There are relatively few books that I've had to read for my college classes and truly enjoyed. This was one of them.
Now, be warned: this is not a clear-cut story; the prose can be confusing, and the repetition of names makes it more difficult by far to keep track of who is who. The novel does indeed cover one hundred years, so expect to see favorite characters die if they first appear early on. There is no one protagonist. The family is the protagonist--the family, and the town.
Perhaps despite these potential confusions and perhaps because of them, Marquez has woven in this book a shroud of mysteriousness and magical realism that make reading it something like stepping into a dream; his Macondo is like nowhere else on Earth (or at least nowhere I have ever heard of), and things at once comic, tragic, and unreal can happen there. You will find dreamers and would-be scientists, layabouts and soldiers, matriarchs and wantons in this enchanted household. Enchantment of a murky sort hovers over the land like a haze, touching everything and separating the descendants of Jose Arcadio from the world as we know it.
You may not want to read it in one sitting; you may find yourself putting it down for awhile, confused or exasperated by the latest turn of events, but it is quite likely that you will pick it up again in due course with curiosity drawing you back into the realm Marquez has created. As classics go, this is one worthy of the title, and it is a story to be savored.
on July 6, 2000
One Hundred Years of Solitude, the greatest of all Latin American novels is the magic and multi-layered epic of the Buendia family and the story of their jungle settlement, Macondo.
Like many other epics, this book has deeply-rooted connections with historical reality, i.e., the development of Colombia since its independence from Spain in the early 19th century. The story of the Buendia family is obviously a metaphor for Colombia in the neocolonial period as well as a narrative concerning the myths in Latin American history.
The finest example of magic realism, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a wonderfully comic novel, yet the book also exudes a pervading sense of irony; a strong undercurrent of sadness, solitude and tragic futility. The intermingling of the fantastic with the ordinary keeps readers in a state of constant anticipation, especially where the generations of Buendia men are concerned.
Some of this extraordinary novel's most important effects are achieved through the interplay of time as both linear and circular. The founding of Macondo and its narrative, for the most part, follow time in a linear sense, as does the history of the Buendia family, who form a series of figures symbolizing the particular historical period of which they are a part.
The book, however is almost obsessively circular in its outlook, as characters repeat, time and again, the experience of earlier generations. The book's fatalism is underscored by this circular sense of time. Even a name a person is given at birth predetermines his or her life and manner of death, e.g., the Aurelianos were all lucid, solitary figures, while the Jose Arcadios were energetic and enterprising, albeit tragic.
The characters in One Hundred Years of Solitude represent the purest archetypes; they are two dimensional and are used to convey certain thematic points. This enhances the beauty of the novel rather than detracting from it, for One Hundred Years of Solitude is thematic and metaphorical in nature rather than psychological.
The male figures are obsessive, and full of ambitious projects and passionate sexuality. They are, however, given to extreme anger, irrational violence and long periods of self-imposed solitude.
The female characters also lend themselves to categorization. With the exception of the Remedios, the women in the book exhibit either common sense and determination or passionate eroticism. But while the men are dreamy and irrational, the women are firmly rooted in reality. Both sexes, however, embody a similar fatal flaw; they lack the ability to relate to the world outside of Macondo. They fall victim to their own constructions, plunging them into a harsh and long-lasting solitude.
Macondo is fated to end the moment one of its inhabitants deciphers Melquiades the Gypsy's manuscripts regarding the town's history. In a sense, however, Macondo does survive. One of the few who take the advice of the Catalan bookseller and leave the town before its destruction is Gabriel Garcia Marquez, himself, who escapes with the complete works of Rabelais.
This self-referential ending, pointing to the world beyond Macondo from which Garcia Marquez is telling the story tells us that whatever life is to be lived in Latin America should not be the magic but self-defeating experience of the Buendias, but rather an ever-widening life of learning and moving on; the development of an awareness of doing what each situation requires.
Garcia Marquez is more than a Nobel Prize winning author. He is a magician par excellence; someone whose unique ability to produce a magical realm where anything is possible and everything is believable is unrivaled. This is the overwhelming reason why this dazzling masterpiece does, and will continue to attract, convince and hypnotize readers for decades to come.
I first read this book about 10 years ago in a neighborhood book club I belonged to. Of the group of about 10 people, 8 hated it and only 2 loved it. No one was indifferent.
Just because I gave this book a 5-star rating doesn't mean I think everyone will like it. In my experience most will not. That's because the book is hazy and doesn't make sense. I often found myself flipping back 100 pages to figure out how the current character was related to the other previous characters. Sometimes I would find that the current character was the same character that had died or disappeared 100 pages previously.
If you don't know already this book is the fictionalized story of generations of a family and the latin-american town in which they live. It was one of the first books to be written in a style that is called "magic-realism". That means that the book doesn't have to make sense.
This book is one of the top books I have ever read because it is the history of the world and everyone in it. I found myself over and over identifying with a character or recognizing someone I knew in a character. And as far as the "magic-realism", I find that that is exactly the way life really is. I found that this book applies to everyone and its themes and characters are universal. Don't make the mistake of thinking this is just a latin-american genre book. Nor should you think it is a dense, philosophical novel. The stories and sub-plots are captivating and interesting.
In short, this book is weird and wonderful. Give it a shot and you might be surprised as I was.
on May 25, 2000
The beginning of the book contains a family tree of the Buendia family, and if you're like me you'll surely mangle and dog-ear this page as you work your way though the book, trying to keep track of the Aurelianos, Remedios, and Ursulas.
But the struggle is worth it. This was truly the great novel that Garcia Marquez was meant to write; to me everything of Marquez that followed seems like recycled material. I first read One Hundred Years of Solitude years ago before moving to Latin America. Now that I here and have read it again, many of the messages that before were inaccessible now reveal themselves. The Story of Macondo is the story of Colombia and, to a larger extent, of Latin America. The reviewers tell us this, but it is amazing to see it with my own eyes.
The literal and the fantastic are interwoven with a seamlessness that amazes. One compares his style with Kafka before and Kundera after, literary voice established in this novel has withstood the test of time. It remains unique.
The book is at once funny, sad, tragic; it's history and fantasy. But overall it is a marvelous read. Clearly one of my all time favorites. There are very few books that I recommend as highly as this one. A true classic.
on January 2, 2006
I agree with others that this is a difficult read. I was honestly enjoying the book after the first couple of chapters, however. The writing is excellent, the story and its many twists intriguing. It all fell apart for me about halfway through when I realized I was no longer able to distinguish the characters and keep up with who was child of whom and who had died and how, etc. -- all critical to the continuing understanding of the story line. The author's choice to give the vast cast of characters very similar names was mind boggling. After a point, I simply could not -- without a fair amount of note-taking and diagramming I was not willing to do --keep up with all of the Aurelianos and Arcadios. Hats off to those who could finish it. I, unfortunately, could not.
This remarkable novel had been on my "Must Read Soon" list for nearly twenty years, and with some shame I admit that I only recently got around to it. What a stunning masterpiece this is! I had read LOVE IN A TIME OF CHOLERA shortly after it appeared in English translation, and enjoyed it immensely, but as excellent as that was, it in no way prepared me for this amazing book. García Márquez's virtuosity is apparent on every page, assembling a vast array of improbable and unusual elements and blending them together to produce something utterly unique. He reminds me of those jugglers in a circus who spin plates on sticks, balancing them on every conceivable part of their body. García Márquez brings in such disparate elements that one can't imagine that he will manage to be able to keep all his plates up in the air. Remarkably, he does.
ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE is the novel we most frequently associate with Magical Realism. It is impossible to think of this book without referring to "magic," but the magic has as much to do with García Márquez's astonishing mastery of his material as it does with the extraordinary events that occur in the novel. In the hands of a lesser writer, this could have been a dreadful novel. Even a very good writer could be given a Cliff Notes summary of the book, and be asked to produce their own version, and produce a literary horror. The material is difficult, but García Márquez works it with a phenomenally deft touch, crafting it as superbly as Colonel Aureliano does his tiny gold fish. What is as unlikely is the way that he continuously introduces one supernatural element-a woman ascending to heaven while folding sheets, four years of rain followed by ten years of drought, a woman so sensual that her lovemaking causes livestock to reproduce at an usually fecund pace, a priest who levitates when drinking hot chocolate-after another without each new miracle seeming stale or losing its effect.
The novel differs from most modern novels in that it does not contain in depth analyses of the characters. In fact, the characters aren't in general realistic characters at all. They function more like archetypes, and are sharply divided by gender. Men tend to act in the public arena, while women are guardians of the home and have it as their realm of influence. But not even the more fully drawn characters in the novel, such as Colonel Aureliano or his mother Ursula, emerge as full blown characters as in most serious novels in the 20th century. Nor is there a tightly constructed plot. Rather, the novel consists of a series of remarkable, fantastical collection of events and characters centered on a particular South American town. Some readers I know who want in depth, realistic characters have found the novel disappointing. But I have trouble accepting that a novel can take only one form.
One could easily make the case that this is the most influential novel of the past forty years. It has had a profound influence not only in the Latin American world, but on writers in virtually every culture in the world. It has achieved a remarkable success in countries as disparate as Japan, Russia, the United States, and the various European nations. It is widely read in Africa and has been embraced in the Arab world as a modern day version of the Arabian Nights. The novel enjoys as close as one can find to universal appeal of any work of the past half century. My belief is that its success is merited and that it is one of the most remarkable novels that one can find.
on March 19, 2003
'One Hundred Years Of Solitude' is a fascinating book, full of symbols and allusions, a book that is easy to read and the strange and fragile surreality of which is truly outstanding.
However, there is quite a huge number of people who dislike it - and after reading some negative reviews I think I might have understood why it's like that. First of all, many object to the immoral things described in the book (especially incest). I myself don't read exclusively books by authors whose morals I agree with, but I understand that can differ. That is not the case with the second possible reason for people disliking this novel, however - and the reason is: people try to find traditional characters and a traditional storyline in the book. That is, naturally, impossible, because Marquez is very much of a postmodernist - thus there are no characters you can 'care for' and no real plot to follow - because these things simply do not matter, they have little or nothing to do with the meaning, the essence of the book.
The main character of modern novels is usually an individual who doesn't fit in with the world, and Marquez certainly stretches the concept of that - in this case, the individual is the whole family. It matters not what each of the characters says, feels or does, because all the events are not meant to illustrate the characters' life, but rather the whole family's life - that is emphasized by the fact the names in the family as well as whole scenes from the family history continuously repeat in the novel. Marquez destroys the barriers of time, no such thing exists for him, everything was meant to happen long before it happened and thus time has no meaning, he freely moves events and characters in time, it seems. In other words, the whole book is not a history of a family - it is a history of an individual, really (you can see the birth of the family, its childhood, youth etc. and then death) or - perhaps - even the whole civilization (many classical themes have been used - from the Bible, for example).
Marquez's language is immensely interesting - it is lively and changes throughout the book. He is also extremely good at exploring seemingly insignificant details (they can usually be taken as symbols - for example, butterflies have long been considered the symbol of the short life of happiness). Another thing that cannot be left unmentioned is the truly mesmerizing way he merges the real with the unreal, thus rising a question - what IS real?
I think 'One Hundred Years Of Solitude' is one of the most important novels in the history of literature. It is open to interpretations - and if you are willing to try, you will find very much in this book.
on July 8, 2002
This is one of the strangest and most powerful books I have ever read. I usually read European classics but had read "Love in the Time of Cholera" years ago and decided to try Garcia Marquez again. I can honestly say that "One Hundred Years of Solitude" is by far the most miraculously incredible, fast-paced, confusing, and magical novel I have ever read. I wasn't sad when it ended, because it simply HAD to end where it did; Garcia Marquez has a perfect sense of time.
You find things in this novel that you simply cannot find if you're tied to the European tradition like I am (was). People who live to be 144. Rain that lasts over four years. Women so beautiful they cause death. A man whose presence is marked by swarms of yellow butterflies. People taken up to heaven. An "immaculate" suicide. These things happen all the time in this book, and the remarkable thing is that, for Garcia Marquez, they are perfectly unremarkable. They are an integral, wholly normal part of the world of his imagination, and the reader is fully engrossed in that world until the very last page.
My one piece of advice for those wishing to read this book: read slowly, even when the pace of the plot begs you to flip the page. Things happen suddenly in this book -- people die in a sentence and are reborn in the next. The paragraphs are usually long, but they contain thousands of literary treasures you will miss if you blink.
This is a book I will not soon forget.
on January 25, 2004
This is not an easy to read book; if you are looking for light reading, this is not it. Also, this is not a book to read quickly; it takes a lot of reflection to try to grasp the meaning (and often times you don't) of the wonderous stories.
Having said that, this is a wonderful book. Garcia Marquez tells the story of a family and a town, Macondo. The things that happen there are surreal; strange murders, sleeping disorders, scientists, soldiers, all revolve around the mansion of the Buendia family in Macondo. The tales introduce the reader to 20th century Latin American literature, with tales of love, sadness, desperation, hurt, and loss.
This is Garcia Marquez's most famous work, and arguably his best. It is a book to be savored slowly, page by page, contemplated and reflected upon. If you are looking for a page turner or light reading, feel free to skip this book. It is made for a very specific type of reader, one that will take the time to decypher the meaning of the stories and uncover the artistic content hidden just below the surface of the page.
on December 1, 2003
In this century-long story of a rural Columbian town, Sr. Marquez tells of a family whose memorable members, amidst all the glory, prosperity and apparent happiness, in the end stand each alone in life. I think he tells us how our remorse, scars, pride, fear, resignation and forgetfulness lead us to live and die in solitude, even in the sea of humanity, and that such lives are, in the end, as if not having been lived at all, for they will not be remembered.
For all of the numerous people who populate the story, the character development is deep and wholly convincing of each joy and suffering, of which the ups and downs are considerable as the tale unfolds. The story is told with a mixture of honesty toward the brutality of Columbian national life, rich fables and superstitions of the locality, and Sr. Marquez's own twists of imagination that immensely enrich the experience. The underlining profound themes and the overarching sadness of the story is sprinkled with laugh-out-loud humors and brilliant observations of subtleties of life that reminded me of Milan Kundera, though the context is obviously a world apart.
This is one of those stories that, having read, one feels rather exhausted from the emotional upheavals, and needs some time to let it ferment a little. After a while it starts to emit an aroma that challenges one's conscience with the relevance of what was said. It's a story-telling at its best from a Columbian national treasure. And the English translation is superb in capturing the tone.