A Colombian court has ruled in favor of Nobel literature laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez in a suit filed by the nonagenarian who inspired part of the plot of the novella “Chronicle of a Death Foretold.”
In its ruling Tuesday, the Superior Court of Barranquilla’s legal reasoning was similar to that applied in several previous lower-court decisions, Garcia Marquez’s attorney, Alfonso Gomez Mendez, told Efe.
The case dates back to 1994, when retired insurance broker Miguel Reyes Palencia filed suit against Garcia Marquez and his since-deceased brother, Eligio, for allegedly damaging his reputation by making him the protagonist of their respective novellas “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” and “The Third Death of Santiago Nasar.”
“Chronicle of a Death Foretold” is inspired by a real-life murder in which two brothers killed a man for having pre-marital sex with their sister, the wife of Reyes Palencia, who had returned her to her parents in disgrace after discovering on their wedding night that she was not a virgin.
Reyes Palencia said 17 years ago in filing the original suit that his clients had associated him with the character Bayardo San Roman (the husband in “Chronicle of a Death Foretold”) and disrespectfully called him by his fictional name.
“The main argument in the suit was that (Garcia Marquez) should pay him half of all royalties associated with the novella and film adaptation, since, as protagonist, he was the holder of the author’s rights. Separately, he argued that his right to privacy had been violated,” the attorney said.
Nevertheless, all evidence and testimony presented in the case showed that, although a portion of the novella was inspired by a real-life incident, the story was fictionalized and crafted by the author.
Garcia Marquez acknowledged in his testimony that the real-life event soon became incorporated into collective memory, but that he embellished it with details and made other changes until in 1981, when he wrote the novella, “only the central mechanism remained.”
“That is that a man married a woman, he returned her to her parents on their wedding night because she wasn’t a virgin,” the Nobel laureate said, adding that “besides that simple plot mechanism, the entire context is totally false, invented by me. The identity of the characters is false.”
This case was not the first time Garcia Marquez’s economic rights to his artistic output have been upheld in court.
According to Garcia Marquez, seaman Luis Alejandro Velasco, whose real-life ordeal inspired the author’s non-fiction work “The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor,” also took him to court.
Although Velasco received royalty payments for the original Spanish version of the book, he later unsuccessfully sued for the rights to sales of the book translated into other languages.
“The importance (of this ruling) for journalism, literature and other artistic expressions is that the holder of the author’s rights is the one who recreates the reality, not the protagonist of the reality. To put it another way, the author of the interview is not the interviewee but the interviewer,” Gomez Mendez said.
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