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"What a good thing you were there, so you can tell people we didn't make up the story.",
This review is from: Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A Life (Paperback)
If there is one thing this impeccably researched biography brings home, it is how the life of a jobbing journalist was altered forever by a sudden, blinding shaft of inspiration. Whether one buys García Márquez' story about "One Hundred Years of Solitude" is another matter: that the shaft of inspiration was so blinding that, just when the family thought they had reached their holiday destination, he turned around the car and raced back to Mexico City to write it all down. García Márquez was, after all, the man who put the magic in magical realism. But read the early chapters about his antecedents and unstable upbringing and you immediately have the bricks and mortar for "One Hundred Years", and it is fascinating to see how the novel fuses the history of his family with that of Colombia itself. "Chronicle of a Death Foretold" likewise re-enacts a real-life drama from his family's past, as does my own favourite, "Love in the Time of Cholera", which also catalysed at last a rapprochement between the author and his unpredictable father. Suddenly, everything drops into place and this biography should be essential reading for any García Márquez fan.
That is not to say there are not some slight longueurs. There are lesser hills between the peaks: the early to-ings and fro-ings between Aracataca, Baranquilla and Bogotá, for example, as well as the more wide-ranging ones between Colombia, Europe and Mexico; not to mention the seemingly endless periodicals and newspapers. But once García Márquez emerges from the chrysalis of workaday hack to major player, everything changes. Suddenly, we are rubbing shoulders with heads of state and Central American dictators (Clinton, Castro and Panama's General Torrijos, to name but three) and living it up in fine Latin American style at Nobel Prize celebrations in Stockholm. The world became a stage for García Márquez and he has played it for all it is worth.
One or two things showed up my ignorance. The description of Felipe González, and later José María Aznar, as "President" of Spain had me checking out the facts, but Gerald Martin is perfectly correct: the head of government in Spain is indeed known as the "Presidente del Gobierno", and not as the "Prime Minister". I also now know to refer to Gabo as García Márquez rather than just Márquez.
For anyone interested in how the life informs the works - and how intriguingly it does - it is relatively simple to fast forward through five hundred odd pages; the relevant chapters are clearly sign-posted. It would be a great shame to do that, though, because it would do little justice to the tome that Gerald Martin has produced: an endeavour which, as he modestly points out, eventually earned him his transformation from "tolerated" to "official" biographer.