As an avid fantasy reader, I don’t usually stray into the genres of magical realism or philosophy. So what am I doing reading a novel that brought magical realism into the public sphere? Credit for this one goes to my landlady. One morning, I found 100 Years of Solitude in a plastic bag hanging from my doorknob. My landlady told me it was her favorite book and that I must read it. To be honest, the title gave me pause and I didn’t like the book when I started reading it. In fact, I thought it was quite boring until around page 300. But having finished the book, I must say that I’m glad I took a detour from what I normally read to humor my landlady.
Gabriel García Márquez has been compared to the famous Spanish writer Cervantes, and likewise his most popular novel has been compared to Don Quixote. American novelist William Kennedy once praised 100 Years of Solitude as “the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race.” I wouldn’t go that far … but anyway the book did win Márquez the Nobel Prize in Literature. I agree a little more with the following quote by John Leonard of the New York Times: “It is the genius of the mature Gabriel García Márquez that fatalism and possibility somehow coexist, that dreams redeem, that there is laughter even in death. Not being a genius, I don’t know how he does it, but I am grateful.”
Gabriel García Márquez wrote Cien Años de Soledad in just 18 months; it was published in 1967 in Argentina. The book was immediately popular and came to the United States in 1970 as 100 Years of Solitude (translated by Gregory Rabassa).
In this novel, master storyteller Gabriel García Márquez weaves the tale of the rise and fall of both the city of Macondo and the Buendía family. The tone of the novel is at once philosophical and melancholic. Márquez once stated in an interview that he tried to write in the same way that his grandmother told stories: “with a brick face.” As I mentioned above, the publication of 100 Years of Solitude brought much attention to the genre of magical realism. Márquez has a talent for discussing impossible events in a realistic way. Flying carpets, the ability to live well beyond one hundred years of age, a rainstorm that lasts for years, and a man that is always surrounded by yellow butterflies go almost unnoticed. While reading this book, I immediately accepted these unreal events as fact simply because of the way they were written. Likewise, the characters in the story view the many magical events as uncommon – but not impossible.
100 Years of Solitude tells the story of José Arcadio Buendía, his wife Úrsula Iguarán, and their ever-growing family tree. Thankfully, there is a copy of the family tree printed in the beginning of the book to help the reader keep track of who’s who. For example, there are over twenty characters with the name Aureliano, multiple daughters named Amaranta, multiple daughters named Remedios, and multiple sons named José Arcadio. The sheer amount of characters and the confusing nature of their names was the biggest issue I had with this book. The Buendía family falls victim to cycles of incest, strange obsessions (such as putting things together only to take them apart) tragic deaths, and tragic romances. The pattern of names seems to coincide with the pattern of tragic events in the Buendía family.
The few joyous moments in the novel are overshadowed by all the tragic ones. For example, when Rebeca finally stops eating soil and falls in love with Pietro Crespi, their happiness is spoiled when Amaranta threatens to kill Rebeca rather than see her marry Pietro. Shortly after the threat, Remedios, newlywed to Aureliano, suffers an untimely death. Rebeca returns to her habit of eating soil and eventually becomes ostracized from the family for marrying her brother. Amaranta, on the other hand, refuses every man who gives her attention and ends up growing old, sewing her own funeral shroud, and dying a virgin.
100 Years of Solitude is anything but uplifting. It is full of sadness and tragedy. Like I mentioned above, this is not the type of book I normally read. However, Márquez’s novel is the best example of magical realism I can think of and the book leaves you with a feeling that death is a normal part of life and that life continues to go on, no matter what happens.
Finally, there were two quotes in this book that particularly stuck out to me:
1. “She looked like a newborn old woman” (341). This quote describes Úrsula as she is shriveled and close to death. Comparing a dying woman to a newborn provides a new perspective on death.
2. “The world must be all fucked up,” he said then, “when men travel first class and literature goes as freight” (401). The wise Catalonian utters this remark as he is traveling by train and is not allowed to keep his two trunks full of books with him. I like this quote because it’s funny and I agree with it!
Overall, read 100 Years of Solitude if you enjoy unexciting, philosophical novels or magical realism; or – if you simply want to read something long and “realistic” that will really make you ponder the meaning of life and death.