Wednesday 2 January 2013

One Hundred Years Of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

One of the 20th century’s enduring works, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a widely beloved and acclaimed novel known throughout the world, and the ultimate achievement in a Nobel Prize-winning career.

The novel tells the story of the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendía family. It is a rich and brilliant chronicle of life and death, and the tragicomedy of humankind. In the noble, ridiculous, beautiful, and tawdry story of the Buendía family, one sees all of humanity, just as in the history, myths, growth, and decay of Macondo, one sees all of Latin America.

Love and lust, war and revolution, riches and poverty, youth and senility—the variety of life, the endlessness of death, the search for peace and truth—these universal themes dominate the novel. Whether he is describing an affair of passion or the voracity of capitalism and the corruption of government, Gabriel García Márquez always writes with the simplicity, ease, and purity that are the mark of a master.
Goodreads description

This blog post is part of the Classic Reads Bloghop, in which a number of book blogs will be discussing what makes a classic read. Among fans of magic realism there can be little argument that Marquez's tale of one hundred years in the lives of the Buendia family and of Macondo, the town founded by patriarch Jose Arcadio is a magic realism classic.  People who don't like magic realism hate it.

I first read this book about thirty years ago, when I had just finished university. It was a formative time for me - I discovered my favourite poet (Anna Akhmatova) and the magic realist films of Tarkovsky at the same time. This book was just as influential: it totally blew me away. Just as Kafka's Metamorphosis transformed Marquez's views on what he could write, so this book completely changed my understanding of literature.

I had grown up on fantasy and historical fiction: loving books by Alan Garner, Rosemary Sutcliff and Mary Renault. I had then been introduced to "literature" at my strait-laced grammar school, where fantasy and historical fiction were regarded as inappropriate for serious reading. I gave up any thoughts of studying English Literature at university and instead pursued my love of history. With One Hundred Years of Solitude I found a book that brought together both history and fantasy and was clearly literature.

It may come as a surprise to people who have problems with the magic in this book that the author started work as a journalist. But as he said in an interview in The Paris Review
It always amuses me that the biggest praise for my work comes for the imagination, while the truth is that there’s not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality. The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination.

Some people might argue that the magical elements cannot possibly be confused with reality. Take the incident of the massacre at the train station in which three thousand people are machine-gunned down and the inhabitants of the town believe the government propaganda that nothing happened. That is incredible isn't it? And yet think of all those Germans who failed to acknowledge the holocaust, even though they lived close to the camps or of the people who believed the official accounts of the Hillsborough disaster and suddenly One Hundred Years of Solitude becomes less fantastical. Magic realism is often used, as here, to talk about serious political issues and about the oppressed. The bloody history of Latin America is mirrored in the history of this fictional town in an unnamed land and time, in the book's thirty-two bloody and pointless revolutions, the exploitation by ruthless foreign capitalists and the suppression of workers' protests. 

I am not a journalist, but I am a historian. And I am struck by how similar One Hundred Years of Solitude is at times to historical texts I have studied, such as chronicles and hagiographies as well as oral history sources. The fantastical is reported with equal seriousness as the realistic. In Marquez's novel the same is true. Marquez acknowledges his grandmother's storytelling style as a major influence: She told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness.
That is the definition of magic realism and that is why this book is a magic realist classic.

Another aspect of the book that I love is the richness of the descriptions. You can feel the heat of the sun-baked streets, smell the lemon trees and the shit, hear the scream of love-making or the chomping of the ants in the beams, and see the yellow butterflies that surrounded Renata Remedios whenever her lover was nearby. 

Does the book have any flaws? I have to confess that I do get confused with the characters, especially in the first fifty pages, and was grateful for the family tree at the beginning of my copy. Of course there are good reasons for the repetition of names - it's common practice in Latin America and it is symbolic of the way history and the Buendia family are doomed to repeat their mistakes. One of the themes of the book is that time was not was turning in a circle. As a result readers will not find the conventional storyline or character arc in One Hundred Years of Solitude. As the six generations of the family come and go in the book, there is only one character, that of the matriarch Ursula, who is present almost to the end of the book and when she dies the force that has held the family, and perhaps even the town, together fails. 

If you love magic realism and maybe even if you don't, this is a book that you should read.

  If you wish to explore other blogs on the Classic Reads Blog Hop, please click on the links below:

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Terri Giuliano Long said...

Fascinating post, Zoe! I think another author made the point recently that all stories, no matter how fantastical, are grounded in our own or others' experiences. This is obviously a great example of that. Thank you so much for taking part in the hop!

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David M. Brown said...

Brilliant post Zoe.

I have One Hundred Years of Solitude on my TBR pile. I have read Love in the Time of Cholera, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Leaf Storm and No One Writes to the Colonel. Marquez is an amazing writer. I suppose a part of me is saving the best till last :)

Elisabeth Zguta, Author said...

Zoe this sounds like a wonderful story. Thanks for posting and introducing this author and his book. Another to add to my never ending list. This one is sneaking to the top.

Neha Sharma said...

If one wonders why Marquez was awarded a Nobel, then this is the answer to such groundless doubts!

'Magic Realism' isn't everybody's cup of tea. He is an expert, the doyen in this genre. Mortals like me can't write a review for such masterpieces.
Let my words cease. Grab a copy and devour it NOW!

As a matter of fact, I read its pdf! That was quite an excruciating task for someone who can't stand e-books. But, it was Garcia's spell that kept me enchanted for two whole days!
I can comfortably say that those were the 48 hours of sheer bliss...
P.S. Pelt stones at me if the climax does not enthrall you to a maddening degree..