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Gabriel García Márquez: A Life

Gerald Martin’s comprehensive biography of Gabriel García Márquez is so complete that we may never need another.

By / May 20, 2009



It would be intimidating under any circumstances to attempt a biography of Gabriel García Márquez. After all, this is a Nobel Prize winner credited with writing the world’s first truly global novel. That’s rather exalted ground upon which to tread.

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But you have to extend particular sympathy to anyone who attempts the job from now on. After reading Gerald Martin’s Gabriel García Márquez: A Life, it’s not clear that there’s anything left to say.

For one thing, Martin has had extraordinary access. For years Martin insisted that he was only the “tolerated” biographer of García Márquez. But in 2006 the celebrated author publicly anointed Martin as his “official” biographer. Over the course of 17 years, says Martin, he has spent the total of at least one full month with his subject, in various public and private settings. García Márquez’s family have come to think of Martin as “el tío Yeral.”

And the massive list of interviews acknowledged in Martin’s book includes everyone from family members to famed translators Edith Grossman and Gregory Rabassa to peers like Mario Vargas Llosa and Carlos Fuentes.

If Martin has left any stone unturned it’s hard to imagine what that might be.

The result is a doorstopper biography (672 pages) that shifts through a mountain of evidence to track García Márquez from infancy through his current status as a living literary legend. The book takes readers around the globe with García Márquez, through the creation of his seven novels, 10 nonfiction works, and various novellas and short stories. It’s almost an embarrassment of riches.

But for those eager to get at the essence of García Márquez and his works, it will not be too much. Few authors’ lives are more closely linked to their books as is that of García Márquez, particularly in the case of his masterpiece, “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

It all started in the small Colombian city of Aracataca. García Márquez was born there in 1927. When he was only a baby his parents moved away, leaving him and his sister with their maternal grandparents. Aracataca was a “Wild West boom town” and his grandparents’ house was full of people – “his grandparents, aunts, transient guests, servants, Indians” – and their stories.

His grandfather was a colonel and a crusty veteran of Colombia’s Thousand Days War. His grandmother was steeped in local lore and superstition. Young Gabito would carry their influence for the rest of his days.

When he was 8 his grandfather died, and to his discomfiture García Márquez rejoined his parents and younger siblings. His father was a struggling pharmacist (or “quack doctor,” according to some) and the family moved frequently. The adolescent Gabo was an excellent student but also an insecure being who yearned for the world he left behind in Aracataca. Even as a teenager a friend recalled him as a skinny boy, “circumspect, almost a bit sad, and in any case lonely and unknown.” He moved to Bogotá to study law but later gladly quit to become a journalist.

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