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Gabriel García Márquez

Gabriel García Márquez

4.5 8
by Gerald Martin

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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


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 Colombia 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.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Jonathan Yardley
To be sure, in Garcia Marquez's case as in every writer's, the books are all that really matters, but there's a real story here as well. Gerald Martin…on the whole has made the most of the opportunities that Garcia Marquez's life offers. He does rattle on too long about Garcia Marquez'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.
—The Washington Post
Janet Maslin
This intensive, assured, penetratingly analytical book will be the authoritative English-language study of Mr. García Márquez until Mr. Martin can complete an already 2,000-page, 6,000-footnote version "in a few more years, if life is kind"…Could any biographer have been better suited to this gargantuan undertaking? Absolutely not: Mr. Martin is the ideal man for the job. He has already written studies of 20th-century Latin American fiction; translated the work of another Latin American Nobel laureate, Miguel Angel Asturias; and written about Latin American history. These are essential prerequisites for unraveling the labyrinthine cultural and political aspects of Mr. García Márquez's peripatetic life. So are Mr. Martin's demonstrable patience, wide range of knowledge and keen understanding of his subject's worldwide literary forebears, from Cervantes to Dostoyevsky to Mark Twain.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Martin's control of his prodigious material in this first authorized biography of the great Colombian novelist García Márquez is astonishing. Martin (Journeys Through the Labyrinth) writes with a novelist's momentum. His descriptions of García Márquez's hometown, Aracataca (fictionalized as Macondo in One Hundred Years of Solitude), are atmospheric without being cloying; he conducts literary exegesis deftly, like a detective hunting for clues. From isolated youth to shabby college man in thrall to Kafka and Woolf, the "sexual reprobate" and the Nobel Prize laureate, grounded by his marriage and community of fellow writers and friends, and by turns publicly aloof and loquacious, García Márquez seems to be many different men, but his biographer handles the contradictions with finesse. Almost entirely laudatory, the biography addresses the controversies-which generally orbit the politicized García Márquez -gingerly if at all, and renders his off-putting traits endearing. Martin has come to praise García Márquez-whom he regards as the one writer who has been as artistically influential as the early modernists (in pioneering magical realism, now a staple in fiction from the developing world) and positively Dickensian in his popular appeal. 16 pages of photos, 3 maps. (May 20)

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Library Journal

This superbly researched biography is nothing short of a tour de force. Martin (Andrew W. Mellon Professor Emeritus of Modern Languages, Univ. of Pittsburgh) has for decades been a pioneering scholar of Latin American literature in the English-speaking world (see his Journeys Through the Labyrinth: Latin American Fiction in the Twentieth Century). Based on detailed research as well as personal acquaintance with the subject, this is the most substantial English-language biography written of GarcA-a MArquez, winner of the 1982 Nobel prize in Literature and innovator of magical realism. Martin traces GarcA-a MArquez's life from his roots in a small Colombian town, to his worldwide travels, to his days of fame as an internationally acclaimed author. GarcA-a MArquez's politics, personal life, and literary motivations are considered in depth. Seventeen years in the making, this work not only details the life of a great writer but also provides considerable insight into life in Latin America. Including primary bibliographies of works published in Spanish and English and a secondary bibliography of critical and biographical works; highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ1/09.]
—Alison M. Lewis

Kirkus Reviews
A probing biography of the 1982 Nobel Prize laureate in literature, whom Pablo Neruda hailed as a Cervantes for our time. Martin (Modern Languages/Univ. of Pittsburgh; Journeys Through the Labyrinth: Latin American Fiction in the Twentieth Century, 1989, etc.) begins by noting that he has been working on this life of Gabriel Garc'a Marquez for two decades. The effort shows. Born in 1927, Garc'a Marquez remains best known for the book he published when he was 40, One Hundred Years of Solitude, a generational epic whose landscape stretches from ocean to deep jungle. Martin's signal contribution is to reveal, even more so than Garc'a Marquez did in his memoir, just how roman a clef-ish that fictional world is. Yet, of course, a particular storytelling genius is needed to bring even the liveliest real-world figures into habitation in a novel. Martin rightly notes that whereas the literature of the first half of the 20th century has several central figures-Woolf, Joyce, Hemingway et al.-that of the latter half finds only Garc'a Marquez universally acknowledged as a master. That acknowledgment took years to come, of course, and early on Garc'a Marquez was written off as a would-be Faulkner-Faulkner being one of his idols and central to the development of modern Latin American literature, a body of work in which, as Martin also observes, Garc'a Marquez's writings appear conservative against his postmodern fellows, and even scorned for being "transparent, easy to read, and accessible even to people who only had a modest literary education." Martin offers lucid literary commentary alongside the facts of his subject's life, which, as is well known, was marked by excellence in journalism andcontroversy in politics. Though Garc'a Marquez was a noted scourger of Yankee imperialism and friend of Castro, Chavez and the like, he was not shy about having amassed considerable wealth over a long career. Essential for Garc'a Marquez fans, and an exemplary literary biography. First printing of 50,000. Agent: Elizabeth Sheinkman/Curtis Brown UK
Jessica Allen
Many years after the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude, as he faced an interviewer, Gabriel García Márquez would recall the circumstances surrounding the composition of his most famous book and declare, "I am just a mediocre notary." Millions of readers would disagree: he is an extraordinary notary, chronicling as he does the history and culture of Latin America by exploring the lives of rural town folk, powerful dictators, ex-military personnel, possessed virgins, kidnapped journalists, elderly lovers, innocent murderers, etc., etc.

But, as Gerald Martin points out in this life of the Nobel Prize winner and bestselling author, "No matter how successful he became, he would never forget that he was nothing more than one of the sixteen children of the telegraphist of Aracata." Martin fixates on García Márquez's early life and the political activism of his adulthood. Not surprisingly, he reads the novels biographically, at pains to point out analogues among the fictional characters in the books and actual characters in life. The exploration of these carefully drawn parallels provides some of the finest passages in this dense biography.

Martin argues that the story behind One Hundred Years of Solitude is that of the Márquez family, that the unnamed protagonist in The Autumn of the Patriarch is not based on an amalgamation of Fidel Castro and other Latin American dictators but on García Márquez himself, and that the creative catalyst for Love in the Time of Cholera was a re-examination of his parents' marriage. The arc of major themes within the works themselves thus mirrors the arc of García Márquez's own life: from the solitude of the early days of struggle to the power brought by his fame in the wake of One Hundred Years of Solitude -- to the love he both broadcast and felt during his later years as he realized the failure of his political forays to the solitude that waits for us all at the end of our lives.

García Márquez was born in 1927 in Aracataca, a small, mostly illiterate town in Colombia's Costa region. His father, a notorious womanizer who allegedly kept a hammock in his office for afternoon assignations, dragged his mother across Colombia, from one get-rich-quick scheme to another. Little Gabriel was effectively abandoned and left to be raised by his maternal grandparents. "'Every single day of my life,'" he told a journalist decades later, "'I wake up with the feeling, real or imaginary, that I've dreamed I'm in that huge old house.'" Each month his grandfather celebrated the little boy's birthday. That boy, in turn, listened carefully to tales about the War of a Thousand Days between the Conservatives and Liberals and the 1928 massacre of striking workers from the banana plantation; he also watched as his grandfather soldered little gold fish to sell in the neighborhood. Readers familiar with the saga of the Buendías of Macondo will find such details particularly fascinating.

As Martin exhaustively describes, García Márquez eventually reunited with his parents, attended boarding school in Bogotá (which he initially detested for its cold, urbane contrast to the more relaxed tropical region of his youth), dropped out of law school, and spent years working as a journalist, becoming Colombia's first regular movie critic. He met and fell in love with Mercedes Barcha, age 9, and proposed to her 16 years later -- when they were married in 1958, they largely knew one another through correspondence. He traveled through Europe. He became friendly with figures who would ultimately determine the direction of the Latin American Left, including Castro. When he finally finished One Hundred Years of Solitude, he and Mercedes were so poor that at first they could only afford to send half of it to the publisher.

Or so goes the story. By his early 40s, García Márquez had transformed himself into a storyteller, able to alchemize the very stuff of life into something worth hearing. His critics would come to call this "García Marketing," because he so carefully cultivated his own image. In public, he began wearing tropical shirts or liquiliqui, an all-white outfit favored by members of his grandfather's generation. In interviews, he began acting "willfully uncouth," saying "almost the exact opposite of what he mean[t]."

A biography this big -- almost 700 pages, with notes -- encompasses nearly every perk and pitfall of the genre. At both the beginning and end, we're told about Martin's greatest moment during the 18 years he spent researching and writing: the day García Márquez named him the "official" biographer. Given Martin's devotion as well as the standing of his subject as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, we might excuse the forays into hagiography and over-sharing, the weird asides ("Colombia's buses are the gaudiest in Latin America") and curious bits of trivia (the wife of Carlos Fuentes wore "black leather hot pants" to dinner one night).

Still, Martin strikes a careful balance during his discussion of his subject's politics. Radicalized as a young man, García Márquez longed to see democratic socialism cover the continent as a way of healing the wounds from European colonialism and combating American capitalist imperialism. He published such impassioned critiques of Conservatives that death threats were made. Martin rightly admires a writer who gains enough power to be admitted into presidential chambers and act as a behind-the-scenes diplomat around the world. When General Augusto Pinochet seized power in Chile in 1973, García Márquez decided to cease publishing fiction until the dictatorship fell. (He reneged in the early '80s.) The United States banned him for years as a result of his involvement with communism. But such conviction also caused him to steadfastly support the Cuban Revolution, even as Castro's regime grew increasingly repressive. The rise of the Right throughout the Western Hemisphere hastened García Márquez's retreat from politics, and he realized that he would be "more dangerous as a writer than as a politician." Shortly after winning the Nobel in 1982, he claimed that "love will solve all the world's problems."

It hasn't, of course, but it would be a hard-hearted reader who held that against the octogenarian. In his final chapter, Martin argues that Living to Tell the Tale, García Márquez's wildly popular 2002 autobiography, simply wasn't confessional enough. Unlike that version, Martin's version of his life isn't full of "authentic fairy stor[ies]." He focuses on verifiable scenes and situations, though few of the most important: we rarely see García Márquez writing. Perhaps it's because he habitually destroys drafts and correspondence. Or perhaps it's because the act of writing doesn't make for very exciting reading, lonely and painstaking as it is. Obviously the writing is what matters most -- more than the childhood, more than the myth-making, more than the politics, more than anything that might or might not have happened during the many days of García Márquez's long life. And that is as it should be. The biography and autobiography, compelling as they may be, only annotate the lives begot by the writing itself. Thankfully. --Jessica Allen

Jessica Allen has written for Bitch, The Forward, The Onion AV Club, and The Washington Post. She lives in New York.

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.”
USA Today

“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.”
Financial Times
“Martin uses this biographical material to generate consistently first-rate readings of García Márquez’s work. . . . Sensitive and often courageous.”
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
“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.’”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“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.”
—New Statesman
“[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.”
New Review
“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.”
Literary Review
“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)

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Read an Excerpt

One hot, asphyxiating morning in the early 1930s, in the tropical coastal region of northern Colombia, a young woman gazed through the window of the United Fruit Company train at the passing banana plantations. Row after row after row, shimmering from sun into shade. She had taken the overnight steamer, besieged by mosquitoes, across the great Ciénaga swamp from the Caribbean port city of Barranquilla, and now she was travelling down through the Banana Zone to the small inland town of Aracataca where, several years before, she had left her first-born child Gabriel with her ageing parents when he was still a baby. Luisa Santiaga Márquez Iguarán de García had given birth to three more children since that time and this was her first return to Aracataca since her husband, Gabriel Eligio García, took her away to live in Barranquilla, leaving little “Gabito” in the care of his maternal grandparents, Tranquilina Iguarán Cotes de Márquez and Colonel Nicolás Márquez Mejía. Colonel Márquez was a veteran of the bitter Thousand Day War fought at the turn of the century, a lifelong stalwart of the Colombian Liberal Party and, latterly, the local treasurer of the municipality of Aracataca.

The Colonel and Doña Tranquilina had angrily disapproved of Luisa Santiaga’s courtship with the handsome García. He was not only a poor man, and an outsider, but also illegitimate, a half-breed and perhaps worst of all, a fervent supporter of the detested Conservative Party. He had been the telegraphist of Aracataca for just a few days when his eyes first fell upon Luisa, one of the most marriageable young women in the town. Her parents sent her away to stay with relatives for the best part of a year to get the wild infatuation with the seductive newcomer out of her head, but to no avail. As for García himself, if he was hoping that his marriage to the Colonel’s daughter would make his fortune he was disappointed. The bride’s parents had refused to attend the wedding he eventually managed to organize in the regional capital of Santa Marta and he had lost his position in Aracataca.

What was Luisa thinking as she gazed out of the train window? Perhaps she had forgotten how uncomfortable this journey was going to be. Was she thinking of the house where she had spent her childhood and youth? How everyone would react to her visit? Her parents. Her aunts. The two children she hadn’t seen for so long: Gabito, the eldest, and Margarita, his younger sister, also now living with her grandparents. The train whistled as it passed the small banana plantation named Macondo which she remembered from her own childhood. A few minutes later Aracataca came into view. And there was her father the Colonel waiting in the shade . . . How would he greet her?

No one knows what he said. But we do know what happened next.1 Back in the old Colonel’s Big House, the women were preparing little
Gabito for a day he would never forget: “She’s here, your mother has come, Gabito. She’s here. Your mother. Can’t you hear the train?” The sound of the whistle arrived once more from the nearby station. Gabito would say later that he had no memory of his mother. She
had left him before he could retain any memories at all. And if she had any meaning now, it was as a sudden absence never truly explained by his grandparents, an anxiety, as if something was wrong. With him, perhaps. Where was grandfather? Grandfather always made everything clear. But his grandfather had gone out.

Then Gabito heard them arrive at the other end of the house. One of his aunts came and took his hand. Everything was like a dream. “Your mamma’s in there,” the aunt said. So he went in and after a moment he saw a woman he didn’t know, at the far end of the room, sitting with her back to the shuttered window. She was a beautiful lady, with a straw hat and a long loose dress, with sleeves down to her wrists. She was breathing heavily in the midday heat. And he was filled with a strange confusion, because she was a lady he liked the look of but he realized at once that he didn’t love her in the way they had told him you should love your mother. Not like he loved grandpa and grandma. Not even like he loved his aunts.

The lady said, “Aren’t you going to give your mother a hug?” And then she took him to her and embraced him. She had an aroma he would never forget. He was less than a year old when his mother left him. Now he was almost seven. So only now, because she had come back, did he understand it: his mother had left him. And Gabito would never get over it, not least because he could never quite bring himself to face what he felt about it. And then, quite soon, she left him again. Luisa Santiaga, the Colonel’s wayward daughter, and mother of little Gabito, had been born on 25 July 1905, in the small town of Barrancas, between the wild territory of the Guajira and the mountainous province of Padilla, to the east of the Sierra Nevada.2 At the time of Luisa’s birth her father was a member of a defeated army, the army of the Liberal Party vanquished by the Conservatives in Colombia’s great civil war, the War of a Thousand Days (1899–1902).

Nicolás Ricardo Márquez Mejía, Gabriel García Márquez’s grandfather, was born on 7 February 1864 in Riohacha, Guajira, a sunbaked, salty, dusty city on the north Atlantic coast of Colombia and diminutive capital of its wildest region, home to the redoubtable Guajiro Indians and refuge for smugglers and traffickers from colonial times to the present day. Little is known about Márquez’s early life except that he received only an elementary education but made the most of it and was sent westward, for some time, to live with his cousin Francisca Cimodosea Mejía in the town of El Carmen de Bolívar, south of the majestic colonial city of Cartagena. There the two cousins were brought up by Nicolás’s maternal grandmother Josefa Francisca Vidal. Later, after Nicolás had spent a few years wandering the entire coastal region, Francisca would join his family and live under his roof, a spinster for the rest of her life. Nicolás lived for a time in Camarones, a town by the Guajira shoreline some fifteen miles from Riohacha. Legend has it that he was a precocious participant in one or more of the civil wars that regularly punctuated nineteenth-century life in Colombia. When he returned to Riohacha at the age of seventeen he became a silversmith under the tutelage of his father, Nicolás del Carmen Márquez Hernández. It was the traditional family occupation. Nicolás had completed his primary education but his artisan family could not afford for him to go further.

Nicolás Márquez was productive in other ways: within two years of his return to the Guajira, the reckless teenage traveller had fathered two illegitimate sons—“natural sons,” they are called in Colombia—José María, born in 1882, and Carlos Alberto, born in 1884.3 Their mother was an eccentric Riohacha spinster called Altagracia Valdeblánquez, connected to an influential Conservative family and much older than Nicolás himself. We do not know why Nicolás did not marry her. Both sons were given their mother’s surname; both were brought up as staunch Catholics and Conservatives, despite Nicolás’s fervent Liberalism, since the custom in Colombia until quite recently was for children to adopt the political allegiance of their parents and the boys had been brought up not by Nicolás but by their mother’s family; and both would fight against the Liberals, and thus against their father, in the War of a Thousand Days.

Just a year after the birth of Carlos Alberto, Nicolás, aged twentyone, married a girl his own age, Tranquilina Iguarán Cotes, who had been born, also in Riohacha, on 5 July 1863. Although Tranquilina was born illegitimate, her surnames were those of two leading Conservative families of the region. Both Nicolás and Tranquilina were, visibly, descendants of white European families and although Nicolás, an incorrigible Casanova, would dally with women of every race and colour, the essential hierarchies from light to dark would be implicitly or explicitly maintained in all their dealings both in the home and in the street. And many things were best left in obscurity.

And thus we begin to grope our way back into the dark genealogical labyrinths so familiar to readers of Gabriel García Márquez’s bestknown novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude. In that book he goes out of his way not to help his readers with reminders about the details of family relationships: usually only first names are given and these repeat themselves obsessively down through the generations. This becomes part of the work’s unspoken challenge to the reader but it undoubtedly reproduces the confusions and anxieties experienced by its author when, as a child, he tried to make sense of the tangled historical networks of family lore.

Take Nicolás, who was born legitimate but brought up not by his parents but by his grandmother. Of course there was nothing unusual about this in a frontier society underpinned for security by the concept of the extended family. As we have seen, he had two illegitimate sons before he was twenty. There was nothing unusual about that either. Immediately thereafter he married Tranquilina, like Altagracia, a woman from a higher class than himself, although, to balance things up, she was illegitimate. Furthermore, she was also his first cousin; this too was common in Colombia and remains more common in Latin America than most other parts of the world though of course, like illegitimacy, it still carries a stigma. The couple had the same grandmother, Juanita Hernández, who travelled from Spain to Colombia in the 1820s, and Nicolás descended from her original legitimate marriage whereas Tranquilina came from her second, illegitimate relationship, after she was widowed, with a Creole born in Riohacha called Blas Iguarán who was ten years her junior. And so it transpired that only two generations later two of Juanita’s grandchildren, Nicolás Márquez Mejía, and Tranquilina Iguarán Cotes, first cousins, were married in Riohacha. Even though none of their surnames coincided, the fact was that his father and her mother were both children, halfbrother and half-sister, of the adventurous Juanita. You could never be sure who you were marrying. And such sinfulness might bring damnation or, worse—as the Buendía family members fear throughout One Hundred Years of Solitude—a child with a pig’s tail who would put an end to the family line!

Naturally the spectre of incest, whose shadow a marriage like that of Nicolás and Tranquilina inevitably raises, adds another, much darker dimension to the concept of illegitimacy. And later Nicolás spawned many, maybe dozens more illegitimate children after he was married. Yet he lived in a profoundly Catholic society, with all the traditional hierarchies and snobberies, in which the lowest orders were blacks or Indians (to whom, of course, no respectable family would wish to be related in any way despite the fact that, in Colombia, almost all families, including the most respectable ones, have such relations). This chaotic mixture of race and class, with so many ways of being illegitimate but only one straight and narrow path to true respectability, is the same world in which, many years later, the infant García Márquez would grow up and in whose perplexities and hypocrisies he would share.

Soon after his marriage to Tranquilina Iguarán, Nicolás Márquez left her pregnant—from the patriarchal point of view, always the best way to leave a woman—and spent a few months in Panama, which at that time was still part of Colombia, working with an uncle, José María Mejía Vidal. There he would engender another illegitimate child, María Gregoria Ruiz, with the woman who may have been the true love of his life, the beautiful Isabel Ruiz, before returning to the Guajira shortly after the birth of his first legitimate son, Juan de Dios, in 1886.4 Nicolás and Tranquilina had two more legitimate children: Margarita, born in 1889, and Luisa Santiaga, who was born in Barrancas in July 1905, though she would insist until near the end of her life that she too was born in Riohacha because she felt she had something to hide, as will be seen. She too would marry an illegitimate spouse, and would eventually give birth to a legitimate son called Gabriel José García Márquez. Little wonder illegitimacy is an obsession in the fiction of Gabriel García Márquez, however humorous its treatment.

Nicolás’s illegitimate children did not die dreadful deaths in the civil war, as the Colonel’s favourite grandson would later fantasize in his novel (in which there are seventeen of them).5 For example, Sara Noriega was the “natural” daughter of Nicolás and Pacha Noriega, and she too became known as la Pacha Noriega, married Gregorio Bonilla and went to live in Fundación, the next stop down the line from Aracataca. In 1993 her granddaughter, Elida Noriega, whom I met in Barrancas, was the only person in town who still had one of the little gold fish which Nicolás Márquez had fashioned. Ana Ríos, the daughter of Arsenia Carrillo, who was married in 1917 to Nicolás’s nephew and close associate Eugenio Ríos (himself related to Francisca Cimodosea Mejía, who also lived with Nicolás), said Sara looked very like Luisa, “skin like a petal and terribly sweet”;6 she died around 1988. Esteban Carrillo and Elvira Carrillo were illegitimate twins born to Sara Manuela Carrillo; Elvira, Gabito’s beloved “Aunt Pa,” after living with Nicolás in Aracataca, eventually went to Cartagena near the end of her life, where her much younger half-sister, the legitimate Luisa Santiaga, would “take her in and help her to die,” according to Ana Ríos. Nicolás Gómez was the son of Amelia Gómez and, according to another informant, Urbano Solano, he went to live in Fundación, like Sara Noriega.

Nicolás’s eldest son, the illegitimate José María Valdeblánquez, turned out to be the most successful of all his children, a war hero, politician and historian. He married Manuela Moreu as a very young man and had a son and five daughters. The son of one of them, Margot, is José Luis Díaz-Granados, another writer.7

Nicolás Márquez moved from the arid coastal capital Riohacha to Barrancas, long before he became a colonel, because his ambition was to become a landowner and land was both cheaper and more fertile in the hills around Barrancas. (García Márquez, not always reliable in these matters, says that Nicolás’s father left him some land there.) Soon he bought a farm from a friend at a place known as El Potrero on the slopes of the Sierra. The farm was called El Guásimo, named after a local fruit tree, and Márquez set to cultivating sugar cane from which he made a rough rum called chirrinche on a home-made still; he is thought to have traded the liquor illicitly, like most of his fellow landowners. Later he purchased another farm closer to the town, beside the River Ranchería. He called it El Istmo (The Isthmus), because whichever way you approached it you had to cross water. There he grew tobacco, maize, sugar cane, beans, yucca, coffee and bananas. The farm can still be visited today, half abandoned, its buildings decayed and in some cases disappeared, an old mango tree still standing like a dilapidated family standard, and the whole tropical landscape awash with melancholy and nostalgia. Perhaps this recollected image is just the visitor’s imagination, because he knows that Colonel Márquez left Barrancas under a cloud which still seems to hang over the entire community. But long before even that happened, the Colonel’s sedentary existence would be overshadowed by war.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Gerald Martin is Andrew W. Mellon Professor Emeritus of Modern Languages at the University of Pittsburgh and Senior Research Professor in Caribbean Studies at London Metropolitan University. For twenty-five years he was the only English-speaking member of the “Archives” Association of Twentieth-Century Latin American Literature in Paris, and he is a recent president of the International Institute of Ibero-American Literature in the United States. Among his publications are Journeys Through the Labyrinth: Latin American Fiction in the Twentieth Century, a translation and critical edition of Miguel Angel Asturias’s Men of Maize, and several contributions to the Cambridge History of Latin America. He lives in England.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Yesh_Prabhu More than 1 year ago
Gerald Martin's biography of the Nobel Laureate, "Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A Life," is an extraordinary and gripping book. Rich in information and helpful insight regarding Gabriel Garcia's likes and dislikes and obsessions, this biography reads like a novel, and it is bound to fascinate its readers, Gabriel Garcia was less than a year old when his mother left him to the care of her parents. He was too young to have had any memories of her, and so when she returns six years later, he doesn't recognize her. He is deeply perplexed when he realizes that he does not love her. He does not love her because he did not even know her. She leaves him again, quite soon. The author has written quite admirably about Gabriel Marquez's affair with the Spanish actress Tachia Quintana and Gabriel's friendship with Fidel Castro and his empathy with liberals and leftists. Gerald Martin writes well. He is especially good at describing the small villages and towns and banana plantations of Columbia and its rich topography. His descriptions of Columbia's natural beauty are vivid. This biography grips a reader's attention from the very beginning, and holds it to the very end: "One hot, asphyxiating morning in the early 1930s, in the tropical coastal region of northern Colombia, a young woman gazed through the window of the United Fruit Company train at the passing banana plantations. Row after row after row, shimmering from sun into shade." Those who love Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novels will find this book quite helpful in understanding several of his puzzling obsessions. For example, the author explains why Gabriel has written almost obsessively about illegitimate children in many of his novels: his family had so many of them! This is truly a very detailed, fascinating biography, meticulously written. Yesh Prabhu, Plainsboro, NJ
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Excerpt of "Gabriel García Márquez: A Life" was enought for me to tell, that the biography will be excellent. The presentation of García Márquez genealogy, brought me straight to his extraordinary novel: "Hundred Years of Solitud" I can tell it without a doubt. I was born in Colombia and best of all I've read almost 95% of his work. Definitely I will recomend and buy Gerald Martin's book.
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MarioRiosPinot More than 1 year ago
Sweet read.
Bing-Alguin More than 1 year ago
The cover of Gerald Martin's voluminous book on Gabriel García Márquez, the Colombian "Cervantes", who was given the Nobel Prize in literature in 1982, in an epoch when the prize was still globally distributed, shows us an enormous close-up of the writer himself, an overwhelmingly impressive and grandiose portrait, in which he looks like sort of an old glorifying image of Goethe, or like a master of the universe, or maybe like the Latin-American dictator he so piercingly and revealingly pictured in the novel called The Autumn of the Patriarch. Is this really "Gabito", the affectionnate nickname he is so often mentioned by in the text of the book? In the foreword, Martin also emphasizes Gabriel García Márquez' outstanding position in the literary world today. He is not only the most wellknown Latin-American novelist, but also in the world as a whole, "in an era in which universally acknowledge great writers have been difficult to find, his reputation over the late four decades has been second to none." I think Martin is quite right there; neither Norman Mailer, Günther Grass, Salmon Rushdie or Alexander Solzjenitsyn can really compete with GGM in that respect. Martin has devoted nineteen years to biographical investigation into the life of GGM, and it has resulted in a enormously rich book, as events, facts and details are concerned. Nevertheless, all these almost magalomaniac demonstrations of GGM's magnificence and position are a bit in vain, considering that there is no correspondence between the gigantic portrait of the cover and the inner greatness of the writer and the vast dimensions of his novels, as it is illuminated in the biography. The picture remains a little superficial, cursory and shallow, and you may now and then wonder if this really is the greatest writer in the second half of the twentieth century. Well, this is explicitly an "A Life" biography, not a literary study, and the literary biography is really a problematic genre. What is it we actually wish to know about a great writer? Biographical factuality? Or literary analysis? Those who love a vivacious picture of a writer's colorful life will not be disappointed by Martin's book. Martin may be a little too eager to account for the hotels GGM stayed at during his travels. He may too much like to compare the persons in GGM's life with famous film stars - GMM's wife Mercedes, for example, is like Sophia Loren - and dwell upon the chivalry of Fidel Castro, attractive to the same Mercedes. But as a whole, this is fascinating and thrilling reading abour GGM's childhood in Colombia, this land of revolutionary politics and old families, described in the glorious novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, about his journey in Europe in the 1950s, and his literary success with that Colombian novel, which has been compared with Cervantes, about his political involvement and his close connection with the Cuban revolution and Fidel Castro, about his well prepared Nobel Prize and so on. The book is really great entertainment, even though you may miss a more penetrating study of the great GGM's literary universe. For all those who enjoyed the hundred years of solitude and other of his novels, this will be some hours of unrestricted bliss and good company, something "gefundenes fressen", and a happy Christmas Eve of reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of his best.