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.