Wednesday, May 06, 2009


Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A Life” by Gerald Martin.
The magic of Gabriel Garcia Marquez": A Review by Marcela Valdes,” the books editor of the Washington Examiner.

(This whole review was in the LATimes. I just want to pick out some quotes to note but I got the review through a forward from Powells, so I don’t have an url.)

"Everyone has three lives," Gabriel Garcia Marquez once told Gerald Martin. "A public life, a private life and a secret life." I would add to those three a virtual life so deep that it is in the developed structure of the brain. I’ve never read any Marquez, partly because so many Boomers -- including my younger brother -- have tried to MAKE me read his books, esp. “One Hundred Years of Solitude”

Here’s the fame of that book caused: “One night, as they attended a theater performance, a spotlight flicked on and followed them to their seats. "Bravo!" someone yelled. "For your novel!" another woman chimed in. A moment later, the entire theater was on its feet and gave the 40-year-old a spontaneous ovation. "At that precise moment," a friend recalled, "I saw fame come down from the sky, wrapped in a dazzling flapping of sheets, like Remedios the Beautiful, and bathe Garcia Marquez in one of those winds of light that are immune to the ravages of time. "”

Well, that’s why some of us write. How can we help wanting to sail before “winds of light”? And yet, we are the same person before and after writing a book. What is it that people react to?

Other Marquez books include: Autumn of the Patriarch (1975), A Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1981), Love in the Time of the Cholera (1985), The General in His Labyrinth (1989) and his 2001 memoir, "Living to Tell the Tale." “As Martin observes, ‘he has told most of the well-known stories about his life in several different versions, all of which have at least an element of truth.’ It has been Martin's Herculean labor to unearth the real story.”

Why do we so lust after “the real story” when the message of the writing is that a person has multiple lives, depending on how you look at it and from which point in time and from which person’s perspective? There ARE some things we can pin down: birth place, education, work history, relatives.

“‘Gabo’ was born in 1927 in Aracataca, a small town of fewer than 10,000 (mostly illiterate) people in the Banana Zone of Colombia.” That might be useful information if you knew what Aracataca was like by visiting there and talking to the people. But how many stereotypes immediately leap to mind after reading the phrase “mostly illiterate” or “Banana Zone”? We don’t think of these places as the birthplaces of authors.

“The key person in his life was his maternal grandfather, Nicolas Marquez Mejia, a prosperous jeweler who fought in Colombia's most devastating civil war, the War of a Thousand Days (1899-1902), and rose to the rank of colonel. (He was also famous for crafting little gold fish.)” A jeweler/soldier is indeed a unique combination of assumed characteristics. Was it attention to detail that united the two roles, or an understanding of value, or worldly awareness? “Little gold fish.” I’d love to see photos.

“Gabo lived with him until he was 9, when his long-suffering mother and his erratic, philandering father swooped down and reincorporated him into their impoverished, peripatetic nuclear family.” Having an idyllic life that is then broken off seems to be a good way to create an artist of some kind, who will forever try to recapture those early images of happiness. Yearning for a lost past, esp. when the break comes when one is still a child, just at the point where scientists tell us the human brain is taking a leap forward in complexity and awareness, pulling in a massive integration of forces at that time, is a powerful experience. Probably it is “organic,” recorded in the structure of the brain.

“The magic, Martin reveals, came from Gabo's grandmother, Tranquilina, a superstitious woman who organized her daily activities according to "atmospheric signals": thunder, black butterflies, dreams, passing funerals. Thus, little Gabo was nursed on opposing philosophies, his grandfather's ‘worldly, rationalizing sententiousness’ and his grandmother's ‘other-worldly, oracular declarations. ‘” The reconciliation of paradoxes can drive a person to deeper, or higher, more meta-level thinking. It’s interesting that these two forces, present always in most human thought, are gender-assigned in this way. (For Louisa May Alcott it was the father who was the dreamer and the mother who was a practical realist.)

The reviewer picks out his “hostile relationship with his father, his early introduction to prostitutes (at age 13), his experience as a brilliant scholarship boy in frayed hand-me-down suits, and his chivalric courtship of Mercedes (which lasted more than a decade and began when she was 9 years old).” I don’t how unusual these experiences are. I see them repeated in European movies all the time.

There’s more. I was reading this having just read J. G Ballard’s sequel to “Empire of the Sun,” which is called “The Kindness of Women,” and then have begun “Crash” which is represented as a meditation on carnegraphic relationship between humans and machines -- merged by brute force and erotic possession. Clearly his interest in the problem and his unique approach come out of his biography: plane crashes, bomb impacts, murders, and then in civilian life forever-after a near-magical obsession with car crashes. Ballard was interned at about the same age as Marquez being removed from his grandparents.

I’ve always been interested in this age, just before adolescence which fascinates us so much, but when I tried Googling about it, I didn’t find much. There is something about the smooth-bodied child who can think like an adult that grips our imaginations. It is about that time we form our aspirations: “hoping for fame to come down from the sky, wrapped in a dazzling flapping of sheets, to bathe us in one of those winds of light that are immune to the ravages of time.” Maybe to blow us back to the pearly world where we were cherished. But we never admit that. It’s part of our most secret lives. We might not even let ourselves know.

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