Gerald Martin’s talk on his new work, Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A Life (Knopf) at the Americas Society on Park Avenue this past week was as magical as one would have guessed anything involving Marquez would be. The rooms at the Americas Society remind me of Versailles, and in the audience, I was told, were quite a few dignitaries from varying countries there to hear, through a liaison, from the mouth of Marquez himself.
íI have met with someone with whom Gabo is in close contact here in New York just yesterday,ë Martin said to the audience, íhe is well and mostly in Mexico City.ë
President Clinton and leaders the world over have also been to visit Marquez despite his publicly known friendship with Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro, Martin told us. This work, the only authorized definitive biography of Marquez other than Marquez’s own work, took Gerald Martin nineteen years to write, íI made the decision at the beginning that it had to be a political biography,” he said.”I do not feel that in this capacity, another biography of Marquez will ever be written.ë Gabriel Garcia Marquez is now eighty-two years old.
íWhat am I to say, to do justice to that life?ë Martin began. íNineteen years ago, when I was asked to begin this project, it was a problematic relationship. At first, I didn’t like Marquez. Things he’d said in the papers got on my nerves. So when I was asked to do the work, I thought it’d take me three or four years. He didn’t want me to do it. He said, èWhy are you doing this? I’m not dead yet.’ Then, in 1999 when his own autobiography came out he sent me a copy which he inscribed on the inside cover as: èTo Gerald Martin, the madman that is pursuing me.’”
Martin spoke about the intimate relationship between a biographer and the subject at length and in depth. Marquez beat Martin to the punch ten years earlier, with the aforementioned release of his autobiography. íI was absolutely fine that he was doing his own biography. We talked about it a lot, we used to say that we were playing chicken about it, to see who was going to finish first.ë He paused. íYou know, Vargas is always saying that Gabo is a liar. I’d say that 80% of his biography (the one Marquez wrote of himself) is true. There was a time I was asking him questions and he wanted me to work, he looked up at me and said, íDon’t make me do your work for you.ë
“There are times when writing a biography is indecent. Actually, I recommend reading Henry James’ Aspen Letters,ë Martin looked up toward the crowd. íI’m talking about him as a human being. I had to become humble; to be a biographer is like being a beggar. Always asking for more things. Can I have a copy of that? Can I have more time? Can you take me there? There were interviews of 300-plus people I was doing,ë Martin said. íAnd I’d heard that Gabo was laughing at me behind my back. There were rumors in Colombia that he was beginning to work on a new novel about an unimaginable man trying to write a biography. My biography, at first, was not authorized by Gabo himself, but tolerated.ë
Martin would continue to talk about his experiences writing the actual work, instead of the content within the massive 500 plus page book itself, which some say is an alternative, abridged version of the work. We the audience, dignitaries, students, journalists, readers, sat on the edge of our chairs, waiting for any information Mr. Martin could offer on the elusive, some would say, Oracle’s, life. He spoke of the mystical realm surrounding Marquez and his work, he said that as an academic, his own life was always led more on the logical side of the mirror, but after meeting with Marquez and his wife who, íread their horoscopes every single morning,ë he realized that, íGabo and I were both born under the sign of Pisces. We both have the same initials. This is a man, who, in certain ways, is magic. In tracing Marquez, I was tracing my own lost time (Martin paraphrased Proust) I began to believe in things. For example, Gabo and I both had and survived the same cancer, though I had it four years earlier and when he was diagnosed, he called to blame it on me…’I’m actually certain that you are never going to finish this,’ he said to me. After all of this, I’ve gotten into astrology.ë
When asked to muse about Marquez the man himself, Martin looked toward us and answered, íThis is a very intuitive man. This is a man with a very large ego. This is a man, who no matter what was going on in his life, would sit himself down, and write his books. He always had a strong sense of what he was going to do. As for why it took me so long to finish, why would I ever want to stop writing it?”