Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Life in the time of Marquez

Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A Life
By Gerald Martin
A biography of the life of an author who, to me, redefined the reading experience with his One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the time of Cholera, and my introduction to the genre that continues to fascinate me, magic realism! I approached this rather weighty tome with the rubbing handed eagerness I normally reserve for eat all you can buffets and the unabridged works of PG Wodehouse.
I kid you. Seriously though, the sheer size of the book scared my eyeballs out. Sure, I love Marquez and his work, but the thought of plodding through so much intricate detail about his life was daunting. Interesting yes, but daunting. After all, if this had been written by Marquez, and had he liberally thrown in his trademark magic realism I would have lapped the book up. Right now, I approached it with wariness. And it turned out I was right. For starters, this is not a book for anyone who has not read Marquez. And secondly, the author, Gerald Martin has spent close to two decades of his life researching this book, which in itself is a clear indication that this biography is not going to an easy read by any stretch of the imagination. Ironically of the years spent researching the biography, the biographer spends only a month in the company of his subject. But he does conduct around 300 interviews with family, friends, associates, detractors and acquaintances to gain a complete insight into the life and times of Marquez. He retraces the family tree, legitimate and illegitimate. He recreates the childhood homes Marquez grew up in, which formed the genesis of the fabulous dynastic family homes that feature in his works. In short, he has done his job as a biographer impeccably. Does he get an insight into the mind of the Nobel Laureate? The jury is still out on that.
An interesting anecdote here: In a January 2006 interview with a Barcelona newspaper, Gabriel García Márquez, whose memory had begun to fail, deflected a question about his past. “You will have to ask my official biographer, Gerald Martin, about that sort of thing,” he said, “only I think he’s waiting for something to happen to me before he finishes.” (Janet Maslin in The New York Times)
No, one has to concur that Martin is no Boswell to Marquez. There is no obsequiousness, no fawning. And perhaps the lack of poetic prose in the biography was essential in a book dedicated to a man known for the sheer lyricism of his prose.
Gerald Martin has studied 20th century Latin American fiction, worked on Latin American history and brings to the biography an indepth knowledge of the milieu in which Marquez wrote his works. Would I recommend this book? It is no easy read. I would state that straight off. For one it is the kind of book that is heavy. Literally and metaphorically. It is not the book you pick up to immerse yourself in while working on your tan on the beach. But if you are even remotely curious about the life of a writer who has singlehandedly created a literary genre which has redefined the way we look at fiction, this book is a must read. As a source of reference for students researching Marquez and his work, this book is invaluable.
(By Kiran Manral)

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