three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
41-July-Aug-2009
user_rating: 
0
Award Year: 
0

A Life

A-Gabriel Garcia MarquezThe author is Professor Emeritus of Modern Languages at the University of Pittsburgh. He has been researching and writing the first authorized biography of García Márquez for 17 years.

The Topic: How can one even begin to understand the life of an author whose oeuvre is certainly biographical, but who is best known for inventing a genre situated at the border between fantasy and reality? Gerald Martin does his best in his biography of Gabriel García Márquez as he takes us from his impoverished childhood in Aracataca, Colombia (which became the fictional Macondo), through an apprenticeship in journalism, and to his Nobel Prize win in 1982 and beyond. Martin, who over the years went from merely a "tolerated" presence to García Márquez’s official biographer, has told this tale not only from the perspective of his subject but from the more than 300 people—from García Márquez’s family to writers including Carlos Fuentes and politicians like Fidel Castro—he interviewed for the book.
Knopf. 672 pages. $37.50. ISBN: 0307271773

Christian Science Monitor 4.5 of 5 Stars
"It would be intimidating under any circumstances to attempt a biography of Gabriel García Márquez. … But you have to extend particular sympathy to anyone who attempts the job from now on." Marjorie Kehe

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"‘Everyone has three lives,’ Gabriel García Márquez once told Gerald Martin. ‘A public life, a private life and a secret life.’ … Martin has understood, as far as it is possible for a biographer to understand, the motivations and experiences that have guided Gabo in his three lives, and all of us who love the maestro’s work are grateful for it." Marcela Valdes

St. Petersburg Times 4 of 5 Stars
"One of Martin’s great contributions is to reveal the autobiographical components of books such as No One Writes to the Colonel and Love in the Time of Cholera. … 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." Gregory McNamee

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Martin] provides a richly detailed authorized biography. Though Martin pulls a punch or two in assessing García Márquez’s fidelity to Fidel Castro, his book is a judicious and occasionally juicy examination of Gabo’s life, his politics and work." Glenn C. Altschuler

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Martin] on the whole has made the most of the opportunities that García Márquez’s life offers. He does rattle on too long about García Márquez’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." Jonathan Yardley

Miami Herald 3 of 5 Stars
"Gerald Martin’s biography of Gabriel García Márquez suffers from hero worship, but it provides essential insight into this morally myopic man, whose unwavering loyalty to an odious tyrant belies the wisdom and depth of humanity he has demonstrated in his novels and stories. … But Martin’s kid-glove treatment of the friendship between García Márquez and Fidel Castro is a dereliction of his critical duty." Ariel Gonzalez

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 3 of 5 Stars
"Martin’s broad scope reflects the degree to which García Márquez, born poor in a sleepy Colombian town, became a globe-trotting celebrity after publishing One Hundred Years of Solitude in 1967 at age 40. But as is true with most rags-to-riches stories, the best part comes during the climb to the top; Martin is far more impressive in untangling the first 40 years of his subject’s life than he is in handling anything since." Mike Fischer

Critical Summary

Critics agreed that Gerald Martin excels at everything a literary biographer needs to do. He searches for the origins of the author’s style without becoming overly erudite or psychological, and offers "consistently first-rate readings" of his works (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). Martin also places the great Latin American novelist in the context of world literature. But while some reviewers felt that if "Martin has left any stone unturned it’s hard to imagine what that might be" (Christian Science Monitor), others were dissatisfied by Martin’s failure to interrogate his subject’s relationship with the former Cuban president Fidel Castro, which prompted a few to wonder what else the author left out. A bit of pop psychologizing regarding Latin America troubled some critics as well. However, this book may be as close to the great author as we’re likely to get.