Ever since I read Love in the Time of Cholera, which my book club tackled in April of 2007, I’ve wanted to read this famous book. It was not quite what I expected, however. Unlike Love in the Time of Cholera, which has a comparatively straightforward story line – the unrequited love of Florentino for Fermina, One Hundred Years of Solitude doesn’t really have a story line in the traditional sense.
There is no main character, in fact many of the characters (of different generations of the Buendia family) have the same or very similar names(!) This makes for difficult reading for the non-focused reader (or even the focused reader!). Perhaps the best way to describe the book would be to say that the town of Macondo, and the Buendia family are the main “characters.”
I liked the book anyway, in spite of this “confusion.” Marquez’s writing style is so beautiful and unique, he could probably have written about anything and I would’ve enjoyed it. This particular book is known as an example of “Magical Realism.” Now, I was unfamiliar with this term before encountering this book, but wikipedia calls it “a style of writing in which the supernatural is presented as mundane, and the mundane as supernatural or extraordinary. The term was coined by German art critic Franz Roh in 1925”
The magical, or supernatural, intertwines nearly seamlessly with the ‘normal’ in this book. One of my favorite characters was the gypsy, Melquiades, who has an association with the Buendia family across many of its generations. He was also responsible for bringing many magical and technological wonders to the town of Macondo, including fully functioning “Flying Carpets,” to cite one example. He is described in the opening pages of the book as having “an Asiatic look that seemed to know what there was on the other side of things.” At the end of the book, we learn that he had already written the history of the family (in Sanskrit!) before it has taken place, though many of the family’s members have spent years trying to decipher his writings and things he left behind.
There was a lot of symbolism in the book, much of which I didn’t “get” until I read a little more about the novel, but one of the more transparent (even to me, I mean) images to me was that of the town of Macondo as an “Eden” from which humans were eventually expelled, as the town continually devolved and was corrupted by the ‘outside world.’
There is also a lot of sex and passion in the book. In this respect it does not differ from Love in the Time of Cholera. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, however, many of the relationships are borderline, sometimes blatantly, incestuous. The characters don’t let that stop them, however. The only one who seems to give this a lot of thought was the matriarch, Ursula, who has a constant fear that at some point a child will be born with a pig’s tail due to the intermarriage within the family.
One favorite passage of mine in this regard was when Aureliano Jose had fallen in love with his aunt, Amaranta, wanting to marry her and all that that implies. She tells him, “ ‘You can’t do that to a poor aunt unless you have a special dispensation from the Pope.’ Aureliano Jose promised to go to Rome, he promised to go across Europe on his knees to kiss the sandals of the Pontiff just so that she would lower her drawbridge.”
Overall, the book was a bit too mystical (or maybe I should say mystifying) for me to get really gung ho about recommending. Marquez has been quoted as saying that he himself did not completely understand the book’s success:
“Most critics don’t realize that a novel like One Hundred Years of Solitude is a bit of a joke, full of signals to close friends; and so, with some pre-ordained right to pontificate they take on the responsibility of decoding the book and risk making terrible fools of themselves.”
Thanks to Allie, over at A Literary Odyssey for making me finally read this book as a result of her hosting a read-along.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez