez


If you think about the country of Colombia, you might think about turmoil - drug trafficking and violence - but a native son countered those notions with dream-like, whimsical storytelling. Nobel Prize-winning author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez died yesterday at the age of 87. Juan Forero visited his hometown.

JUAN FORERO, BYLINE: A few years back, Gabriel Garcia Marquez returned to tiny, forlorn Aracataca on Colombia's Caribbean coast and was warmly welcomed by brass band and big, cheering crowds. It's where he grew up, the place that fired his young imagination. Thousands of people lined the route of his street and then crowded Aracataca's train station. They all wanted to catch a glimpse of the region's favorite son.

They shouted his nickname, Gabo, Gabo, short for Gabriel and then they chased after him as he was driven along Aracataca's narrow streets. Everyone who's read Garcia Marquez's works in Aracataca knows that when he was just a pint-sized boy, he soaked up ghost stories and fairy tales, tragic dramas and tall tales. Many came from his grandfather, Nicolas Marquez. He'd been a veteran of the War of 1,000 Days, which sounds like a name the novelist would hatch up years later for one of his books.

In literature, Aracataca became Macondo a place where insomnia last(ph) years were eccentric characters don't age and where the colorful Wandia(ph) family meanders relentlessly. Speaking above the din as Aracataca celebrated, Jamie Abello explained the importance of Garcia Marquez to Colombians.

JAIME ABELLO: I think that the magic of Garcia Marquez is he was capable of converting all his cultural heritage into works of art.

FORERO: Abello, one of the writer's closest confidantes said that people in Aracataca and in Colombia were grateful for the works that Garcia Marquez had produced.

ABELLO: They love him because Marquez put them in the map of the world and make this (unintelligible) and to be respected and to be, you know, admired.

FORERO: Among those who found inspiration from the great writer is Hector Abad, a novelist here since the 1980s. He says Garcia Marquez skillfully mixed reality and fantasy creating powerful plots and unforgettable fictional characters, and all of it was written in magisterial Spanish.

HECTOR ABAD: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: Many of Garcia Marquez's characters or his towns like Macondo are as real as any real town like Aracataca, says Abad. Abad ventures that one reason for that was because Garcia Marquez had, for years, written about reality. He's been a journalist even after finding fame as a novelist. He wrote a bestselling non-fiction book, "News of a Kidnapping," about drug kingpen Pablo Escobar's reign of terror and he frequently spent time with Latin American leaders.

ABAD: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: He was greatly fascinated by power, Albad says. It's permitted him to write one fantastic work, "Autumn of the Patriarch," the author's portrait of a tropical tyrant. Albad says Garcia Marquez new power close up, including the power wielded by Fidel Castro who'd been a friend. In "Autumn of the Patriarch," Garcia Marquez's protagonist lives up to 232 years. He sired thousands of children and he roams a giant palace filled with lepers.

His life story is told through surrealistic episodes that include revolts, deviant sex and mad security officials. The book can be a challenge. A sentence can last whole pages, but Garcia Marquez believe in writing large in weighty books as big as life, as big as dreams. The people in Aracataca know that, even if the town is poor and isolated, and not all that much different from the days when the great author made it his home.

Rafael Diaz(ph) oversaw a museum in honor of the great writer.

RAFAEL DIAZ: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: Our dream has become a reality, Diaz says, and we're walking on air because Garcia Marquez represents us. Diaz said it was Garcia Marquez who's given the world a positive image of Aracataca, a positive image of Colombia. Juan Forero, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juan Forero