Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez is undoubtedly Colombia’s best known and best loved literary export. His novels, often placed under the umbrella of Magical Realism, bring an unmatched blend of styles and ideas to the rendering of love, death, and loss in his native South America. Though his works—including One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), Love in the Time of Cholera (1985), and many other internationally acclaimed novels—are unmistakably his own, much of his success has come from the inimitable ways he draws on his literary influences.
As with so many authors, Márquez's absolute earliest influences were not literary but familial. His grandfather, in addition to being a renowned Liberal war hero from Columbia’s Thousand Days War, was a spirited raconteur. While his grandfather inculcated him into the world of storytelling, his grandmother was his link to what had already been dubbed "Magical Realism" in literary circles. Her fascination with (and complete acceptance of) ghost stories, omens, and premonitions made its way into his consciousness and eventually into his writing, enabling him to enter the literary traditions of writers like Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar.
While the distinction between Magical Realism and Absurdism is a crucial one for thinking about South American literature, it was actually a shot from the latter canon that first turned Márquez toward the path of fiction writing. He said of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (1915), many years after first reading it in college:
“When I read the [first] line I thought to myself that I didn’t know anyone was allowed to write things like that. If I had known, I would have started writing a long time ago.”
Though his initial impulses led him to write stories that he would dismiss as “too intellectual,” he was ultimately able to combine the intellectualism of Kafka and James Joyce (or Virginia Woolf, whose rendering of interior monologue Márquez actually preferred) with the tendency of American Lost Generation writers to draw on real-life experience for short stories. Where Kafka inspired him to write, it took the works of Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner to convince him that the social realities of his native Colombia were worthy subjects for his literary efforts.
When it came time to write One Hundred Years of Solitude, Faulkner would again prove to be a guidepost. Not only does Márquez make use of the sort of high-modernist stylistic elements for which Faulkner was acclaimed, he also drew from the deep sense of place that pervades the Mississippi native’s writing. Indeed, just as The Sound and the Fury (1929) and As I Lay Dying (1930) all take place in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, the fictional town of Macondo sets the stage not just for One Hundred Years of Solitude, but for Márquez’s 1955 novella Leaf Storm, and his novel In Evil Hour (1962). For both authors, great writing was not solely a matter of language, plot, or characters. Instead, it was about immersing readers in a world built upon centuries of fictional history and development, mirroring the complexity of real life places.
For Love in the Time of Cholera, Márquez drew from a similar array of influences, but temporarily abandoned Macondo. Rather than drawing influence primarily from other fiction, Márquez’s beloved novel turned toward his own family history, constructing the plot of his novel loosely around the star-crossed courtship of his own parents. Much like his characters Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza, Márquez’s parents carried on a secret romance, shielded from the gaze of their disapproving parents (who were across the nation’s bitter Liberal-Conservative divide). Márquez noted that, “The only difference is [my parents] married. And as soon as they were married, they were no longer interesting as literary figures."