One of the 20th century’s enduring works, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a widely beloved and acclaimed novel known throughout the world, and the ultimate achievement of a Nobel Prize winning career.
The novel tells the story of the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the family. It is a rich and brilliant chronicle of life and death, and the tragicomedy of humankind. In the noble, ridiculous, beautiful, and tawdry story of the family, one sees all of humanity, just as in the history, myths, growth, and decay of Macondo, one sees all of Latin America.
Love and lust, war and revolution, riches and poverty, youth and senility — the variety of life, the endlessness of death, the search for peace and truth — these universal themes dominate the novel. Whether he is describing an affair of passion or the voracity of capitalism and the corruption of government, Gabriel Garcia Marquez always writes with the simplicity, ease, and purity that are the mark of a master.
~Blurb from the back of the book
I have neglected my Classic Reading list lately. Too many review copies started pouring in, and classics took on a back-burner once again.
last a couple of weeks back. I got tired of reading books that I could finish within a day. I wanted something more meaty, something I could sink into, get into a different world. This book provided all that and much much more.
As you can probably guess from the title, the story covers 100 years in the lives of the members of the Buendia family and 100 years in the life of the town they found – Macondo.
Before I start my review, here’s a small definition of magical realism that I found here:
Magic realism is a literary form in which odd, eerie, and dreamlike tales are related as if the events were commonplace. Magic realism is the opposite of the “once-upon-a-time” style of story-telling in which the author emphasizes the fantastic quality of imaginary events. In the world of magic realism, the narrator speaks of the surreal so naturally it becomes real.
I quote this definition because One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of the best examples of the magical realistic style of writing that I have ever read and this definition gives you an idea about what to expect when you read this book.
The book begins with a very useful family tree. Very useful for the following reasons:
- All the boys in the family have one of the two names: Jose Arcadia or Aureliano. Believe me when I say the family tree is your lifeline while reading this book. I kept referring back to it again and again just to cross-check that I am reading about the correct Aureliano or Jose Arcadia.
- Many family members show a distressing tendency to fall in love/marry/have children with each other. The book is rife with incestuous relationships. It got so confusing. Again, family tree came to the rescue to help me out.
Does what I wrote above scare you off this book?
No, no. That is not the intention at all. Once you get past this confusion of who is who, this book is a delight. The writing is lovely, and it’s full of all types of symbolism. Thankfully, the symbolism isn’t dense. If it was I wouldn’t have understood it :). But, I like how simply this book compares the founding of Macondo to the Genesis in the Bible, the fall of man compared to the rise and then decline of the town (and the family). Because throughout the book, the fate of the town is mirrored with the fate of the Buendias.
There are also references to certain periods of Colombian history. I did a little googling of some of the events that are discussed in the book to get a better idea of the story setting. Wikipedia as usual provides a lot of information on the conflicts that are covered rather vaguely in the book. A huge chunk of the book is devoted to a clash between Liberals and Conservatives – but apart from the religious differences between the two, it was hard to figure out why the two groups were fighting. The book is very vague about the motives. It made me wonder if GGM has deliberately kept it vague to emphasize that the motives for war are often vague and no one in the end even remembers what they fought for. Anyway, that’s my take on this section.
There is another section in the novel that was heart-rending and that’s the massacre of workers in a banana plant. As soon as I read this bit, I guessed that there is some historical truth to it and found my theory confirmed when I read this excellent blog post on the book.
So, while I found the book enjoyable, it does have its very dark moments. But it just shows GGM’s talent for making grim times in history funny, enjoyable, and very thought-provoking. And above all, readable. So readable that I can recommend this even to readers who are not into reading Classics. There is nothing intimidating about this book. All it takes is a willingness to jump headlong into magic and an ability to believe in the fantastic.
I read this book as part of my initiative to read more Classics for The Classics Club.
Also, after this reading experience, I am looking for more book recommendations in the magical realism style. I know about Rushdie and I enjoy his books. Any other writers that you have experienced and love? Please share in the comments.