Gerald Martin's task of chronicling Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez’s life wasn't easy. Despite being a public figure, the most read author still alive is zealous about protecting his private life.
“We all have three lives: the public one, the private one and the secret one,” García Márquez once told Martin.
'Gabo', as he is fondly called, turns 85 years old today. And it's a special birthday too -- this year marks the 30th anniversary of his Nobel Prize for Literature.
The Nobel Laureate is known for his writing which blends magical elements with the real world. And much like the magical realism in his stories, many of the things that are known about the Colombian author are a mix of facts and fiction.
'Gabo' was born on March 6th, 1927 in the small town of Aracataca in the northern region of Colombia where he was raised by his maternal grandparents. When he was eight his grandfather passed away and he moved to the state of Sucre to live with his parents.
After completing high school, 'Gabo' made the big move: from a small town in the warm Caribbean coast of Colombia, he relocated to the cold and frenzied capital, Bógota.
He enrolled in the public Universidad Nacional (National University) as a law student as per his parents wishes. But 'Gabo' had a different calling. In the late 40's he started working as a reporter.
Hanging out with literate socialists and budding journalists, he started working for a daily in Cartagena and continued his work as a reporter in other major Colombian newspapers.
In 1955 he published his first novel “La Hojarasca” (“The Leaf Storm”).
'Gabo' had quickly become a prominent name in the intellectual and journalistic scene in Colombia.
In an interview he gave to the Colombian newspaper El Espectador back in 1977 and originally published in Spanish, the author had this to say said about his public life and rise to fame:
I wanted to be a writer, and I wanted to be a good writer and I wanted to be a very good writer and I wanted to be the best writer in the world… I didn't realize that goal implied gaining fame. I would've been happy if all by books had been posthumous in the sense that I didn't have to carry with the books I have written. I would've rather that my books were known after my death.
It took his biographer over 15 years to chronicle the life of the Colombian author, though Martin spent a total of only a month in the author’s company during his research.
“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," said Martin to The L.A. Times.
Gabo's life and writing are recorded in thousands of interviews and stories, including his own memoir “Living To Tell The Tale.” But most of these recordings are part-truth, part myth.
The same can be said about his literary output, where 'Gabo' creates worlds where he depicts the fantastical and extraordinary as commonplace.
In his acclaimed novel "Cien Años de Soledad" ("One Hundread Years of Solitude"), which takes place in the mythical town of Macondo, 'Gabo' intertwines real life occurrences with mystical happenings: there are references to the civil war in Colombia between liberals and conservatives; apparitions of the dead; complicated family relationships and a rain that won't stop for four straight years.
Like the magical realism in his novel, 'Gabo' is known for fabricating details when talking about his private life.
"I was aware that García Márquez had a habit of making things up during his interviews. He liked to give each journalist a gift, something original, so they didn't go away with the same old stuff," said journalist Katie Davis who interviewed 'Gabo' back in 1983.
But is it really made up?
“Latin Americans are used to a world where fantastic things are part of daily lives,” 'Gabo' said in the 1983 interview. “Here we believe that behind the reality of rationalists there’s still a lot of space where things can’t be explained.”
His own family story provided much of the inspiration for "One Hundred Years of Solitude":
"The tone that I eventually used in One Hundred Years of Solitude was based on the way my grandmother used to tell stories. She told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness... In previous attempts to write, I tried to tell the story without believing in it. I discovered that what I had to do was believe in them myself and write them with the same expression with which my grandmother told them: with a brick face."
The story goes that after finishing "One Hundred Years of Solitude", he didn't have enough money to send the manuscript in full to the publisher in Buenos Aires so he sent the first half while him and his wife, Mercedes Barcha, pawned their belongings. When he had enough money he sent the other half.
Whether the story is true or not is not certain. It could very well be one of ‘Gabo’s’ many mysteries.
Take A Look At Some Of 'Gabo's' Memorable Moments:
Colombian Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez reacts as he arrives at a dinner in honor of U.S. President Barack Obama at the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City on April 16, 2009. Obama is in Mexico on a 24-hour visit. (Photo by Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)
SANTA MARTA, COLOMBIA: Colombian Nobel Prize for Literature 1982 Gabriel Garcia Marquez, sitting in the carriage alongside his wife Mercedes Barcha, smiles upon arriving at his hometown Aracataca by train 30 May, 2007 in Santa Marta, Colombia. Garcia Marquez didn't visit Aracataca in 20 years. (Photo by ALEJANDRA VEGA/AFP/Getty Images)
SANTA MARTA, COLOMBIA: Colombian Nobel Prize for Literature 1982 Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his wife Mercedes Barcha lean out of the window of the train they are taking to his hometown Aracataca on May 30, 2007 in Santa Marta, Colombia. Garcia Marquez had not visited Aracataca in 20 years. (Photo by ALEJANDRA VEGA/AFP/Getty Images)
Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez gestures during a celebration for Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes' 80th birthday in Mexico City, on November 17, 2008. The octogenarian writer released a new book next October called "Yo no vengo a decir un discurso" (I am not here to deliver a speech), which collected together 22 texts that were written with the purpose of being read in public. (Photo by Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)
This file picture from December 15, 1986, shows former Cuban President Fidel Castro (C), Nobel Literature Prize Gabriel Garcia Marquez (L) and movie director Fernando Birri (R) during the inauguration of the International School of Cinema in San Antonio de los Banos, Havana province. (Photo by ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)
Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes is congratulated by Nobel Prize winner Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez during a celebration for Fuentes' 80th birthday in Mexico City, on November 17, 2008. (Photo by Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)
CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA: Former U.S. President Bill Clinton speaks with Colombian writer and 1982 Literature Nobel Prize laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez during the IV International Congress of the Spanish Language on March 26, 2007 in Cartagena, Colombia. Paying homage to Garcia Marquez, the Congress was inaugurated in the Caribbean port of Cartagena, with the attendance of 1.200 people and the presence of Spanish King Juan Carlos. (Photo by PRESIDENCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA: Colombian writer and Nobel Prize Gabriel Garcia Marquez waves to fans, after the inauguration of IV International Congress of the Spanish Language, in Cartagena, Colombia, on March 26, 2007. (Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA: Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez (L) speaks with Bolivian President Evo Morales at Revolution Square in Havana, during a military parade celebrating President Fidel Castro's 80th birthday and the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. (Photo by BALTAZAR MESA/AFP/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO: A young Mexican sitting in a cafe reads a newspaper that offers a special supplement dedicated to Colombian writer and Nobel Prize in Literature 1982 winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez on the day of his 80th anniversary in 2007. (Photo by Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman in a bookshop looks at the new book by Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, "Memories of My Melancholy Whores," during its launching in Bogota on October 20, 2004. (Photo by LUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images)