Truman Capote vs Gore Vidal; Gore Vidal vs Norman Mailer; John Le Carré vs Salman Rushdie. Nobody elevates enmity into an exhilarating (if unseemly) war of words like feuding authors.
Intriguingly, Nobel-Prize-winners Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa weren’t so forthcoming about their falling out. Despite a very public confrontation more than 40 years ago that left the former with a black eye and injured nose, both literary legends kept shtum about the incident – García Márquez until his death in 2014, and Vargas Llosa to this day. Sadly, their silence extended to each other: the two, who’d been best buddies since the 1960s, never spoke again.
The only established fact about their mysterious falling-out is that it unfolded in February 1976, at a film premiere in Mexico City.
Spotting his friend across the foyer, the unsuspecting ‘Gabo’ approached him, arms outspread in greeting – only to cop a punch to the face that knocked him for six. According to witnesses, when Vargas Llosa (an amateur boxer in his youth) delivered the blow, he shouted, “How dare you come and greet me after what you did to Patricia in Barcelona!”
Not quite magical realism.
Mario Vargas Llosa and his wife Patricia lived in Barcelona between 1970 and 1974, where they’d been neighbours and close friends with García Márquez and his wife Mercedes. Patricia had recently returned for a visit, catching up with the couple while she was there. Vargas Llosa’s wrath stemmed from something that transpired during her trip. But what? That depends on who’s telling it.
Some commentators believe that Patricia, distressed at Mario’s dalliance with another woman, confided in her friends about their marital woes. García Márquez reportedly suggested she consider a divorce and ‘consoled’ her (the insinuation being that his consolation crossed a line). Other sources claim Gabo was driving Patricia to the airport for her return flight to Lima, when he unwittingly took a wrong turn. Brushing off her concern that she was going to miss her plane, he allegedly remarked that if she did, they could just make their own fun instead. Nudge nudge, wink wink. The jury’s out as to whether García Márquez was joking or serious; either way, Patricia turned down his offer (and missed her plane).
Incidentally, the Spanish for ‘you did’ (hiciste) sounds similar to ‘you said’ (dijiste), and in all the excitement of the theatrical showdown, Vargas Llosa’s declaration could have been misheard (indeed it’s been recounted as both).
Throw in the writers’ clashing political views and a healthy literary rivalry, and the plot thickens – a plot unworthy of towering masterpieces like One Hundred Years of Solitude or Conversation in the Cathedral, admittedly, but a page-turner nonetheless…
Photography: Archivo Particular