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Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A Lifeby Gerald Martin
Synopses & Reviews
The first full and authorized biography of the 1982 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature—the most popular international novelist of the last fifty years.
Over the course of the nearly two decades Gerald Martin gave to the research and writing of this masterly biography, he not only spent many hours in conversation with Gabriel García Márquez himself but also interviewed more than three hundred others, including García Márquezs wife and sons, mother and siblings, literary agent and translators; Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Alvaro Mutis, among other writers; Fidel Castro and Felipe González, among other political figures; his closest friends as well as those who consider themselves his detractors. The result is a revelation of both the writer and the man.
García Márquezs story is a remarkable one. Born in 1927, raised by grandparents and a clutch of aunts in a small backwater town in Colombia, the shy, intelligent boy matured into a reserved young man, first working as a provincial journalist and later as a foreign correspondent, whose years of obscurity came to an end when, at the age of forty, he published the novel entitled Cien años de soledad—One Hundred Years of Solitude. Within months, the book had garnered spectacular international acclaim, the author hailed as the standard-bearer of a new literature: magical realism. Eight years later, in 1975, he published The Autumn of the Patriarch, and, in 1981, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, each novel rapturously received by critics and readers alike. With his books read by millions around the world, he had become a man of wealth and influence. Yet, for all his fame, he never lost touch with his roots: though he had lived outside of Colombia since 1955—in Barcelona, Mexico City, Paris—his Nobel Prize was celebrated by Colombians from all walks of life who thought, and still think, of “Gabo” as their own. More books followed, both fiction (Love in the Time of Cholera, The General in his Labyrinth, Memories of My Melancholy Whores) and nonfiction (The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor, News of a Kidnapping, Living to Tell the Tale). But García Márquezs renown and passion have continued to combine, as well, in a fervent, unflagging, and often controversial political and social activism.
While chronicling the particulars of the life, Martin also considers the overarching issues: the tension between García Márquezs celebrity and his quest for literary quality, and between his politics and his writing; the seductions of power, solitude, and love. He explores the contrast between the exuberance of the writers Caribbean background and the authoritarianism of highland Bogotá, showing us how these differences are manifest in his writing and in the very shape his life has taken. He explores the melding of experience and imagination in García Márquezs fiction, and he examines the writers reasons for—and the publics reaction to—his turning away in the 1980s from the magical realism that had brought him international renown, toward the greater simplicity that would mark his work beginning with Love in the Time of Cholera.
Gerald Martin has written a superb biography: richly illuminating, as gripping as any of Gabriel García Márquezs powerful journalism, as enthralling as any of his acclaimed and beloved fiction.
"Martin's control of his prodigious material in this first authorized biography of the great Colombian novelist Garca Mrquez is astonishing. Martin (Journeys Through the Labyrinth) writes with a novelist's momentum. His descriptions of Garca Mrquez's hometown, Aracataca (fictionalized as Macondo in One Hundred Years of Solitude), are atmospheric without being cloying; he conducts literary exegesis deftly, like a detective hunting for clues. From isolated youth to shabby college man in thrall to Kafka and Woolf, the 'sexual reprobate' and the Nobel Prize laureate, grounded by his marriage and community of fellow writers and friends, and by turns publicly aloof and loquacious, Garca Mrquez seems to be many different men, but his biographer handles the contradictions with finesse. Almost entirely laudatory, the biography addresses the controversies — which generally orbit the politicized Garca Mrquez — gingerly if at all, and renders his off-putting traits endearing. Martin has come to praise Garca Mrquez — whom he regards as the one writer who has been as artistically influential as the early modernists (in pioneering magical realism, now a staple in fiction from the developing world) and positively Dickensian in his popular appeal. 16 pages of photos, 3 maps." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Far more so than most writers, Gabriel Garcia Marquez has lived a full life that goes beyond his typewriter or, more recently, his computer. Not merely has he written three of the 20th century's greatest novels — "One Hundred Years of Solitude," "The Autumn of the Patriarch" and "Love in the Time of Cholera" — but he has been a highly active participant in public events during a time of immense change... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) and controversy in Latin America. He has been the friend and confidant of presidents (and dictators), a leading advocate of leftist politics, a dabbler in movie-making and a widely read, influential journalist, among other things. For the literary biographer, this is a heady mix. To be sure, in Garcia Marquez's case as in every writer's, the books are all that really matters, but there's a real story here as well. Gerald Martin, a British academic who specializes in Latin American literature, has been "working on this biography for seventeen years," with the "friendly, hospitable and tolerant" acquiescence of its subject, and on the whole has made the most of the opportunities that Garcia Marquez's life offers. He does rattle on too long about Garcia Marquez's political activities, but he skillfully shows how a long journalistic apprenticeship led to the incredible creative explosion that produced "One Hundred Years of Solitude." The story of Garcia Marquez's early years has been told innumerable times and will be familiar to anyone who knows his work: his birth in 1927 and his boyhood in Aracataca, a tiny Colombian town that eventually metamorphosed into the fictional Macondo; the shaping influence of his maternal grandfather, Col. Nicolas R. Marquez, "who gradually rescued him from that (Latin American) feminine world of superstition and premonitions, those stories that seemed to spring from the darkness of nature itself, and who installed him in the man's world of politics and history"; the "Baranquilla Group" of Colombian journalists into which Garcia Marquez fell in the early 1950s, making some of his most important friendships; desperate poverty in Paris in 1957, when "I was so hungry that I salvaged what I could from (a friend's) garbage and ate it then and there"; marriage in 1958 to Mercedes Barcha, who "would become indispensable to a man who thought of himself as absolutely self-reliant"; the feverish writing of "Solitude" in 1965 and 1966 and its triumphant publication the following year, almost instantly transforming its unknown, impoverished author into one of the most famous writers of serious literature in the world. "Solitude" was his fourth book. The first three — "Leaf Storm" (1955), "No One Writes to the Colonel" (1961) and "In Evil Hour" (1962) — attracted little attention outside his immediate literary circle, and none was translated into English until well after the success of "Solitude." This is worth noting because Garcia Marquez's readership and critical acclaim in the United States have been steadily and exceptionally high since 1978, with the publication here of Gregory Rabassa's brilliant translation of "Solitude." Though Garcia Marquez has had his conflicts with the U.S. government (which for several years refused to grant him a visa) and his infatuation with Fidel Castro has won him few American friends, he has always been quick to make clear his appreciation for his large, loyal American following. The success of "Solitude" made Garcia Marquez the dominant voice in the Latin American literary boom, of which the three other chief figures were Julio Cortazar, Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa. This last famously "floored (Garcia Marquez) with one mighty blow to the face" at a film premiere in Mexico City in 1976, apparently because of some real or imagined slight to the Peruvian writer's wife. Relations between the two men remained frosty for three decades, compounded by political as well as personal differences, but in 2007 Vargas Llosa made, and Garcia Marquez accepted, a conciliatory move in the form of an appreciative essay on the 40th anniversary of "Solitude." There may be no more accurate measure of Garcia Marquez's greatness than that he was able to follow "Solitude," eight years later, with a second masterpiece, "The Autumn of the Patriarch." This, as Martin correctly points out, is not a book about Colombia but "a Latin American book, written with that symbolic readership in mind, with almost no significant Colombia dimension, not least because Colombia never had the sort of patriarch it portrays." It is the book that encompasses "his literary obsession with power"; and, having given ultimate expression to that obsession, it freed him to move along, a decade later, to "Love in the Time of Cholera," his sublime exploration of his other great theme, love, through an imagined account of his parents' courtship. Lesser works of fiction have been published since "Solitude," but these three novels are his literary monument, joined at an only slightly lower level by "Living to Tell the Tale" (2004), his memoir of his early years, published when he was in his late 70s after a long siege of serious illness. Whether another volume of memoirs will appear remains to be seen, but Garcia Marquez has secured his place alongside Faulkner at the very acme of 20th-century world literature. The less said about Garcia Marquez's political ventures the better, though in fact Martin goes on and on and on about them. Apparently, he shares more than a touch of Garcia Marquez's political naivete, for he describes Castro as "undoubtedly a leading candidate for the number two position — after Bolivar — in the list of Latin America's great men." Unfortunately, that list is very short, so long as one restricts it to politicians and military men, but another liberator, Jose de San Martin, certainly ranks many steps above Castro, if indeed Castro belongs there at all. Garcia Marquez's laudable sympathy for the downtrodden, of whom Latin America has far too many, leads him, as it has led many others, to a reflexive support for charlatans and opportunists whose populist rhetoric bears little relationship to their self-aggrandizing deeds. But then there is scarcely anything new about political naivete among the literati, as a whole host of American, British and European writers have demonstrated all too abundantly over the past few decades. The difference between Garcia Marquez and all the rest is that while his politics soon enough will be forgotten, his books will not. To call them monuments is no exaggeration, for their presence is towering and timeless. Jonathan Yardley's e-mail address is yardleyj(at symbol)washpost.com. Reviewed by Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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The biography of the 1982 Nobel Laureate in Literature tells the story of Mrquez, a young man who rose from obscure provincial journalist to progenitor of a new literature.
About the Author
Gerald Martin is Andrew W. Mellon Professor Emeritus of Modern Languages at the University of Pittsburgh and Senior Research Professor in Caribbean Studies at London Metropolitan University. For twenty-five years he was the only English-speaking member of the “Archives” Association of Twentieth-Century Latin American Literature in Paris, and he is a recent president of the International Institute of Ibero-American Literature in the United States. Among his publications are Journeys Through the Labyrinth: Latin American Fiction in the Twentieth Century, a translation and critical edition of Miguel Angel Asturias Men of Maize, and several contributions to the Cambridge History of Latin America. He lives in England.
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