Gabriel Garcia Marquez passed away on April 17th, 2014. The loss of such a renowned, beloved award-winning author is always difficult but Marquez has already proven his place in literary history with his writings. One hundred years of solitude is a testament to Marquez’s storytelling mastery and is a favorite of President Bill Clinton’s as this CNN article explains, while covering many other aspects of the author and his writing upon his passing. The New York Times also has an in-depth piece about Marquez, One hundred years of solitude, and magic realism. Beloved by fans, here is a wonderful website with additional information about Marquez and his works.
As a freak thunderstorm rolls swiftly in directly overhead, with sun and beautiful orange and blue streaked clouds off in the distance, I can’t help but think it’s a scene from the novel. Odd and out of place, yet seemingly real. This is the magic that Marquez pulls off in his down-to-earth story that is gilded with a tiny bit of fantastical elements here and there to doubt reality occasionally.
Set in the village of Macondo, One years of solitude spans the lives of several generations of the Buendia family. Strife, love, war, fights, family bonds, stubbornness, and tenderness traverse the lives of their family tree with history repeating itself time and again but hardly anyone notices or knows. Each has a troubled journey through life yet the family remains the center. The village was founded by the Buendias and the two are inextricably tied together, through good and bad; they are one and the same it seems as the novel progresses and inevitably ends.
The English major in me ponders the title, feeling that the topic would make a great paper that could write itself. Why did Marquez use “solitude”, of all words? The story is anything but peaceful and the family is constantly involved with village life and others, especially wars and aggression; it’s not a solitary existence and yet in ways it is as the village remains in seclusion from the rest of the world. However, I am positive that successful analyses and theses already exist that could quell my curiosity and provide compelling reasons so I won’t go into it any further here.
At first, the novel focuses on Colonel Jose Andres Buendia, then his father and his mother. More generations are born and more characters arrive in Macondo to make their entrance into the story and the Buendias lives, some of them taking over the narrative and the village. Everyone has their own part of the story yet they all weave together as one and as the years go by, people and family members leave and begin to die. For a long time, the Buendias remain strong albeit changed more and more until the line starts to decline. While the family is tied to the village, it’s also physically tied to their house as well. They expand the house and care well for it in their prime and growth yet time takes a toll on the house in tandem with the family. Certain generations upkeep it while other neglect it and it finally falls into ruin as the Buendias themselves and the village fizzle out. One hundred years indeed and perhaps that’s where the solitude fits in, as they and the village were more or less left to their own devices, unchanged by the outside world despite its feeble, few attempts.
Magic realism applies sparingly to this novel, certainly less than most that garner this term. Through much of the story, it reads like a history about war, the family, village life, and human emotions, with very little magic realism and fantastical elements. The story is true to time and nature with only the occasional absurdity or exaggeration that quickly recedes into the past as the story moves ever along. Even the most strangely odd occurrences feel believable, as if not out of place as they should be, in the village of Macondo where the events are normal enough to the Buendias who never question or are shocked by such things. Bugs crawl out of a pot of freshly made soup boiling on the stove–that’s too bad. One of the family members floats up into the sky with the sheets in the garden never to be seen again–what a nice way to go. Life in Macondo goes on for the Buendias despite what happens.
Though a long, complex novel bursting with twists and turns and characters that span one hundred years, I marvel at Marquez’s brilliant weaving of all of the tales and his ability to jump back and forward in time and place, many times within a paragraph if not a sentence and yet not lose the reader. His skill is profound and subtle, so that by the time you finish reading a portion, you pause and admire how he lead you to where you are now in the story. They aren’t so much tangents leading away from the main plotline but a meandering path that conveys additional scenery to enhance the experience. What blows me away is that this novel was written in 1967. For some reason, I had always thought of it as more recent, especially with the way it was revered.
Recommended? Definitely, for those who don’t mind a dense, challenging read. At times it’s violent, sexy, uncomfortable, exciting, cringe-worthy and heart-warming yet above all it is novel meant for everyday people with a basic story centered around a family and what it means to be one. The writing itself is pretty easy to follow, as long as you trust Marquez’s meandering path to get there.
I certainly will read more by Marquez, with Love in the time of cholera probably the next of his. What a master. He will be greatly missed.