“Mercedes permeates all my books,” he once said. “There’s traces of her everywhere.”
“He called her the manager of the crisis department,” their son Rodrigo García said, “sometimes without him even knowing what the crisis was.”
Mercedes Barcha Pardo was born on Nov. 6, 1932, in Magangué, Colombia. Her father, Demetrio Barcha, was a pharmacist; her mother, Rachel Pardo, was a homemaker. The oldest of seven children, Mercedes grew up in Sucre and then Barranquilla, on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, where her family moved to avoid the political violence that convulsed the region at midcentury.
There, home on holiday from convent school, she re-met García Márquez, who was writing for a local newspaper. As the story goes, he had already proposed marriage the moment he saw her back in Sucre, when she was 9 and he was 14. From the start he found her beautiful and enigmatic, “with an illusionist’s talent for evading questions,” as he wrote in his 2003 memoir, “Living to Tell the Tale.”
When García Márquez was sent to Europe as a foreign correspondent, he wrote to Ms. Barcha regularly. After his newspaper was shut down, he found himself broke in Paris, living in a hotel room and working on a manuscript. Her photo on the wall and a red Olivetti typewriter were among his only belongings.
Upon his return to South America in 1957, he paid Ms. Barcha 500 pesos (the equivalent of about $130, or about $1,200 today) to return his letters — she wouldn’t give them up without a prize — and promptly destroyed them. “He was years away from being famous,” Rodrigo García said, “but he was always very particular about their lives being private. He didn’t want the paper trail.”
The two married in 1958. On the day of the wedding, Ms. Barcha waited to put on her wedding dress until he had driven up. “It’s not that she doubted him,” Mr. García said, “but she had the superstition and the pragmatism of people from a certain world that said, ‘There’s a one-in-a-million chance that a bridegroom might not appear for his wedding.’ So it was just in case.”