Chronicle of a life foretold


“Garcia Marquez is like a head of state,” Fidel Castro has remarked. “The only question is, which state?” The comment starts to take us into what’s unique about its subject’s work and life — not least because of who delivered it. No other writer in our time has operated on so vast a scale. None has approached his literary achievement; none has so parlayed achievement into political prominence.

His multifarious career as novelist, journalist, screenwriter, institution-builder, freelance diplomat, all-around wise man, global celebrity and keeper of his own gaudy legend is unified by one idea: the writer as public man. Or so says William Deresiewicz in his review of Gerald Martin’s magisterial biography of the Latin American literary icon.

For Garcia Marquez, literature is the continuation of politics by other means — unless it’s the other way around. Other contemporary writers have sought such a role — Norman Mailer, Gunter Grass, A.B. Yehoshua, Arundhati Roy — but none has approached his continental, even worldwide reach. He is Tolstoy for the twentieth century, a Latin American Dickens. Above all, he is Joyce, for while Dickens aimed himself at particular ills, Garcia Marquez, inspired by Castro’s example to lead a comparable revolution in the mental sphere, created the unformed conscience of his race. Before he could do so, however — and this is the great story of his life — he had to discover his own.

To his comprehensive grasp of the multifaceted literary context from which his subject’s work emerged, Martin adds a thorough knowledge of Colombian history and a sophisticated understanding of cold war politics and culture, says Deresiewicz. His [Martin’s] prose, nimble and forceful, is seasoned with wry humor:

Best of all is Martin’s abundant possession of that rarest and most precious commodity among literary biographers: critical acumen. To encounter his interpretations of One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Autumn of the Patriarch, No One Writes to the Colonel and other works — readings that combine biographical acuity with a remarkable feeling for form and voice — is to discover these masterpieces anew.

Read the full book review, Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A Life, by Gerald Martin, at Powell’s Books …