Remembering Mercedes Barcha: Partner, Muse And Support Of Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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Mercedes Barcha, the widow of the renowned Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, has passed away at the age of 87. Gabriel Torres Garcia, Marquez’s nephew, had reportedly confirmed the news. Barcha had been suffering from respiratory problems since a few years, and died in Mexico City, according to Mexico’s Culture Ministry. The pair, both originally from Colombia, had lived in Mexico City since 1961. Barcha was well-known for being the muse who helped Marquez pen down his masterpiece, One Hundred Years Of Solitude.

Early Life

Barcha was born in November 1932 in Magangué, Northern Colombia. She belonged to a family of Egyptian descent and was the oldest of six siblings. Her father Demetrio Barcha, worked at a pharmacy. She met Marques when she was nine-years-old. Marquez was almost five years her senior, and they met in Sucre, a town in the Colombian Caribbean where their families went on vacation.

It is said that Marquez first proposed to Barcha when she was 13 and he 18. Although their marriage could only take place a decade later since Marquez was exiled to Europe for several years, after he had upset the Columbian government of dictator Rojas Pinilla by publishing a series of articles about several smuggling deals. After returning to Columbia, the pair finally tied the knot in 1958. The couple soon moved to Mexico, and remained married for 56 years, until Márquez’s death in 2014. They are survived by their two sons, Rodrigo Garcia and Gonzalo Garcia Barcha, who are an artist and a film director respectively.

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The Muse, Inspiration And Support System

Barcha was Marquez’s “constant companion” as reported by The Week. His brother Jaime García Márquez called her Marquez’s “right arm.” When writing One Hundred Years of Solitude, Marquez was just an unknown journalist. The couple had to go through a severe financial crisis, and in a bid to help her husband focus on his book without distractions, Barcha started to pawn her things. In an interview with Playboy in 1982, Marquez had said “[Mercedes] had to take care of all the domestic affairs and keep the house standing while I fought at the front. She performed all kinds of wonderful feats. Every day, in one way or another, she procured for me cigarettes, sheets, everything I needed to write.

In an incident that Marquez himself later recounted, after he finished writing his novel in 1966, he wanted to send it to a publishing house in Buenos Aires. The couple went to the post office and were informed that it would cost him 83 pesos to send the 490-page draft from Mexico to Argentina. Since they were running out of money, Marquez decided to divide the book into two and send only one part to the publisher. When they returned home, Barcha took out the last few things that were there to be pawned and managed to collect enough money to send the entire draft.

There was no looking back from there. One Hundred Years of Solitude was published in 1967 and was an immediate success. The novel went on to be issued in more than 25 languages and sell more than 50 million copies, making Marquez one of the most prolific writers of the modern era. As Marquez himself confessed, the character of Úrsula Iguarán, the strong female matriarch in One Hundred Years of Solitude, was loosely based on Barcha.

Tributes Pouring In For Mercedes Barcha

“She played the role of Dante’s Beatriz, except that Gabo [Marquez] managed to marry his Beatriz and live more than 50 years by his side,” Gerald Martin, Márquez’s biographer, told a Colombian newspaper. “He was already a genius when they got married, but without Mercedes, he would not have managed to do everything that he later achieved in literature and in life,” he said.

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Claudia Sheinbaum, Mexico City’s mayor, tweeted, “I had the privilege of meeting Mercedes Barcha. Great conversationalist, cheerful, critical, cultured, infallible in her opinions. A great and beautiful woman.”

Nicaraguan writer Sergio Ramírez mourned that with Barcha’s death, “a whole literary era is left behind.”

Jorge Eduardo Ritter, the former Panamanian foreign minister and a friend of García Márquez’s said, “In no small measure how much we owe to the writer, he and his readers owe it to her. They are together again.”

Picture Credit: El Universal Archives

Dyuti Gupta is an intern with SheThePeople.TV. 

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