Book Review: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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Book Review - One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Title: One Hundred Years of SolitudeOne Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Author: Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Publisher: Editorial Sudamericana, Harper & Row (US) Jonathan Cape (UK)

Genre: Magical Realism, Historical Fiction, Classic Literature

First Publication: 1967

Language: Originally published in Spanish, Translated in English by Gregory Rabassa

Major Characters: Úrsula Iguarán, Remedios Moscote, Remedios, la bella, Fernanda del Carpio, Aureliano Buendía, José Arcadio Buendía, Amaranta Buendía, Amaranta Úrsula Buendía, Aureliano Babilonia, José Arcadio Segundo, Aureliano Segundo, Aureliano José

Theme: The Circularity of Time, Solitude, Progress and Civilization, Magic vs. Reality,

Setting: Macondo, Colombia

Narrator: Third-person omniscient

 

Book Summary: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The novel One Hundred Years of Solitude is an absolute master piece. It manages to capture the various phases and glories of the human history. The book has had a major impact on young minds that have taken up literature as a subject. The book is engaging and intense that reminiscences of how history repeats itself with the collapse and creation of a new Macondo within a span of a century.

The fall and rise of the Buendia family is captured in the backdrop of all the strife that Latin American societies have witnessed. In this novel one will come across this family name spreading out over seven generations.

The book was originally written in Spanish but has been translated into thirty seven languages and till date has sold over thirty million copies.

The theme of this book is about two families that witness various stages of life over the period of a century. How the protagonist try to come to grips with their past and how this obsessiveness brings about the doom of the family is captured in the novel.

In this book Macondo portrays the new world of United Sates, which appeared more like the Promised Land to so many at one time. But over the course of history it came to be accepted as another illusion.

The book can be defined as the fine work of a master writer, about work realism. In his imaginary place metaphors and beliefs have become ordinary facts and life has become most uncertain.

 

Buendia's Family Tree
Buendia’s FamilyTree

Book Review: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

One Hundred Years of Solitude is considered by many as Marquez’s masterpiece and that alone says a lot- after all the man won a Nobel Prize. The novel tells the story of Macondo, a fictional town in Latin America, through the history of the Buendia family. The Buendias, generation after generation witnessed the rise, the glory and the fall of the mythical town they called home. In their joys and their sorrows, in their fears and their passions, one sees all of humankind, in all of her tragicomical glory. And in the history and myths of Macondo, the reader sees all of Latin America.

Jose Arcadio Buendia at age 19 moves on looking for greener pastures (actually, the blue sea) with some of his hometown citizens, who have chosen to follow him. He settles down in a spot which feels right and so begins a South American (Colombia) community which becomes the town of Macondo, a village of 20 adobe houses. It rises from the banks of a stony river, a “land that no one had promised them.

“He really had been through death, but he had returned because he could not bear the solitude.”

Jose Arcadio had killed a man who insulted Jose because Jose’s new bride, Ursula, remained a virgin a year after their wedding. She was fearful of producing children with birth defects since the people of their original home village had interbred for centuries. It was possible they were closer than the cousins they believed they were. After Jose kills the man who insulted his virility, he goes home and impregnates Ursula, after which, they pack up and seek their future somewhere else.

With a small number of farm animals, which Ursula uses to grow food, and Jose’s peasant genius for handyman engineering and a restless curiosity for all things alchemical, together they eke out a life for themselves in a brand new village and hold back the jungle – which initially is very difficult. They are almost entirely oblivious of the outside world except for occasional visitors, which include fairground caravan gypsies who bring mystical wonder, willing to make the weeks-long trek to the little isolated town. It will be decades before roads and railroads permit the travel of government soldiers and banana corporations to invade the little community, bringing new blood along with shed blood.

“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.”

Five generations and a century later, Macondo and its founding family is struggling under a weight of decrepit devolution and decay. But oh, gentle reader, what an extraordinary ride the ordinary standard lives of common ‘simple’ people can be to explore, especially if ingrown and idiosyncratic, even if unintentionally overblown and blowzy as only an isolated hothouse can be! By the last page, all of the ordinary perfidies, wonders, delusions and magic of human loves and passions possible since the beginning of humanity has been revealed to us readers, if not the individuals of this family. The deceptively pedantic pen of a literary genius, the ‘wash, rinse, repeat’ cycle he delightedly exposes, would amuse the Greek muses themselves. He makes the false promise of human evolution painfully clear.

History, technology, war and politics touch the growing, then shrinking, town, warping and weaving the life of small town people into new paths which, mysteriously, show themselves eventually to be amazingly circular instead of moving forward. Each generation begins anew, or at least, they each believe themselves to be fresh and original, and even sometimes solely unloved or unlucky, although each feels shackled by being named after fathers, mothers, aunts and uncles previously born, honorifics passed down like ancient artifacts which the parents, perhaps, hoping unconsciously, that the next generation will accomplish more and better things with the family names. Alas! More than names are passed down! Bodies seem all alike in the darkness.

“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.”

However, the talented Marquez has us laughing or feeling shocked while we gawp at the bizarre antics of the Buendia generations – until you remember a similar story about your relatives that came from the lips of your own grandmother or stepmother – if she dared tell it.

I admit the book is difficult. Five generations of related siblings, and mothers and fathers who all carry the same names, who have similar adventures over and over, for many hundreds of pages in a stream of unbroken sentences without many paragraphs, dense with meaningful, but not known to the character, repetitive activities which over time show themselves to be ultimately meaningless, and tons of numinous magic, ghosts, clairvoyance, precognition, strangely prescient and revealing dreams – all become like mist above an endlessly flowing river.

“The secret of a good old age is simply an honorable pact with solitude.”

Rivers are notorious for their constant change of moving water sparkling past our dazed eyes, promising us a ride to unknown adventures, soothing and exciting us at the same moment, rich with metaphorical and metaphysical meaning for us creatures of stardust and desire – but it’s only water, after all.

This is a story about what it means to be a human being, about the good as well as the bad parts. Love, lust and joy are eternally intertwined with pain, failure and the avarice of death. While reading, you will find yourself laughing out loud as well as mourning in silence, because Marquez manages to capture perfectly every aspect of the human heart and his characters feel real, even when their stories seem quite over-the- top. But that is after all what magical realism is about- making the reader believe that a man can be chased by yellow butterflies wherever he may go, that magic carpets not only exist, but are hardly more remarkable than a huge chunk of ice, and that beautiful girls sometimes do ascent to heavens before their families’ hardly surprised eyes.

“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 García Márquez is one of the most gifted writers I’ve come across. His stories come to life in front of the reader. He hardly writes books; he creates a work of art, he paints pictures but instead of brushes he uses words. Sometimes he can be a bit overly dramatic, and that is the reason why I never feel one hundred percent connected with any of his characters, but the enjoyment of reading his books never ceases.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is not the tale of the forlorn Colonel Aureliano Buendia, who organised thirty-two uprisings and lost each one of them, as well as his heart and feelings. Neither is it the story of Ursula Buendia who witnessed her town’s glory and decay, as well as her family’s. It’s not a story about the life of Remedios, for whom men died nor about the struggles of Aureliano Segundo who married the most beautiful woman in the world only to realise that he would never love anyone more than his mistress. This is an accounting of the history of the human race, of all the time that was and that will be- because one thing is certain; time is moving in a circle.


 

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