Even those who have not read Gabriel Garcia Marquez will enjoy listening to The Strand, the BBC World Service arts and culture programme, where Gerald Martin tells Harriett Gilbert how he wrote Marquez's biography. The 1982 Nobel Prize winner for literature emerges as such a fascinating figure that one immediately wants to read him. The biography was supposed to appear in 1994 but has been published in Britain only recently and is yet to be released in America, where Martin teaches at the University of Pittsburgh. Click on the link to go to the page and then listen to the interview on your media player. It's almost half an hour long: You have been warned! But Martin has so much to say about Marquez, Latin America and the world that listeners will enjoy every minute of it.
Martin spent 17 years working on the biography, travelling around the world, meeting the peripatetic Marquez and his friends and acquaintances. He had to transcribe more than 300 interviews. But Marquez refused to be interviewed on tape. Martin could only chat with him over a cup of tea or a bottle of whisky and carry it all in his head to be written down later. What made the task more difficult is that Marquez is a born storyteller who likes to spin a yarn, so Martin would end up getting different accounts of the same incident. But Marquez is warm, generous and humorous, says Martin, and he had a wonderful time interviewing him.
Martin talks about Marquez's friendship with Fidel Castro, Salman Rushdie's debt to Marquez, and why Marquez is immensely popular in the Third World. One Hundred of Solitude is a global masterpiece that will be read for generations to come, he says, and adds that Love in the Time of Cholera was one of the most popular novels of the late 20th century.
Marquez is popular in the Third World because he writes about the effect of technical progress on developing societies, which can relate to his brand of magical realism, says Martin. He is right. Salman Rusdhie's Midnight's Children is perhaps the most successful example of magical realism in English fiction — and it is set in India.
It is a pleasure to listen to the interview because Martin is so knowledgeable and appreciative of Marquez. He started with the impression that Marquez was egoistic and narcissistic and ended up enjoying his company. Marquez is deeply intuitive and intuited what was going through his mind faster than he could get insights into the author, says Martin.
Listen to the BBC interview and read the reviews of Martin's book, Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A Life, in The Times, the Telegraph and the Independent. The Telegraph review is especially fascinating with colourful details about Marquez. For example, on his honeymoon, he and his wife went to bed with three packets of cigarettes and an ashtray each and he told her the outline of what would become his greatest novel.