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One Hundred Years of Solitude (Harper Perennial Modern Classics) Paperback – February 21, 2006
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“More lucidity, wit, wisdom, and poetry than is expected from 100 years of novelists, let alone one man.” (Washington Post Book World)
“The first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race.” (William Kennedy, New York Times Book Review)
From the Back Cover
One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of the rise and fall, birth and death of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendía family. Inventive, amusing, magnetic, sad, and alive with unforgettable men and women -- brimming with truth, compassion, and a lyrical magic that strikes the soul -- this novel is a masterpiece in the art of fiction.
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Although I feel I missed a lot about what was going on symbolically whilst reading (mostly a lot of the religious stuff), I still found this book to be extremely enjoyable. It's inspiring and surreal, whimsical, funny and sad--and it all causes a person to feel very introspective, because it blends so many aspects of what makes up a person's life. I looked up some of the themes and motifs after reading to make sure I caught everything, and I prefer many of my own interpretations. And I think Gabriel Garcia Marquez meant to write it in a way that was a more personal experience. At the end notes, he mentions in an interview how he wanted to capture the way an abuela tells stories to her grandchildren-- and I got that vibe the whole time. And a lot of times, the surreal in crazy old latin american stories is what makes you remember the life lessons behind the story. And I feel like that's what happened here.
But again, I feel like most people I know wouldn't like this book, and I can see where they're coming from. It definitely isn't for everyone. And I must stress that that's not coming from a pretentious place. His writing style will be frustrating to many readers I'd presume, because it's really just incredibly unique. But, if you can get past the style (long paragraphs, little fluctuation in narration, mentioning things that haven't really happened yet, or no main protagonist... etc) and the repetition of names, it really isn't super complicated or anything.
It isn't perfect, but It's great. And even though I started this review planning to give it four stars, after writing it--I think it's an important enough, and intricately weaved enough, and a unique enough a piece to warrant a 5-star from this fella.
The story involves six generations of one family, established by Jose Arcadio Buendia and Ursula Iguaran, who also helped found the town of Macondo, in the lowlands of Columbia, though the country is never specifically identified. The in-breeding (and also out-breeding) in this one family is simply astonishing. I can't remember if the original edition had a genealogical chart at the beginning, but this one does, and it provides an invaluable reference in keeping the philanderings, and the subsequent progeny, straight, particularly since numerous individuals over the generations have the same name. What is the "Scarlet Letter" that is prophesized for a family with such a high degree of consanguinity? That a child will be born with a pig's tail.
Marquez dazzles the reader with the intensity of his writing; it's as though he had a 1600 page book in him, but is given a 400 page limit. It is the furious sketching of a street artist, making every line count in a portrait. The strengths, follies, and interactions of the men and women are depicted in memorable events. And there seems to be a realistic balance and development of his characters. Marquez is also the master of segue, from one event to the other, and from one generation to another, with his characters moving from swaddling clothes, on to adulthood, and then into their decrepitude.
From my first reading, I had remembered Rebeca, with her "shameful" addiction to eating dirt. First time around, I chalked it up to Marquez's "magical realism," since no one really ate dirt. Several years later I learned that it is a wide-spread medical problem, often driven by a mineral deficiency that the person is trying to remediate. The author also describes the disease of insomnia which was spread to Macondo, with an accompanying plague of forgetfulness. Magical realism, or the forgetfulness of the "now" generation that has lost the stories of the past?
Establishing the time period comes slowly. Marquez mentions Sir Frances Drake, but he is in the unspecified past. It is only when a family portrait is taken, as a daguerreotype photo, that one realizes it must be in the 1840's-50's, with six generations to go. There are a multitude of themes: since this IS Latin America, Marquez has the obligatory gringos and their banana plantations (alas, all too true); there is endless, senseless war, with the two sides eventually unable to state what they are fighting for, except, of course, the war itself; there are the women who drive men crazy with their beauty, and there is the spitefulness of women to each other (alas, again, the "sisterhood'); there is economic development, and a worker's revolt, and the use of other members of the same class, but in uniform, who repress it; there is the role of the Catholic Church in Latin America, and even a family member who would be Pope and there are unflinching portrayals of the aging process, alas, to the third power.
On the re-read, I noticed a portion of the novel that was much further developed in Innocent Erendira: and Other Stories (Perennial Classics). Also nestled in the book was an important reference: "Taken among them were Jose Arcadio Segundo and Lorenzo Gavilan, a colonel in the Mexican revolution, exiled in Macondo, who said that he had been witness to the heroism of his comrade Artemio Cruz." Checking Marquez bio, he has been a long-time friend of Carlos Fuentes, slipped this reference in 100 years, which is an omen for me, since I was considering re-reading Fuentes marvelous The Death of Artemio Cruz: A Novel (FSG Classics) And in terms of omens, redux even, do future travel plans include meeting another character in the book, the Queen of Madagascar?
I recently had dinner with a woman who had been Ambassador to one of the Latin American countries. Spanish is her native language, and she still reads some of the Latin American writers in Spanish to "keep her language skills up." As for "100 years," she had read it four times, each time in English. It's a record I am unlikely to repeat, but this novel, which honors the Nobel Prize with its name, could use a third read, if I am granted enough time. It ages well, sans decrepitude, and provided much more meaning the second time around. 6-stars.
I grew up in the regions where this history takes place. Therefore I think everything that is told in the book is possible. I have seen similar situations happen to other families and my own. The old people used to tell stories like the ones in the book. In the magical region of "Macondo" all is possible.