My daughter came down to dinner the other day and by way of initiating conversation (it was the first time I saw her that day), asked me, “Did you know that Mario Vargas Llosa punched Gabriel García Márquez?” As this probably strikes you as an odd conversation starter on meeting up, I should explain that she does A-level Spanish and they are reading Crónica de una muerte anunciada – which she likes very much by the way. So did I when she passed it on.
As it happens it was complete news to me that Mario Vargas Llosa and Gabriel García Márquez, one a Peruvian, the other a Colombian, even knew each other but then I only recently got into reading Márquez and reading Llosa is still in the desired future. Further discussion revealed that the two used to be inseparable friends, until one day in Mexico they ran into each other at a film premiere. Gabriel, in that theatrical Hispanic fashion, spread his arms out to greet his great friend Mario, and Mario, in that hot-blooded Hispanic fashion cried out, “Traidor!” (Traitor!) and socked him in the eye. Gabriel promptly keeled over, with a look of intense surprise frozen on his face. You can see a picture of him in the aftermath here.
As my daughter had scant information to give on the subject of why, we engaged in some delightful speculation which I’m not going to go into here. A little googling, however, revealed the information that Mario not merely cried “Traitor!” but followed this up with “This is for what you said to Patricia!” before he laid out his friend (although witnesses can’t remember for sure whether he said ‘what you said’ or ‘what you did’ to Patricia). Patricia was Mario’s wife and so there’s inevitable speculation about a love triangle. The alternative explanation is that they drifted apart politically, although personally I wouldn’t punch a friend in the face just because he no longer agrees with my political views… but that hot Latin blood!… I suppose it’s just possible.
What is certain is that the two formerly close friends never spoke to each other again. Márquez died in 2014 without ever explaining the reasons for the black eye he received, and Vargas Lllosa subsequently said: “There’s a pact between García Márquez and myself (not to talk about it). He respected it until his death, and I will do the same. Let’s leave it to our biographers, if we deserve them, to investigate that issue.”
I like this: “our biographers, if we deserve them…” Two Nobel-prize winners? I should think so. Especially when the biographers will have such a delightful enmity to delve into… It’ll keep them happy for centuries to come!