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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.

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Journalism suited García Márquez – not only because he could write but because it gave him a chance to see the world. He lived in Paris, toured behind the Iron Curtain, and briefly moved to New York to cover news for Fidel Castro’s new Cuban regime. (García Márquez was an early and “informed defender of the Cuban revolution.”)

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But it was while he was living in Mexico City that lightning struck. By then García Márquez had published a couple of novellas, although at that moment he seemed lost as a writer. However, tradition has it (and Martin is frank about the fact that there are so many versions of this story that we don’t really know which one to believe) that he was driving his family on a vacation to Acapulco when the first line of a novel (“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad....”) suddenly came to him. García Márquez turned the car around, canceled the vacation, and drove back to Mexico City where he spent the next 18 months writing “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

He and his wife supported the family by pawning possessions as he wrote, finally selling a few small appliances to raise the postage to mail the final chapters to the publisher.

The book’s success was stunning. García Márquez became a global celebrity almost overnight and was so overwhelmed by attention that at one party he had to put up a sign saying “Forbidden to speak of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude.’”

Everything in García Márquez’s life, it seems, came together in this book – his nostalgia for Aracataca (which he renamed “Macondo”), the milieu of his grandparents, the political observations made during his travels, and the loneliness and alienation he felt as a boy and young man. “Power and love, the love of power, the power of love,” points out Martin, are as central to the works of García Márquez as they are to Latin American history.

Martin’s biography continues its meticulous voyage through the rest of García Márquez’s life. He went on, of course, to write classics like “The Autumn of the Patriarch” (1975), “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” (1981), “Love in the Time of Cholera” (1985), and “The General in His Labyrinth” (1989), and in each case Martin is able to link the work closely to the life.

“Gabriel García Márquez: A Life” finishes with a ceremony Martin attended at which García Márquez was honored by everyone from the king of Spain to Bill Clinton. “Good thing you were there,” García Márquez told him, “so you can tell people we didn’t make up the story.”

The same could be said of this entire book.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s book editor.

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