23. ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel García Márquez

“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.

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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.

“It’s enough for me to be sure that you and I exist at this moment.”

This book counts as a “Classic From the Americas” for the Back to the Classics Challenge. You can track my progress by clicking here.

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts! Let me know with a comment below. 

1. ‘Slade House’ by David Mitchell

Time for my first review of 2019! Not only did I choose a fast read, but it is also a reread of a book I really loved. I debated on whether or not I should write a whole new review of David Mitchell’s horror novel Slade House. However, reading its predecessor The Bone Clocks altered my experience of this one in such a way that I deemed it worthy of its own post. For the curious, feel free to check out my original review from 2017.

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The story begins in 1979 when a young boy named Nathan and his mother are invited to the home of Lady Norah Grayer. Something feels off from the beginning, as Slade House can only be entered through a mysterious door along an alleyway. Nathan and his mother meet Lady Grayer and her mysterious son Jonah, and the two boys spend the afternoon playing in the garden. The ideal day suddenly turns bizarre as Nathan begins having visions of strange people and other occurrences such as a painting of himself at the top of a grand staircase. The events that occur following this revelation are truly nightmarish.

Slade House is written in five chapters, each set 9 years after the previous one. We soon learn that the Grayers are not what they appear to be and harbor some rather terrifying secrets. Each person who enters the house experiences a completely different scenario with one commonality: never coming out again. I have to give a lot of praise for David Mitchell as a virtuoso when it comes to writing different styles of fiction. From his success at penning family drama to science fiction, I truly believe he can write anything. For this novel, Mitchell has provided us with a work of pure horror as I was literally scared during some of the scenes in this book. With each character, I felt the helplessness of that particular situation. Mitchell manages to give this book an off-kilter feeling as you keep second-guessing on whether the events happening are truly happening. I love fiction that plays with your mind the way this one does.

This novel isn’t so much a sequel to The Bone Clocks but more an extension of that universe. For those that were underwhelmed by that effort, this one is much better as it manages to tell a concise yet frightening story. While I enjoyed this one two years ago on the first read, I loved it even more with the knowledge I have from The Bone Clocks. The reality is that all of Mitchell’s novels are tied to the same universe, and the fun of reading one of his works is spotting the little references to past books.

Although I loved each section, my favorite was the one following Sally Timms in 1997. I loved how Mitchell portrayed this teenage girl’s insecurities. He really can capture teen angst as well as budding romance. Over the years, Mitchell has written in a variety of characters, and I’m always impressed with how well he makes each sound different from the one before.

Overall this is a great book. While frightening and perplexing, it is also a breeze to get through in no time at all. I am highly motivated to read (as well as reread) all of David Mitchell’s novels as he has risen the ranks to one of the finest modern authors working today.

“People are masks, with masks under those masks, and masks under those, and down you go.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts! Let me know with a comment below. 

 

54. ‘The Vegetarian’ by Han Kang

As many of you know, I am a huge fan of Haruki Murakami. Until now, I didn’t think I would find another writer that matched his particular style. I bought The Vegetarian by Han Kang because the blurb reminded me of a Murakami novel so I was hoping for a creepy and surreal story along the same lines. Although this novel wasn’t what I was expecting, it did leave me satisfied and excited to read her second novel.

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As with a Murakami tale or a film by David Lynch, the most compelling aspect of The Vegetarian is that there are no simple answers. In fact, I closed the book with even more questions than answers. I spent hours trying to contemplate the meaning of it all and realized that the wondering is meant to be a part of the reading experience. We attribute our own meanings to the words we read, and this is exactly what this author had in mind. At least, in my opinion.

The Vegetarian is comprised of three separate novellas, each narrated by people with ties to the book’s central character. The story is about Yeong-hye, a seemingly average housewife living in South Korea who starts having terrible dreams which inspire her to become a vegetarian. The members of her family aren’t happy with this choice – vegetarianism seems to be a major stigma for them. At first, her decision affects her life in minor ways like her husband facing embarrassment in front of his boss at a dinner. Soon her transformation causes major problems as her family tries to coerce her back to eating meat. In fact, as time passes Yeong-hye begins to disassociate from the world around her and dreams of becoming a plant herself.

Throughout the book, we only see snippets inside Yeong-hye’s mind. The first section is told from the point-of-view of her husband, who views his wife as a dull and ordinary necessity to his ordered life. Although the reader will have to decide if Yeong-hye’s actions led to the deterioration of her marriage, one might argue that it was an unhappy marriage from the beginning. The second section is narrated by her brother-in-law, a struggling video artist who becomes obsessed with her body and pursues her for art and sexual fulfillment. The final section centers on her sister, who visits Yeong-hye in a mental institution and begins to question her own life.

Our only access into Yeong-hye’s mind is through her dreams told in brief sections. Although we initially view her as someone descending into madness, we quickly become torn due to the aggressive and often violent responses that occur from the ones that are supposed to love her. By the final section of the novel we begin to question, as does her sister, if maybe there is some sanity to be found in Yeong-hye’s actions.

The ending will leave you scratching your head. I was concerned that I missed something and actually reread the final pages. Despite being a short novel, this is still one that is quite thought-provoking. If you enjoy novels with simple answers, stay away from this one. However, if you want to be challenged then definitely pick this one up. Fortunately, I enjoy novels like this one that stay with me long after I close the book.

The Vegetarian is an impressive and disturbing debut novel. Despite its dark content, it is beautifully written. There is a dreamlike quality to the writing that is unforgettable. This was a fantastic way to wrap up my 2018 reading experiences. See you all next year!

“But this was nothing so crass as carnal desire, not for her-rather, or so it seemed, what she had renounced was the very life that her body represented.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts! Let me know with a comment below. 

 

Three Graphic Novels by Three Extraordinary Women

For this week, I present another triple graphic novel review! Although these three books are told in three very different styles, they have many similarities. All of them are true stories. Each one is an empowering example of survival. Finally, all three of these books are written by women writers. That’s right, it’s a celebration of three women who shared their lives through the genre of the graphic novel. I can’t even begin to praise how beautifully each of these books was written and illustrated. In fact, I loved each of these so much that it’s impossible for me to pick a favorite from the group.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

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I was fortunate enough to find a copy of The Complete Persepolis as the individual volumes can be purchased separately. In the first volume, Marjane Satrapi tells of her childhood in Iran leading up and then following the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The second follows her teenage years after being sent to live in Europe. Although published nearly two decades ago, I cannot even begin to stress its current relevance. Using simple black and white artwork, Satrapi manages to tell her story with both heart and honesty. I cannot even begin to count the number of times I had to stop reading because of a panel that brought tears to my eyes.

The opening chapter titled ‘The Veil’ shows 10-year-old Marji alongside her classmates having to wear the veil that has become mandatory under the new regime. Everyone is made to look exactly the same, schools have been sex-segregated, and bilingual education has been eradicated.

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We are then introduced to Marji’s family, a close-knit group of progressive thinking individuals. Unfortunately, their lives rapidly deteriorate as Iran descends into war. Anyone caught not following the new laws are brutally tortured and killed. “Decadent” western behaviors such as wearing makeup or throwing a party are outlawed. Following the story through the eyes of a child works extremely well as Marji exerts her headstrong nature in the midst of this turmoil. I liked the ways she chose to rebel such as listening to punk rock music and reading different philosophers. At the age of 14, Marji’s parents makes the difficult decision to send her to Austria for the chance at a better life.

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My favorite panel (of course)

The second half covers Marji’s years in Europe. Overwhelmed by the new freedoms she has in Austria, she in unprepared for a different set of trials. Marji struggles with ridicule, abandonment by her European family, and culture shock. After dealing with heartbreak, Marji turns to drugs and ends up on the streets. Her story comes full circle after making the decision to return to Iran as an adult to finish at university. After successfully rebuilding her life, Marji leaves Iran for Europe permanently.

Persepolis is an important work for understanding the ridiculous and oppressive nature of a government through a young girl’s eyes. Beyond its exploration of oppression, what truly makes this book outstanding is the humanity at its heart. Great moments of sadness and pain are mixed with a great sense of humor. Marjane is a fallible person like the rest of us. You can’t help but be drawn to her and feel for her life story.

“One can forgive but one should never forget.”

 

Becoming Unbecoming by Una

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If my recommendation of Persepolis made you want to go online and order, then my review of Becoming Unbecoming will make you drop everything so you can find a copy tonight! Although I finished this one in a day, I had to stop at points along the way due to my overwhelming feelings about the material. Una uses different artistic techniques to tell her story that is both heartbreaking yet beautiful at the same time.

Becoming Unbecoming is Una’s memoir that explores sexual abuse towards women. The book alternates between her own memories of being a victim of sexual abuse with the true history of the Yorkshire Ripper, a serial killer who murdered and terrorized several women during the 70’s and 80’s. Prior to reading this book, I had no knowledge of this piece of English history. I did my research and was appalled by the inadequate handling of the case by the Yorkshire police. This case predated the use of computers, meaning information on the case had to be written manually. The investigators were unprepared for a case of this magnitude, leading to mistakes resulting in the killer staying at large much longer than if they had had the necessary resources. The murderer, Peter Sutcliffe, was actually interviewed nine separate times before finally being arrested in the case. Una uses the Yorkshire Ripper as an example of how predatory men were viewed at the time along with how society would place blame on the victims. As a result, many cases of sexual violence went undetected, and many victims kept the abuse quiet.

Una weaves several strands together at once to talk about her life. At the core of this story, is the lonely young girl who was sexually abused and didn’t have the voice to speak out. There was a fear from all young girls at the time, not only of being hurt, but also of the shaming they would face at coming forward. At the time, everyone thought the Yorkshire killer was only murdering prostitutes who maybe deserved their deaths. The misguided notion that “bad things don’t happen to good people” followed girls like Una around like a heavy weight. If you were the victim of a sexual predator, then you must be a whore and had it coming. I would like to say that we have evolved in our understanding of these matters and have eradicated this type of misguided thinking.

I would like to say that anyway.

As I mentioned before, the artwork is beautiful. The drawings are mostly black and white with red being used throughout to elicit anger. I also love how the young girl carries around a comic dialogue bubble with no words in it, like a garbage bag containing the unspoken trauma. Again, I can’t say enough about this book. As a therapist, I highly recommend Becoming Unbecoming. It is a powerful work that helped give a voice to the silent.

“I may indeed be brave, but maybe that’s missing the point.”

 

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

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If you’re going to find copies of my first two recommendations, you might as well also grab Alison Bechdel’s poignant memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Known for her comic Dykes to Watch Out For, Bechdel chronicles her life in a small town living with her family in a large Gothic house. Often comparing her household to the Addams family, the young Alison defined her childhood by the creepy mansion, her distant father, and the funeral home that was the family business.

Bechdel explores the distant yet close relationship she seems to share with her father, a man she may have more in common with than she initially realizes. Struggling to figure out her own identity results in some hilarious awkward moments along with the development of several obsessive-compulsive behaviors. While at college, Bechdel’s sexuality slowly begins to emerge. Her coming out to her family doesn’t go as expected, as she learns her father had some secrets and conflicts of his own. When he wasn’t teaching English classes, running the funeral home, or redecorating the house, he would often be having sexual relationships with some of his male students. While it works as a coming-of-age story, at its heart Fun Home is about the deeply conflicted relationship between a father and daughter.

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The true strength in Bechdel’s memoir is the way she moves the story back and forth through time. Although the truth about her father doesn’t emerge until she’s an adult, we get to see the implications on the family from the very beginning. Clues to the secrets her father is hiding are apparent from a very early point; however, since we are viewing so much of it from a child’s point-of-view these revelations happen for us long before they do for Bechdel.

The narration and artwork work together quite well. Bechdel has a gift for crafting powerful images that compliment the text. Another aspect of this book that I loved was the use of classic literature. Bechdel’s father owned a massive library and often different books are used to help move the story forward, sometimes predominantly while other times as background to a particular scene. I was so impressed with the brilliant way that Bechdel manages to conclude the story in much the same way as it began. She is truly a gifted writer and artist.

All three of these novels deserve to have their own individual review. Each one is brilliant in its own ways, and I barely scratched the surface of each one. As I look back over this triple review, however, I can see how they all fit together quite well. All three present powerful illustrations with honest words, giving voices to those that will be silent no more.

“I suppose that a lifetime spent hiding one’s erotic truth could have a cumulative renunciatory effect. Sexual shame is in itself a kind of death.”

 

Have you read any of these books? I’d love to know your thoughts! Sound off with a comment down below. 

 

 

 

 

40. ‘Slade House’ by David Mitchell

It’s almost Halloween so I decided to read David Mitchell’s horror novel Slade House. Mitchell has taken the typical haunted house story and transformed it into something new and different. I decided to read this because of this year’s R.I.P. challenge. Slade House was selected as the group read; otherwise, I might have skipped over this one. I’m happy I read it as it is much more than your average chilling read although there are plenty of frights. 

 

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The entrance to Slade House is located at the end of an alley and only opens every nine years for the right person. The book is divided into five chapters, each one told by a different narrator set nine years apart. For each person, Slade House appears as something entirely different from the one before. However, getting out is a completely different matter entirely. The truth is that guests of Slade House never escape.

I was really impressed with how Mitchell can capture so many different types of characters. The dangers of writing a book with several first-person narrators is that they can all start to sound the same. This isn’t a problem with Slade House. As with my two previous Mitchell experiences of Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten, I found each chapter to be in a refreshingly different voice. From a young child to a lonely detective to an overweight female teenager with self-esteem issues, Mitchell manages to capture their specific personalities quite well.

My favorite  section was the one following Sally Timms in 1997. Mitchell captures the loneliness and insecurities of being a teenage outcast. This brought back memories, not necessarily pleasant, of my own teenage experiences of budding romance and angst. Although by this point, I got that this person isn’t going to escape either, I found myself rooting for each character just like in watching a horror film.

I really liked that there was a science fiction element to the book, which gets explained more during the final two chapters. We learn more about what is actually going on with the house and how the responsible characters came to exist. It definitely elevated the book beyond the horror of the first three chapters into something else. However, I questioned if there was too much exposition, that possibly this could have been an even stronger book if we hadn’t learned so much about the reasons for the house’s existence.

The ending felt pretty abrupt as well. I was definitely left wanting more when the book was finished. It is my understanding that Slade House is set in the same universe as The Bone Clocks, so I will definitely need to read that one soon in order to heighten my appreciation for this book.

“Grief is an amputation, but hope is incurable haemophilia: you bleed and bleed and bleed.”

Have you read this book or are you planning to? I’d love to know your thoughts! Please comment below!