The friendship between literary giants Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa ended with a punch, on Valentine’s Day 1976. It happened when the once buddies and roommates, both who ended up becoming Nobel Prize winners, ran into each other in Mexico City, during the premiere of a documentary about the survivors of a plane accident in the Andes.
“Traitor!” Vargas Llosa said before landing a rightie on Gabo’s left eye.
It is said that Patricia, Vargas Llosa's second wife and cousin, was at the heart of the conflict between the two. According to reports from the Colombian press back then, García Márquez may have advised Patricia to split from her husband for his alleged infidelities or, perhaps –rumors went – it was that Patricia, in order to avenge her husband’s cheating, had gone to “Gabo,” as García Márquez is called, for too much consolation.
Some say, however, that the animosity was politically motivated too, since Vargas Llosa had gradually shifted from the left to a capitalist free-market stance.
García Márquez, then 48, was already a Nobel laureate; Vargas Llosa, nine years his junior, would receive the honor 28 years later.
After the punch, García Márquez – who reportedly liked documenting every meaningful event in his life – asked a Colombian friend to take his picture with the black eye, which ended up on the cover of Mexican journal La Jornada.
"It took me a lot to get a smile for the pictures of the black eye, it was a fraction-of-a-second smile, because his face was like one for ‘Los Funerales de la Mama Grande,’” the photographer recalled in a 2013 interview with Colombian newspaper El Tiempo. “Varguitas really had left him in bad shape and [García Márquez] looked rather sad or depressed."
In June 2007, while visiting Quito, Ecuador, Vargas Llosa told reporters he and García Márquez had a "tacit agreement" whereby they “do not talk about us to give biographers something to do — if we deserve to have them later on".
"Let them find out, let them discover what happened," he added jokingly.
In that same trip, when asked about his appreciation for Nobel Prize winners for literature, Vargas Llosa said: "I think the Nobel Prize has failed not honoring writers like (Jorge Luis) Borges or (Vladimir) Nabokov, but has awarded some other writers who deserved it. There is no doubt that a writer like (Darío) Fo deserved it, a García Márquez deserved it."
In a TV interview in late March at his home in Lima, Peru, he spoke of his Colombian counterpart, and said that over the years he has reread García Márquez’s masterpiece, "One Hundred Years of Solitude," several times.
And even when they didn’t speak, Vargas Llosa wrote the introductory essay of the 40th anniversary edition of book.
“One Hundred Years Of Solitude’ is a complete novel, in line with those insanely ambitious creations that rival true reality toe-to-toe (….) It is one of the rare cases of a mayor contemporary work that everyone can understand and enjoy,” he wrote in the preface.
“But ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ is a complete novel especially since it executes the utopian plan of supplanting God: describe a total reality, counter reality with an image that is [both] its expression and denial.”
After learning of the death of García Márquez on Thursday, Vargas Llosa told reporters while visiting the Peruvian city of Ayacucho. "A great writer has died. His work gave wide publicity and prestige to literature.”
“His novels will survive him and will continue to gain readers everywhere,” he added in a trembling voice, wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.