“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” This corker of an opening line begins one of the most unusual reading experiences I have ever had in my life. Earlier this year, I had fallen in love with Gabriel García Márquez after reading a phenomenal collection of his short stories. It was such a unique and enriching experience that I knew I had to read one of his novels right away. When my friend and fellow book blogger Allison at Climbing Mount To Be Read agreed to read it with me for the month of June, the plan was set. Although One Hundred Years of Solitude did not make my best ever list, I still found it to be a compelling story due to the author’s use of magical realism.
One Hundred Years of Solitude is the story of the Buendía family whose patriarch, José Arcadio Buendía, founded the fictional town of Macondo in Colombia. In the beginning, Macondo was so remote that its only visitors were a group of traveling gypsies who introduced the inhabitants to “new” inventions such as magnets and ice. As time passed, the village became less remote leading to Aureliano, the son of José Arcadio, going off to fight in a civil war, resulting in him becoming a famous war hero. The story continues following the Buendía family over the course of several generations, lasting about one century. Throughout their lives, the different generations face various misfortunes that, while different, begin to feel like a repetition of trials that have occurred before. There is a circular nature to One Hundred Years of Solitude that makes events feel they have come full circle by the end of the story.
Reading this novel was a bizarre experience for me. Although quite epic in scope, taking place over several generations, the book stays firmly centered around the Buendía home in Macondo. There is also a very detached style to the storytelling. As the author made a living as a reporter, the events are told in a very objective and clinical way. However, the writing itself is quite lyrical as Márquez has a very sophisticated style. It often felt like poetry in prose form. The result created opposing feelings for me because while I struggled to form attachments to any one particular character, I was still compelled to continue reading. As a word of warning, I will say that this novel covers some really dark material. Rape, incest, and forced marriages are commonplace within this family. However, the objective style kept events from becoming too graphic in nature.
Although a realistic novel about the trials of a particular family, there is plenty of magical realism thrown in to make the extraordinary appear quite normal. Here is what Márquez had to say about the incorporation of the fantastical elements:
“The tone that I eventually used in One Hundred Years of Solitude was based on the way my grandmother used to tell stories. She told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness….”
One Hundred Years of Solitude is considered to be one of the best in the use of magical realism. Interspersed with the everyday are these impossible occurrences such as magic carpets and random appearances from the dead. These fantastic events are treated as no different from the humdrum, told in the exact same tone of voice. One of my favorite moments in the novel is when one of the characters is suddenly lifted into heaven and is just gone one day. The family reflects for a moment and then continues forward. The book is filled with these strange happenings, and it creates this weird and compelling enchantment over the reader. Another powerful event in the novel is this scene following the passing of a main character:
“So many flowers fell from the sky that in the morning the streets were carpeted with a compact cushion and they had to clear them away with shovels and rakes so that the funeral procession could pass by.”
I love magical realism and have incorporated that style into many of my own writings. Some of my favorite authors, such as Franz Kafka and Haruki Murakami, are known for their incorporation of magical realism. I dare say that this novel would not have been so compelling without all of the magical realism. Márquez also makes playful use of time in this novel. While something is happening in the present, Márquez might reference something that occurred in the past or jump ahead to a moment in the future. This is definitely not a novel you can read casually and requires a lot of work on the part of the reader.
Another aspect of my reading experience which I appreciated involves learning about all of the civil unrest that occurred in Colombia. Márquez uses the fictional events of this novel to explore the horrors of real tragedies that occurred in his home country. Prior to reading this book, I knew nothing about the history of Colombia. After finishing the novel, I did some research in hopes to fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge.
One of the most frustrating aspects of this book, as I know many will agree, is trying to keep all of the members of the family straight. Márquez recycles names at a ridiculous pace. Since multiple generations are alive at the same time, you can have several characters with versions of the names Aureliano or José Arcadio happening at once. Although the book has a family tree in the front, trust me when I say you will be referring back to it a lot. I wondered in my reading if the use of similar names was a clever trick on the part of the author. Earlier, I said that I could not get attached to any one character. Upon reflecting, I realized that this is not a novel about so many different characters, but instead about one family. As events that occur with one generation happen again, I started to view the members of the Buendía family as one character within itself.
Although I enjoyed his short fiction more than this novel, I will say that One Hundred Years of Solitude is a reading experience unlike any other. Nobody writes like Gabriel García Márquez, and I will definitely be reading more of his work as I own Love in the Time of Cholera and Chronicle of a Death Foretold. While One Hundred Years of Solitude did not pull on my heartstrings the way other novels have, it definitely gave me pause for thought and reflection.