Because my “to read” list is so unbelievably and cumbersomely long, I never have been able to truly commit to which book I will read next. Not only do my shelves contain a multitude of books that I have purchased and not gotten around to reading, but I have multiple lists – digital, handwritten, or quiet promises to myself of books that I want to read… someday. I never have and never will compile these titles into one list, but if I were to do so it would be hundreds and hundreds of lines long. How could somebody possibly decide which one to pick up next? I have resorted to letting fate sort it out for me.
A couple months ago, a friend of mine mentioned that One Hundred Years of Solitude was his favorite book and even claimed it was probably the best book ever written. Shortly after that, I stumbled upon this article on Lit Hub that discusses the experience of time in Gabriel García Márquez’s writing. My friend’s mention dragged One Hundred Years of Solitude out of the depths of my half-remembered lists and positioned it in a place of importance, and the chance find of the article was the “sign” I needed to decide that it would be the next book for me to read.
I was not immediately sure that I liked the book. In fact, I finished the entire novel and still wasn’t entirely certain. Although I could liken Márquez’s writing to falling into a trance – as though I was being rocked gently in a hammock on a summer day – halfway through the novel I felt very lost. It wasn’t the multiple characters who have the same name that confused me (despite the fact that there are no fewer than 22 people named Aureliano!) and it wasn’t the way the plot twisted through the years like a vine turning one way and then looping back on itself and then curling another direction… the only thing that confused me was that I had no idea what it was about. Why had he written it? I couldn’t find a driving force in the book and I was frustrated without knowing what I should latch onto. In fact, this is the first book in years for which I decided to read the sparknotes page in order to have some theme to follow or symbol to light upon. Eventually, I found my stride with reading it, and I am very glad to have done so because it is a masterpiece that happily lived up to the hype it received.
The book chronicles the history of the Buendía family over 100 years, from the quasi-mythical founding of the village Macondo by José Arcadio Buendía to the end of the family line. At first, Macondo is isolated from the rest of the world, but gradually connections are forged to neighboring villages and then to the rest of the country and the world. The town struggles as it is pulled into the future by these connections; however, the reality of the town’s events and its very existence is altered by how it is remembered and by whom.
The story is told in a way that Márquez said was based on the way his grandmother used to tell stories. “She told me things that sounded super-natural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness… What was most important was the expression she had on her face. She did not change her expression at all when telling her stories.” A great deal of what happens in Macondo and to the Buendía family is surreal. Much like walking through a dream, common events or bizarre and nonsensical ones occur side by side with no differentiation between the two. A woman is carried off by a wind and ascends like the virgin Mary, never to be seen again, but the women who look after the house must still deal with an infestation of ants. Like a childhood memory, things become enlarged and mythologized – except the very act of remembering it so seems to make it be that in reality, and not just a false recollection. This use of magical realism makes Macondo’s struggle with the passage of time feel closer, as though the reader has really lived one hundred years in this village and remembers what it was at its birth and how it changed over the years. By the end, we can mourn the loss of a simpler time.
As I read, I increasingly felt that I loved every member of the Buendía family they way some people may love their own family: every person seems in some way to be a caricature of their own flaws, and yet they are so familiar that even their flaws are comforting and precious. The exaggerated nature of each character made it easier to keep track of who was who when so many of them had the same name – since everyone is Christened after a father or an uncle or a dearly departed daughter. It is not only the names that repeat, however – the cyclical nature of time is also evident in the relationships of the family generation after generation as they fall into the same traps of incest, or isolation, or revolutionary fervor.
The more I sit with this book in my mind, the more I like it, and feel a deep affection for the characters and events and the enchantment wove by Márquez’s writing. It is certainly worthy of the praise it is given.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2