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Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel Prize-winning author, dies at 87

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(CNN) -- Gabriel García Márquez, the influential, Nobel Prize-winning author of "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and "Love in the Time of Cholera," has died, his family and officials said.

He was 87.

The literary giant was treated in April for infections and dehydration at a Mexican hospital.

García Márquez, a native of Colombia, is widely credited with helping to popularize "magical realism," a genre "in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination," as the Nobel committee described it upon awarding him the prize for literature in 1982.

He was sometimes called the most significant Spanish-language author since Miguel de Cervantes, the 16th-century author of "Don Quixote" and one of the great writers in Western literature. Indeed, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda told Time that "One Hundred Years of Solitude" was "the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since the Don Quixote of Cervantes."

The author's cousin, Margarita Marquez, and Colombia's ambassador to Mexico, José Gabriel Ortiz, confirmed the author's death to CNN on Thursday.

"We're left with the memories and the admiration to all Colombians and also Mexicans because I think Gabo was half Mexican and half Colombian. He's just as admired in Mexico as he is in (his native) Colombia, all of Latin America and throughout the world," Ortiz told CNN en Español.

"I believe they were somehow emotionally ready for this regrettable outcome. They knew he was suffering from a complex, terminal disease and was an elderly man. I believe (Garcia Marquez's widow Mercedes Barcha) was getting ready for this moment, although nobody can really prepare themselves for a moment like this."

In a televised speech Thursday night, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos declared three days of national mourning, ordering flags to be lowered to half-staff across the country.

The author -- known by his nickname "Gabo" throughout Latin America -- was born in the northern Colombian town of Aracataca, which became the inspiration for Macondo, the town at the center of "Solitude," his 1967 masterpiece, and referenced in such works as his novella "Leaf Storm" and the novel "In Evil Hour."

"I feel Latin American from whatever country, but I have never renounced the nostalgia of my homeland: Aracataca, to which I returned one day and discovered that between reality and nostalgia was the raw material for my work," reads a mural quoting the author outside of town.

García Márquez was tickled that he had earned so much praise for his fertile imagination.

"The truth is that there's not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality. The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination," he told The Paris Review in 1981.

A storyteller's childhood

García Márquez's early life was shaped by both familial and political conflict. His grandfather, a widely respected figure known as the Colonel, was a liberal military man who strongly disagreed with the political views of García Márquez's father, a conservative telegraph operator who became a pharmacist. (His father's ardent pursuit of his mother later inspired "Love in the Time of Cholera.")

Their political disagreement came to reflect that of Colombia as a whole, a country that spent a postwar decade in the grip of what was called "La Violencia," a civil war that followed the assassination of a populist leader.

García Márquez spent his early childhood with his grandparents while his parents pursued a living in the coastal city of Barranquilla.

Both his grandparents were excellent storytellers, and García Márquez soaked in their tales. From his grandfather he learned of military men, Colombian history and the terrible burden of killing; from his grandmother came folk tales, superstitions and ghosts among the living.

His grandmother's stories were delivered "as if they were the irrefutable truth," according to the García Márquez site themodernword.com. The influence is obvious in García Márquez's works, particularly "One Hundred Years of Solitude."

In 1936 the Colonel, died and García Márquez returned to his parents and their growing family. He was eventually one of 11 children, not to mention several half-siblings from his father's affairs, a familial sprawl that also found its way into his books.

After finishing high school, García Márquez went off to college with dreams of becoming a writer. His parents, on the other hand, had plans for him to become a lawyer. Writing ended up taking precedence: When La Violencia broke out, García Márquez started contributing stories to a local newspaper and eventually became a columnist. He had also been exposed to writers such as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafka and especially William Faulkner, who had turned his own patch of land in Oxford, Mississippi, into the shape-shifting past and present of Yoknapatawpha County.

In the mid-1950s, García Márquez left Colombia for Europe, a move partly provoked by a story he'd written that was critical of the government. The distance, he later said, helped shape his perspective on Latin American politics.

For years, García Márquez had been writing and publishing fiction, including short stories in Latin American journals and a handful of longer works, including "Leaf Storm," which was published in 1955. But it wasn't until 1967 with the publication of "One Hundred Years of Solitude" that he broke through to a wide audience.

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