Gabriel García Márquez’s Cien años de soledad (1967; One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1970) is considered by many readers to be one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century, comparable to the works of James Joyce and William Faulkner. García Márquez followed up that successful publication with El otoño del patriarca (1975; The Autumn of the Patriarch, 1975) and Crónica de una muerte anunciada (1981; Chronicle of a Death Foretold, 1982), and he was honored with the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982. His fiction, however, has been only the better-known half of his career. He has also been a political journalist and columnist for half a century and is perhaps the most prominent world voice from Latin America. An international celebrity for more than forty yearsborn and educated in Colombia, he has lived for long periods in Mexico, France, and SpainGarcía Márquez has befriended the famous and the powerful, from Omar Torrijos of Panama to Fidel Castro of Cuba, from François Mitterand of France to Olof Palme of Sweden. Gerald Martin’s biography is the first to tell the full story of García Márquez’s remarkable life and prolific career.
García Márquez was born in 1927 in Aracataca, a small, isolated town some distance from the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Until he was seven, García Márquez stayed in the home of his maternal grandparents, while his parents, brothers, and sisters all lived in other cities working to support the family. His grandparents’ house was filled with women and with the large presence of his grandfather, the “Colonel,” a legendary figure who took the young “Gabo” everywhere with him and told him endless and romantic stories of his violent military past. He told the young boy about “The War of a Thousand Days,” in which he fought with the Liberal forces against the conservative Colombian government at the end of the nineteenth century, and about killing a rival named Medardo Romero Pacheco in 1908.
García Márquez was educated in towns some distance from Aracataca, and he attended the National University of Colombia in Bogotá. It was as a twenty-one-year-old law student in Bogotá that García Márquez published his first poems and stories, and his life’s work was decided. His first professional publications were not fiction, however, but journalism. He became a reporter in Cartagena and then moved to Barranquilla, further up the Colombian coast, where he fell in with a group of writers. They introduced him to some of the giants of literary modernismsuch as Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafka, Faulkner, and Ernest Hemingwayand encouraged his writing.
García Márquez would later say that, on a visit back to Aracataca with his mother in 1950, he had the revelation that “everything that had occurred in my childhood had a literary value that I was only now appreciating.” His first novella, La hojarasca (1955; Leaf Storm, 1972), like One Hundred Years of Solitude and so much of his later fiction, would draw directly on that early period of his lifethe house, the backwater town, the larger-than-life Colonel and the stories of the nineteenth century Colombian world from which the Colonel came. García Márquez’s path was not direct or easy, however. He moved among various journalistic and editorial jobs to support himself, and in the early 1950’s he even sold encyclopedias in rural Colombia, a job that put him in touch with the popular culture and folklore he would draw on in his later fiction. In 1954, he returned to Bogotá as a journalist, but a year later he departed to live and write in Europe.
In Europe, García Márquez found his footing as a writer gained a usable perspective on his life. As Martin phrases it, he found a Latin American consciousness. He lived and traveled everywhere in EuropeRome, Vienna, Paris, Venice, Budapest, Moscowstudied film (one of his lifelong interests), and published El coronel no tiene quien le escriba (1961; No One Writes to the Colonel, 1968). In 1958, he was offered a journalism job in Caracas, Venezuela, and married his childhood sweetheart, Mercedes Barcha Pardo. They soon moved to New York City to work with Prensa Latina, a Latin American press service established after...
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