(Knopf, 642 pages, $37.50)

The Nobel Prize–winning novelist Gabriel García Márquez has told several versions of many of the important events in his life. About his reputation-making book, 1967’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, he once said it was written by his wife—and that he thought it so bad that he decided to put his name on it to protect her. He couldn’t blur all the facts, though. Born in 1927 in the tiny Colombian town of Aracataca, he was lovingly raised until 9 by a patrician grandfather and superstitious grandmother, only to be plucked away by parents who could barely support themselves. His adult life, as well, has been split in two. A successful but cash-strapped journalist until he was nearly 40, he has been, since Solitude, a literary superstar, rich in money and influence.

Author Gerald Martin makes “engrossing” reading of it all in his mammoth new biography, said Marcela Valdes in the Los Angeles Times. Though the book “sputters through a fawning forward” and prologue, it gathers strength from narrative details that Martin spent 17 years collecting. “In Technicolor detail, Martin traces Gabo’s hostile relationship with his father,” his introduction to prostitutes at age 13, and “his experience as a brilliant scholarship boy in frayed hand-me-down suits.” Martin describes the artistic development, too, noting the aspiring novelist’s early encounters with the work of Franz Kafka and Virginia Woolf. The first full-length English-language biography of this towering writer “is studded with acute observations” on “almost every page.”

Martin should have probed further in places, said Ariel Gonzalez in The Miami Herald. His “kid-glove treatment” of García Márquez’s longtime friendship with the “odious tyrant” Fidel Castro rates as a serious “dereliction of his critical duty.” But “the less said” about García Márquez’s political activism “the better,” said Jonathan Yardley in The Washington Post. Though he’s been engaged with social issues throughout his life, his politics will be forgotten long before such books as Solitude, The Autumn of the Patriarch, and Love in the Time of Cholera. Martin’s job was to tell the eventful life story of a man who’s written three or four timeless novels. He’s “made the most” of the opportunity.