It is possibly the most famous literary feud of modern times: Gabriel García Márquez, the Nobel prize-winning author, and Mario Vargas Llosa, his fellow giant of Latin American literature, have refused to talk to each other for three decades.
Once great friends, the two writers have steadfastly refused to talk about the reasons behind their spectacular bust-up, and so have their wives.
Now two pictures have appeared in which a youthful García Márquez shows off a black eye, and the photographer who took them has shed light on the origins of the feud. Not surprisingly, perhaps, it involves a woman.
Rodrigo Moya, a close friend of García Marquez, took the black-and-white pictures in 1976 but has kept them secret until this week. He decided to publish them to coincide with García Marquez’s 80th birthday and has broken his silence in a tongue-in-cheek account of the night in which GarcÍa Marquez and Vargas Llosa brawled, entitled “The Horrific Story of the Black Eye”.
The photographs, which first appeared in La Jornadain Mexico show a shiner under GarcÍa Márquez’s left eye and a cut on his nose. In one, the Colombian novelist is looking deadly serious. In the other, he grins broadly from under his moustache, as if acknowledging that the picture would one day become a classic.
According to Mr Moya, various Latin American artists and intellectuals had gathered in Mexico City for a film premiére in 1976. After the film, García Márquez went to embrace his close friend, Vargas Llosa. “Mario!” he managed to say, before receiving a “tremendous blow” to the face from the Peruvian author.
“How dare you come and greet me after what you did to Patricia in Barcelona!” Vargas Llosa reportedly shouted, referring to his wife.
Amid the screams of some women, García Marquez sat on the floor with a profusely bleeding nose, as the Mexican writer Elena Poniatowska ran to get a steak for his eye. Two days later, Mr Moya took the photos of his friend’s black eye.
The long feud between the two literary heavyweights has also been one of the most colourful. The two men had been close friends – so much so that Mr García Márquez is godfather to Mr Vargas Llosa’s second son, Gabriel.
After the cinema fight, however, the two stopped speaking and embarked on radically different paths. García Marquez stuck to his Leftist leanings, developing a close friendship with the Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Vargas Llosa became an ardent admirer of Margaret Thatcher and ran for President of Peru on a Right-wing platform. He has been one of President Castro’s most outspoken critics.
Now the two appear to have buried the hatchet, with Vargas Llosa writing a prologue to a 40th anniversary edition of García Márquez’s classic work, A Hundred Years of Solitude. The text is reportedly an extract from Vargas Llosa’s laudatory book on García Márquez, written before their fall-out. The Peruvian writer is said to have blocked the book’s publication ever since.
Despite Mr Moya’s tantalising new details, only the two men and their wives know what really led to the fight. It is rumoured that while both families were living in Barcelona, Vargas Llosa left his wife and children for a stunning Swedish woman. According to the whispered tale, Patricia sought comfort with GarcÍa Márquez and his wife, who advised her to seek a divorce. When Vargas Llosa reconciled with Patricia, she allegedly told all, leading eventually to the sucker punch.
To some, however, Mr Moya’s account suggests that some greater betrayal was behind Vargas Llosa’s ire. If so, he isn’t talking. “We’ll leave that subject to future biographers,” he said recently.
García Márquez’s 80th birthday last week was marked by marathon readings of his works all over the Spanish-speaking world. Eighty cannon shots rang out in his Caribbean home town, while the Colombian Government vowed to rebuild his childhood house.
“Now that he turns 80 and 40 years have passed since the first edition of A Hundred Years of Solitude, I believe it is the right time to publish an account of the terrible encounter between two great writers, one from the Left and the other with a strong right hook,” said Mr Moya.
The fine art of feuding
— Truman Capote and Gore Vidal feuded in interviews, on TV and in their work. Capote, Vidal said, had “raised lying into an art – a minor art”. Capote’s response: “Of course, I’m always sad about Gore. Very sad that he has to breathe every day”
— Politics was at the heart of leftist playwright Lillian Hellman and novelist Mary McCarthy’s feud. “Every word she writes is a lie, including “and” and “the”, McCarthy said in a television interview
— A close friendship between Vladimir Nabokov and Edmund Wilson, the critic who introduced the West to the Russian’s work, ended after a disagreement over the translation of Pushkin
— Salman Rushdie and John le Carré’s extensive published argument began over who had suffered more at the hands of religious zealots. The debate soon widened, with Rushdie also contending le Carré was “an illiterate pompous ass”
— Barbs traded by A. N. Wilson and Bevis Hillier allegedly include a love letter faked by Hillier and planted on Wilson. It contained an expletive-ridden denunciation, spelt out by the first word of each sentence. The reason? Competition over rival Betjeman biographies
Sources: Gore Vidal, by Fred Kaplan; Literary Feuds, by Anthony Arthur; newenglishreview.org; Times archives