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Monday, January 20, 2020

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez was reread for me. First published in 1967, this novel has become very famous. This book is probably the most widely known example of the writing style  known as magical realism. During this go around I found the novel  to be very deserving of all the accolades that it has received over the years. I read the English translation by Gregory Rabassa. This may be the only English translation of this book as it was approved by the author.

This novel is a multigenerational story of the Buendía family who live in the fictional town of Macondo. The narrative of the tale actually runs for more than 100 years. Some sources indicate that the events of the novel run from 1790 to 1940. This seems about right. It is a bit difficult to write about the novel as it is filled with so many characters from the many generations. One aspect of the book that can be confusing is that many character names are repeated, or are similar, down through the generations. I found that having a list of character names and descriptions handy while reading.  This fits in with the book’s theme of things repeating themselves over the course of time. Much of the book is also episodic making it challenging to describe a coherent plot. 


Macondo  is founded in a South American wilderness by José Arcadio Buendía and his wife Úrsula Iguarán. Ursula is the most important character of the book. She lives to be approximately 130 years old and is present for most of the narrative. She is both enterprising and energetic in the early years. She is a moral center for the family as she is often trying to move people and events into moving the right way. The family begins to fall apart when she dies.


Melquíades is a gypsy who has a lot of technological and spiritual knowledge. He lives with the Buendía’s and leaves behind an enormous volume of prophecies that, because they are in code, no one can decipher after he dies. 

Amaranta is Ursula’s daughter who spurns several men throughout her life and becomes bitter over time. 

Colonel Aureliano Buendia, who is Ursula’s son, is a rebel commander who initiates a seemingly endless series of wars against the government. 

Remedios The Beauty grows up to be breathtakingly beautiful. She develops a personality that is removed from the world and it completely detached from life’s imperfections and the evils of the universe. 

Aureliano II is one of the last of the Buendía line. He attains great knowledge.  He also devotes much of his life to deciphering Melquíades prophecies which he finally does at the book’s end.

This style of magical realism here is characterized by a relatively traditional plot that is filled with seemingly supernatural or magical occurrences. The characters in the story take these occurrences as normal. The occurrences just happen within the narrative are not treated as  extraordinary in any way. These amazing events are not few and far between. Rather, they come at the reader very quickly, sometimes on every page. These occurrences range from Remedios The Beauty ascending to heaven on the wings of angels to a disease that creates insomnia for all of the  residents of Macondo to a rainstorm that lasts for over four years. Remedios's ascension is described, 


she said, “I never felt better.” She had just finished saying it when Fernanda felt a delicate wind of light pull the sheets out of her hands and open them up wide. Amaranta felt a mysterious trembling in the lace on her petticoats and she tried to grasp the sheet so that she would not fall down at the instant in which Remedios the Beauty began to rise. Ursula, almost blind at the time, was the only person who was sufficiently calm to identify the nature of that determined wind and she left the sheets to the mercy of the light as she watched Remedios the Beauty waving good-bye in the midst of the flapping sheets that rose up with her, abandoning with her the environment of beetles and dahlias and passing through the air with her as four o’clock in the afternoon came to an end, and they were lost forever with her in the upper atmosphere where not even the highest-flying birds of memory could reach her.

The above passage is characteristic of much of the book. Though this is a translation, it seems so well written. The ascension is marvelously described, it seems absurd yet the characters are not amazed by it. The beetles and dahlias that are mentioned seem to be stand ins for the everyday doings of the world that most people experience. 

A lot of these amazing events are described in some detail and they sometimes seem to be symbolic of real life issues historical events. A fair amount of this symbolism went seemed to go over my head but I picked up some of it. 

While the style of the books seems to be playful, tragic things sometimes happen to characters and at time the brutality of the world is illustrated in executions and other forms of cruelty. One gets the feeling that Márquez is trying to comment upon the entire spectrum of life including the good and bad aspects of it all. 

There are several themes coursing through this work. As the book’s title suggests, solitude is explored. Almost every character is isolated from others in some way, some try to break out of this isolation with varying degrees of success. For instance, Aureliano II starts life out as a scholarly hermit, but he eventually gets out into the world develops a meaningful relationship. However, complications and tragedy ensue.  Amaranta spurns suiters her entire life and ends up bitter and resentful. It seems that Márquez is playing with this theme and exploring it in its many permutations. It is interesting that through much of its history, Macondo is isolated from the rest of the world. 

Repeating history also seems to be an important theme. Similar events seem to happen over and over the years. This includes the tendency for several characters to almost commit incest. Other people, often separated by generations, become rebels and run afoul of the government. As noted earlier, characters with similar names abound in this book through the generations. 

There is also a political theme. Throughout the story, the conservative authorities are shown to be brutal and corrupt. However, while the liberal rebels sometimes start out with good intentions, they are shown to descend into the same corruption and brutality engaged in by the government. This slippage characterizes the life of Colonel Aureliano Buendia. American imperialism is also examined and is shown to be harmful. As exemplified by both the plot and themes the Buendia family and Macondo are microcosms of the world at large.

This is an extraordinary book. The magical realism bursts from nearly every page and it is both creative and entertaining. This novel is alternately fun, serious and tragic. Though this style is at times strange, it does not get in the way of complex character development. Though generally episodic, the story is also creative and holds a reader’s attention. I am glad that I reread this, it is a book that deserves its reputation as a modern - day classic. 

37 comments:

Paula Vince said...

Magical Realism is a fascinating sub-genre which I haven't tapped into much yet. 100 Years of Solitude has been on my tbr list for a while, so thanks for your tip to keep pen and notebook handy. It sounds like the generational sequences help readers take a birds-eye view of the themes that pop up. Really interesting concept.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Paula - The repetitive character names are not something typical of Magical Realism, it is something peculiar to this book.

There are several character lists online so I just kept a character list up on my browser on my tablet. However, writing the names manually might help one keep track of them

Dorothy Borders said...

Excellent review! This is a book that definitely benefits from rereading. I first read it many years ago in the '70s or '80s and reread it back in 2014. I loved it both times but I think I was able to appreciate it better on second reading. Some day I hope to do a third reading. I found the family tree at the beginning indispensable in keeping all the characters straight.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

I have always intended to read this book. I wonder if I ever will. Your review both encourages me and discourages me.

mudpuddle said...

i read this once and hope to do so again some time... for some reason it reminds me of Hofstadter's book even tho i've never read it... Hofstadter's, i mean... great post: brought some memories back...

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Dorothy- Rereading is such a good thing to do know in general. This novel definitely lends to it.

I thought that the family tree included in the book was a little difficult to use.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Debra - The book is unconventional in some ways. However, I did not find it too challenging.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Muddpuddle. Hofstadter's book was a lot more challenging.

Kathy's Corner said...

Hi Brian, very fine commentary on this book. I must read 100 Years of Solitude. People say its one of the greatest novels to come out of Latin America. Magical realism is a literary style I have been hesitant about but I read Like Water for Chocolate and there I think the magical realism was handled quite well. It didn't overwhelm the story and so I am hoping the same will be true with 100 Yesrs of Solitude.

Lory said...

I think "Magical realism" is a silly name -- people are scared of fantasy or fantastic elements and think it's not respectable so they have to make up these labels. However, that is not the author's fault. I have this book on my list and I'm even more excited to read it now. I think I should probably use a paper copy rather than an e-book, if it's helpful to refer back to the character list?

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Kathy. There is a lot of magic going on here. It is not subtle. However, i thought that the overall effect worked.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Lory - I agree that the term “Magical Realism” probably puts people off. But it is a term pretty ingrained in the world of literature so I think that we are stuck with it.

I do not think that this is available as an ebook. The book contains a family tree but I found that confusing. Instead of relying on that, I pulled up a character list on my tablet and kept it handy.

Sharon Wilfong said...

HI Brian,

Kudos to you for reading this book. I tried and just couldn't get into. However, I have recently bought a Spanish edition so if nothing else, my language skills should improve.

Have a good week.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sharon - If you tried this in its original Spanish I would love to know what you thought of it that way, I wonder how different the translation made it.

James said...

Great commentary. I've enjoyed both this book and Love in the Time of Cholera, but long ago. This book deserves rereading.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks James. Love in the Time of Cholera was also a great one.

Susan Kane said...

Amazing. It would definitely take a few re-readings to keep on track and remember the characters. The culture and telling of the lives would be fascinating . Living so near Mexico culture would give some insights. Mexico's population is a mixture of European and indigenous people blend and create a magical heritage.

thecuecard said...

I read this decades ago & had a hard time making my way through it .... but a reread now would probably help a lot. I liked his novel Love in the Time of Cholera better but I am in the minority for sure.

Judy Krueger said...

I loved this book, so much. I do intend to reread it also.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Susan - The book was really culturally rich. I was OK with the characters only because I kept the character list handy.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Susan - Love in the Time of Cholera was a great one too. I would need to reread it in order to decide which I liked better.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Judy - It really lends itself to rereading.

the bookworm said...

Hi Brian, I'm, glad you enjoyed this one, I haven't read it yet but I'm a fan of Márquez and his beautiful writing. He has a knack for writing characters that I don't particularly like, but the storylines and his writing style keep me intrigued.
Great post as always.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Naida - Garcia's characters are not always completely likable. That is true of this book too. Colonel Buendia is a good example of that. I think that if you like this author then you will get a lot out of this book.

Suko said...

Brian Joseph,

I haven't read this book but your review has certainly increased my interest in it. I am fine with magical realism when it "fits" well into a story, and it sounds as if it does in this novel. Wonderful review! I will keep an eye out for this special book.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Suko- I have liked all the Magical Realism style books that I have read. Many consider this the best.

Whispering Gums said...

I would love to re-read this Brian. I fell in love with Marquez around the time I read this, and read several of his books. I still have a couple on my TBR, which I probably should read first.

I would say to Debra that it's hard not to make this book sound challenging when you write about it, but as Brian said, it really isn't when you start reading it because it is so well and engagingly written.

baili said...

an excellent commentary once again dear Brain !

i found the story intriguing as you painted it's multitude of characters and density of plot so well
i wondered what writer tried to symbolize through such long lasting rainstorm though

i found the term magical realism unfamiliar yet fascinating ,i would like to read this book for sure
thank you for being so insightful and sharing your thoughts over books such extra ordinarily
blessings to your days !

DEZMOND said...

It is interesting that the book is getting a TV series adaptation, hope it won't disappoint you, I had a post on it recently at my place.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Baili- The rainstorm had to be symbolic. I think that it was related to the Biblical Flood and may have had something to do with cleansing and the washing away of sin.

This book is considered by many to be the best example of Magical Realism so it is a good place to start for anyone who wants to give it a try.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks for stopping by Desmond. The television series sounds interesting. I am thinking that this is a difficult book to adapt for the screen. But we shall see.

Richard said...

You're a better man than I am, Brian--I've never been able to get very far into this novel even though I know I should try harder for educational purposes and I've enjoyed other García Márquez novels. Anyway, thanks for mentioning the "repeating history" theme. Perhaps I can focus on that, which sounds appealing, when I decide to grapple with this again. Cheers!

Brian Joseph said...


Hi Richard. It seems that it is fairly common for folks not to make it all the way through this. I think the style of magical realism, laid on heavily, can be hard to take.

Felicity Grace Terry said...

Magical realism is hardly my thing to begin with and as for as books of this genre go I have heard that this isn't exactly easy reading; that as you say its fairly common for folks not to make it all the way through. Still, as always, thanks for your insightful thoughts on a book that as many people love as they do, err, not love.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Felicity- I actually did not think that the book was all that difficult. I think that is more of the fact that the magical realism comes in such large doses that it starts to get overwhelming. This is exacerbated by the fact that the prose is very dense.

Ash said...

I've never read a book about a gypsy before! This one looks interesting.

Ash @ JennReneeRead

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks for stopping by Ash. It was well worth the read.