Once in a while you would find a book that defies all your preconceived notions of how a novel should be. I think One Hundred Years of Solitude falls in this category. While a novel normally has a beginning, middle, and an ending, with some kind of climax no matter how little the peak is in the middle, Solitude does not have such trivial things! Telling a long tale about seven generations of a family in fantasy village of Macondo (based on Colombia where Garcia Marquez is from), the book is purely about the life of the characters, the long and the short of it. There’s no main storyline with which everything is tied together. The genealogy tree ties everything together.
Reading this book is like entering a long dream. Though it didn’t cause me bursts of emotions, I was completely entranced from beginning to end. The language is absolutely glorious that I could probably randomly pick one passage from the 400+ pages and it would be great, greater than most books.
One Hundred Years of Solitude is probably my first venture into magical realism. I’m very familiar with fantasy and surrealism, but magical realism was new. The “problem” with it is, while in fantasy and surrealism you’re completely prepared for something “illogical” to happen since the physical setting is non-realistic since the beginning, magical realism is set in realistic world which is only peppered by the “magic” once in a while. The magical aspects are never explained, people don’t seem to think they’re magical, and it doesn’t bother them that they’re often inconsistent. The inconsistent part was actually what bothered me at first. For example some carpets can fly and one character ascends to heaven all of a sudden, but nobody questions why it’s not happening for the rest of the carpets and people. With magical realism you need to let your feet off the ground once in a while and be not bothered about it.
In this book there are about two dozens of main characters, with even greater number of minor characters, many with similar names. Apparently it’s a culture in South America to take your father’s first name. My Argentinian friend has the same first name as his father and his grandfather. Prior to reading Wuthering Heights many people have mentioned that they had troubles with a number of characters with similar names (I did not have such problem). If only they read One Hundred Years of Solitude. It brings the challenge to a completely new level! The genealogy tree on the first page, which I had to refer to quite often, is your survival tool, what with the additional complexities of adopted children, children out of marriage, and grandchildren adopted as own children.
With such a huge number of characters, you’d think that they would all start to mesh together, but they don’t. Here’s where the skill of Garcia Marquez as a storyteller shines. The story of each character is unique, so I never got bored. It was one amazing tale after another. Characters and events are exaggerated, at times to the point of comical, that adds to the magical touch to the book.
Though I completely loved the book, I don’t think this is a book for everybody (Confirmed when it came to my knowledge that the three people sitting next to me at work have all tried to read it but never finished. One is Argentinian–who reads all GGM’s in Spanish apart from One Hundred Years.) But fortunately for me, it’s exactly my kind of book! If there is ever a book that I think would show what kind of person you are, this book is probably it. One Hundred Years of Solitude is a book for a dreamer, who loves continuous magical tales, without needing to get the point or rushing to get to the end (Because, uum.. there’s nothing at the end. It’s the journey that matters.) Are you a dreamer? Then this book might be for you!
1967, 422 pp
I picked One Hundred Years of Solitude for my Best Books Project from Claire’s list of Best Books Ever. Are you in the love camp or hate camp? You know where I am now. Count me in for the GGM fan club!
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
“A few months after his return, a process of aging had taken place in him that was so rapid and critical that soon he was treated as one of those useless great-grandfathers who wander about the bedrooms like shades, dragging their feet, remembering better times aloud, and whom no one bothers about or remembers really until the morning they find them dead in their bed.” ~ p72
“In the dream he remembered that he had dreamed the same thing the night before and on many nights over the past years and he knew that the image would be erased from his memory when he awakened because that recurrent dream had the quality of not being remembered except within the dream itself.” ~ p271
“It was a useless torture because even at that time he already had a terror of everything around him and he was prepared to be frightened at anything he met in life: women on the street, who would ruin his blood; the women in the house, who bore children with the tail of a pig; fighting cocks, who brought on the death of men and remorse for the rest of one’s life; firearms, which with a mere touch would bring down twenty years of war; uncertain ventures which led only to disillusionment and madness–everything in short, everything that God has created in His infinite goodness and that the devil had perverted.” ~ p375
1982 Nobel Prize (author for body of work)
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I’m actually surprised to find so few reviews on the book (though I didn’t look especially hard). Perhaps many people have read it pre-blogging time?