Gerald Martin’s laudatory biography of Gabriel Garca Mrquez unfurls with cinematic splendor. 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: the superstitious grandmothers, the solitary patriarchs, the unwittingly alluring schoolgirls and the murder that inspired A Chronicle of a Death Foretold.
Martin is enormously sympathetic in his re-creation of Garca Mrquez’s impoverished childhood, and handles his ensuing incarnations—the reluctant law student in thrall to Woolf and Faulkner, the brothel enthusiast, the leftist friend of Fidel Castro—with clarity and continuity. Accounts of the life dovetail with brilliant prcis of Latin American literature and politics. Even if the book’s plea for the writer to be recognized as the successor to Cervantes devolves into hagiography, its scholarship is peerless. Every poem, newspaper editorial and novel is encapsulated and receives masterful analysis, as Martin demonstrates how Garca Mrquez seized on the “essential Latin American problematic of that era: genealogy...a crucial matter in a continent that has no satisfactory myth of origin.”
Where Martin disappoints is in his reluctance to grapple with Garca Mrquez’s seamier sides, such as the fact that he lived in a brothel for a year, and that he fell in love with his future wife when she was nine years old. His frenetic infidelities are only cryptically referred to as something “Mercedes [Garca Mrquez’s wife] would rather not know about.” Martin didn’t have to drag his subject through the mud, but he should have dealt more ruthlessly with this artist’s personal life. Because he doesn’t, this stately, flattering court portrait invites reverence, but little intimacy.