In this exhaustive and enlightening biography—nearly two decades in the making—Gerald Martin dexterously traces the life and times of one of the twentieth century’s greatest literary titans, Nobel Prize-winner Gabriel García Márquez.
Martin chronicles the particulars of an extraordinary life, from his upbringing in backwater Columbia and early journalism career, to the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude at age forty, and the wealth and fame that followed. Based on interviews with more than three hundred of Garcia Marquez’s closest friends, family members, fellow authors, and detractors—as well as the many hours Martin spent with ‘Gabo’ himself—the result is a revelation of both the writer and the man. It is as gripping as any of Gabriel García Márquez’s powerful journalism, as enthralling as any of his acclaimed and beloved fiction.
Excerpted from Gabriel García Márquez by Gerald Martin. Copyright © 2010 by Gerald Martin. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
“A revelation. . . . Martin does a masterful job of tracing the continuing evolution of a man, his work and the world that surrounds him. . . . Extraordinary.”
—Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Could any biographer have been better suited to this gargantuan undertaking? Absolutely not: Mr. Martin is the ideal man for the job. . . . An intensive, assured, penetratingly analytical book.”
—The New York Times
“Martin’s biography, a towering achievement of Latin American literary studies, reads beautifully, almost like a novel. . . . This enjoyable, impressive book will be mined for decades to come.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Terrific. . . . Crisp, clear, compelling. . . . A biography that is fresh and insightful about one of the most popular and influential writers of the 20th century.”
“A masterful, admiring (but far from fawning) biography. . . . A marvel of investigation, clarity and just plain sorting things out from the myths García Márquez has himself propagated, the book is particularly fascinating in charting the writer’s arduous climb from utter obscurity to fame.”
—The Chicago Sun-Times
“Abounds with fresh discoveries. . . . Will delight anyone interested in a novelist whose acclaim and appeal have been matched by his transforming influence on contemporary literature. . . . Martin’s book is proof that the literary biography is a genre in which scholars of Latin American literature have made remarkable contributions.”
—The Houston Chronicle
“If Martin has left any stone unturned it’s hard to imagine what that might be. . . . Meticulous.”
—The Christian Science Monitor
“Martin has made the most of the opportunities that García Márquez’s life offers. . . . He skillfully shows how a long journalistic apprenticeship led to the incredible creative explosion that produced One Hundred Years of Solitude.”
—Washington Post Book World
“[A] masterful and sensitive account—balanced, judicious, yet clearly also a stirringly enthusiastic labour of love. . . . It is and will be the authoritative work on the ‘new Cervantes,’ Latin America’s perhaps only truly global writer. . . . Very subtle and revealing.”
—Times Literary Supplement (London)
“A rich and resourceful biography.”
“A riveting account not just of one man’s life, but of the time and place in which it was lived. . . . An absorbing book on one of the most beloved masters of modern literature.”
—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Readers might feel as if they’ve picked up one of the magical realist’s novels, for here are the family, friends and folktales that the writer fictionalized. . . . Accounts of the life dovetail with brilliant précis of Latin American literature and politics. . . . Its scholarship is peerless. Every poem, newspaper editorial and novel receives masterful analysis.”
—Time Out New York
“Richly detailed. . . . Martin’s lucid, swiftly paced study treats both the writer and his works with equal care, showing that it is impossible to separate one from the other —and showing as well that the world would be much the poorer without them.”
—St. Petersburg Times
“Márquez once remarked that ‘every self-respecting writer should have an English biographer.’ He could have asked for none more accomplished than Gerald Martin. . . . A monumental work.”
“Martin uses this biographical material to generate consistently first-rate readings of García Márquez’s work. . . . Sensitive and often courageous.”
“Richly detailed. . . . A judicious and occasionally juicy examination of Gabo’s life, his politics and work. . . . Perceptively and persuasively, Martin lays out the literary antecedents of García Márquez’s ‘magical realism.’”
“García Márquez’s life story is just as magical as anything in his fiction. . . . It is both a fine tribute to a remarkable artist and a fascinating cultural history of the region he helped to find its voice.”
“[Martin is] extremely knowledgeable about Latin American literature in general, providing context and enthusiastic critical analysis of the kind that usually gets lost in a scoop of this size.”
—The Guardian (London)
“[Martin has a] profound knowledge of Latin American fiction [and] eloquently shows the extent to which [García Márquez’s] deeply personal obsession became irreversibly intertwined with his need to write. . . . Martin’s detailed analysis of García Márquez’s political life leaves no controversy or criticism untouched. Instead, with perceptiveness and lyricism, he offers his readers insight into the complexities of a subtle diplomat.”
“A superbly well-researched book. . . . Consistently engaging and sympathetic.”
—Sunday Times (London)
“The rags-to-riches tale of Gabriel García Márquez is rich biographical territory. . . . An engaging tribute to a much-loved author. . . . Entertaining.”
“As a piece of investigation alone Martin’s book is an outstanding achievement unlikely ever to be bettered. . . . It is a rags-to-riches tale as absorbing and at times bizarre as anything in Márquez’s fiction. . . . In refreshing contrast to other literary biographers, Martin has managed to study his subject in intimate detail without ever wavering in his faith either in the man or in the writer. Martin’s passionate enthusiasm for Márquez gives the book much of its power and impetus. . . . His analyses of the novels are unfailingly perceptive. . . . Martin is a brave and superhumanly persistent biographer.”
“Masterful. . . . Martin’s book, the product of 17 years of research, is an astonishing feat: a subtle tribute to a very complex man and an indispensable key to his life’s work.”
—Sunday Telegraph (London)
“Lucid. . . . [Martin] blends the stories and novels superbly into his narrative. . . . He is acute on Márquez’s solid marriage and on his protective friends. . . . [This book] helps readers to ground his exceptional fiction in history.”
—The Independent (London)
1. Martin points out that Márquez's living with his grandparents was crucial to the person and the writer he became: “Gabito and [his sister] Margot were being brought up by old people and had developed quite a different world-view, obsessive, superstitious, fatalistic and fearful but also diligent and efficient. . . . [They] must have felt inexplicably abandoned by their parents . . . yet privileged to be cared for in the house of the much-respected and much-loved grandparents” (p. 56). What did this early stage of life provide for the future writer, despite the bewilderment of his mother’s absence? Why was the influence of his grandparents so powerful in his life and imagination?
2. Arguably the most important moment in García Márquez’s life occurred when he and his mother took a journey to Aracataca to sell the house of his maternal grandparents. “What really happened to me in that trip to Aracataca was that I realized that everything that had occurred in my childhood had a literary value that I was only now appreciating” (p. 133). Why is this episode so crucial not only to his vocation as a writer but as a key to his whole imaginative world?
3. In Bogotá during the 1950s, García Márquez took a point of view in his journalism “which was implicitly subversive of official stories and thus challenged the ruling system more effectively than any of his more vocal leftist colleagues” (p. 170). How did his career as a journalist help to develop his political and social conscience? How did it shape his approach to storytelling?
4. García Márquez has often been criticized for his tendency to be drawn to men of power—Fidel Castro, General Omar Torrijos, Felipe González, Bill Clinton, and many others—and to attempt to mediate between them in international affairs. Regarding an article García Márquez wrote in praise of his friend Torrijos, Martin asks, “Was he writing about men of power, to men of power, or for them?” (p. 380). How would you answer this question?
5. About García Márquez’s memoir Living to Tell the Tale Martin says, “The book contains his public life and his ‘false,’ invented life, but it does not contain much of his ‘private’ life and very little indeed of his ‘secret’ life” (p. 524). Throughout the biography, Martin shows how García Márquez has taken measures to control the story of his life. If you have read Living to Tell the Tale, what is the version that comes across? How does it differ from the story the Martin tells? Discuss García Márquez’s directive to Martin, “Just write what you see; whatever you write, that is what I will be” (p. xxi).
6. From 1973 to 1979, García Márquez dedicated himself to political engagement and activism, mainly on behalf of Chile and Cuba (Chapter 19). Then, in September 1981, he turned away from direct political action and declared himself “more dangerous as a writer than as a politician” (p. 390). Is this a judgment with which you agree? Why or why not?
7. Martin provides a great deal of insight into the cultural divide between coastal and upland Colombia (Chapters 4 and 5). What does it mean to be from the Caribbean coast, as García Márquez is, and from Bogotá and the interior? How does the biography help you to understand how deeply Latin American, and more specifically a costeño Colombian, García Márquez is, and how he brings that sensibility to his writing? Why did Gabriel García Márquez make such a point of displaying his native culture and dress at the Nobel Prize ceremony (pp. 418-21)?
8. García Márquez said, after winning the Nobel, “I was always famous, from the time I was born. It’s just that I was the only one who knew it” (p. 430). The second half of the biography describes the process whereby García Márquez adapted to his immense popularity. He fiercely protected his private life and destroyed all letters and drafts of his work, while on the other hand, he seems to have exploited his fame and actively sought attention on the world political stage. This is the story of a cultural phenomenon as well as that of a great writer. How do you understand the relationship between these two personas?
9. One of the notable elements of García Márquez’s work is the strong presence of prostitution alongside love and marriage. García Márquez’s first sexual experience was with a prostitute at a local brothel, and his father seems to have arranged the situation. García Márquez said, “It was the most awful thing that ever happened to me, because I didn’t know what was going on” (p. 71). How do you see the effect, in his work, of the extensive early sexual experiences detailed by Martin in Chapter 4? Discuss, too, García Márquez’s family situation; his difficult relationship with his father Gabriel Eligio, who “kept his long-suffering wife locked inside the home on a strict, patriarchal basis, yet . . . betrayed her sexually—even scandalously—on numerous occasions” and produced four illegitimate children as well (p. 434).
10. What do you see as the key moments in García Márquez’s long and varied artistic career? Which books, for you, are clearly great works? What are the elements of his imaginative world that are unique, appealing, unforgettable?
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