Author: Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Translator: Gregory Rabassa
Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classic
Publishing Date: 2006
Number of Pages: 415 pages
Genre: Historical, Romance, Magical Realism
One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of the rise and fall, birth and death of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendia family. Inventive, amusing, magnetic, sad, and alive with unforgettable men and women – brimming with truth, compassion, and a lyrical magic that strikes the soul – this novel is a masterpiece in the art of fiction.
A Different Brand of Magical Realism
The day I picked up Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude remains fresh on my mind. I randomly picked it up because it has made an impression on me, having encountered it on numerous must-read lists. As to what it was about, I have no iota. I simply relied on my reading instincts, besides, the title of the book did more than enough to pique the inner cat in me; I hope my curiosity won’t kill me! Haha. Spoiler: it did not!
The Buendia family is an interesting tableau of different and colorful characters. Together, they paint an abstract narrative whilst living the hinterlands of the fictional town of Macondo. One Hundred Years of Solitude chronicles the story of seven generations of this fabled family. The family’s patriarch established Macondo on the riverside where he dreamt about a “city of mirrors that reflect the world in and about it”.
Macondo is a town that is laid on the perceptions of Jose Arcadio Buendia, its founder. It is a quirky town that is laced with the destinies and the inanities of the different members of the Buendia family. The family becomes embroiled with different misfortunes and inevitably, these misfortunes have become symbolically linked to the history of Macondo.
“Thus they went on living in a reality that was slipping away, momentarily captured by words, but which would escape irremediably when they forgot the values of the written letters.”~ Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
Surrealism on a Different Level
One Hundred Years of Solitude is simply of those books that upon opening you already have an impression that it is going to take you to a magical rollercoaster ride. It tailspins and swirls in different directions. Its crests and troughs are what defines it and elevates it to the echelons of world literature.
However, it wasn’t in this bright instance that my reading journey begun. Initially, I was overwhelmed as it was all a new world to me, this magical realism thing. I found myself mentally limping at the start because I was still finding my footing with the nuances of this particular genre. The reading more pleasurable when I got over the preliminaries and what unfolded is a complex, complicated yet highly entertaining story.
The novel’s centrifugal point is the Buendias, a set of interesting, multifaceted and colorful characters. Through them, the dynamics of family life was aptly portrayed, it being a seminal theme in the narrative. Certain complexions of the novel rely heavily on their interactions, and on the differences of their personalities, their opinions and their beliefs.
“Death really did not matter to him but life did, and therefore the sensation he felt when they gave their decision was not a feeling of fear but of nostalgia.” ~ Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
The Buendias, just like most Hispanic families, are governed by superstitious beliefs; they avoided getting married to each other to avoid having a child with a pig’s tail. It was easy relating to this facet of the story. It always fascinates me how Hispanic culture mirror Philippine culture in many ways; I surmise it is from the shared history. I made the same conclusion after reading Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits.
As if taking some cue from Murakami’s works, the narrative is riddled with vivid depictions of lurid sexual scenes. These scenes are inoffensive for the most part and are critical junctures in the narrative. I can’t help but notice the prevalence of these sexual overtures in magical realism books. Is it me or is there just something about the genre? In connection with this subject, incest is a recurring theme in the story.
Solitude is the underlying theme in the novel, with Macondo as its towering representative. Founded in the remote jungles of the Colombian rainforest, it is isolated from the rest of the world, just like the typical Spanish outpost. This isolation led to the Buendias becoming solitary, superficial, and, ultimately, self-centered; each member of the family live in his or her own terms. The vanity is embodied in some of the characters like Remedios the Beauty.
“Wherever they might be they always remember that the past was a lie, that memory has no return, that every spring gone by could never be recovered, and that the wildest and most tenacious love was an ephemeral truth in the end.” ~ Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
Latin History and Chronicles
The parallels between the history of Macondo and the history of Latin American is too ostentatious not to notice. The story of Macondo is a subtle reflection of the history and culture of Latin America. These are represented carefully through metaphors which are abound in the narrative. In a manner of speaking, the narrative is a crossroad where historic meets the fantastic. In this collision of history and myths, the Buendias are haunted by different ghosts. These ghosts of the past are allusions to how the past shaped Macondo’s future.
What sets apart the story is its chronicle of the growth and development of the Buendias. Although they grew selfish, their attitude shifted due to love and that transformed yet again the fabled family. What is more fascinating is that each character was carefully developed and painted by Marquez; each character was memorable. Whilst it was a challenge keeping track of all of them (they have confusing names, too), their growth throughout the story is what made it more captivating.
The narrative sweeps the reader from the onset. It was verbose, which was not necessarily a bad thing. It was just that Marquez didn’t allow the readers rooms or breaks to catch their breaths. The narrative flowed but it was bereft of transitions (or they were too quick and swift) that it rarely slows down. This endless tale keeps the readers at the edge of their seats. Without caution, the novel can be an exhausting read.
In spite of this, what triumphed is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s writing prowess and his imaginative descriptions which are intricate to the hilt. There were times that the narrative digressed but Marquez’s storytelling was just relentless and brilliant, breathtaking even. In many a way, One Hundred Years of Solitude is also a reflection of Marquez’s beliefs and ideals apropos Latin American history.
“Intrigued by that enigma, he dug so deeply into her sentiments that in search of interest he found love, because by trying to make her love him he ended up falling in love with her.” ~ Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
One Hundred Years of Excellence
One Hundred Years of Solitude was my first take on Nobel Peace Prize for Literature winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ highly touted works. The intricate tale was overwhelming especially that I read it during the infancy of my reading magical realist works. Haruki Murakam’s 1Q84 was my first and it was equally mindboggling.
Nevertheless, it was the rise and falls of the Buendias and the character of Macondo that converge to give the readers a pleasant intersection of the tragedies and comedies of life, its ironies and hyperboles. The interplay of the fictional and the historical makes One Hundred Years of Solitude a captivating read. Hemmed in its wonderful tapestry is an amazing plot, a set of colorful characters and, of course, Marquez’s excellent storytelling. Its influence is indeed encompassing.
One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of those very rare reads that reminds you the simple pleasures of reading. It was my first Marquez book but it was the one that led me to more of his works. The impression it created in me is everlasting.
About the Author
To learn more about Gabriel Garcia Marquez, click here.