Several years and three unsuccessful attempts later, I finally read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s acclaimed novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. My love-hate relationship with this book came to an end after a bet with one of my best friends – she had to read my most favorite Marquez novel (and one of my most favorite in general) Love in the Time of Cholera and I had to read One Hundred Years of Solitude. Feeling I finally have reached the age to understand and appreciate it and also having read almost all of Marquez’s famous works, I set down determined that this time I will get to see the last page.
About 100 pages through the book I did three things – I printed a generation tree of the Buendia family, I began reading the summary in Wikipedia and I skimmed through people’s reviews. The first measure was absolutely necessary to attempt and keep the relationships straight. Every second man in One Hundred Years of Solitude is named Jose Arcadio (or some derivative of that name) and the rest are named Aureliano (or some derivative of that name). There is more variety in female names but there are less women in general so that one was easy. The generation tree also helped in making sure I know who was the daughter/son/grandchild/wife/mistress/whatever of whom because the Buendia family indeed has the habit of mating with each other or with the same people over and over again.
The second measure (consulting Wikipedia throughout) helped in getting Colombian history straight (or at least getting the basic idea of what actually happened). Through the Buendia family and its patriarch, who founded the fictional town of Macondo, Marquez explores the turbulent history of a diverse and controversial continent. The political violence, the absence of stable political organisation, the national tendency of repeating history over and over again, the struggle towards progress, the near absence of a definite national identity of the Colombians (and Latin America for that matter) are all reflected in the life of the Buendia and Macondo. The inevitable and inescapable repetition of history is evident throughout – the characters are controlled by their past and are doomed to repeat their mistakes over and over again. They are visited by ghosts of people long dead and it is hard to distinguish one generation from the other. The circularity of time is further exacerbated by the theme of loneliness – Macondo is isolated from all other villages in a reality of its own. Similarly, during colonial times, outposts and colonies were not interconnected. Macondo exists in its own magical world, where no character seems to manage to find happiness or escape the family curse of constant repetition. In that sense Macondo and its citizens are representative of a continent with great heritage and history, which however, is constantly torn by political, economic and social turbulence.
Finally, I went through numerous reviews and confirmed my thesis that One Hundred Years of Solitude is a novel no one can be indifferent towards. You either passionately love it or fervently hated. A fact, which for me, constitutes a very good novel. I personally went through several love-hate transformations while reading. At points I was annoyed at not being able to keep the characters and events straight. Whenever I stopped reading and returned back to the book after a couple of hours, I had forgotten absolutely everything. It seemed I had never ever read a single page and I needed a couple of minutes to get into the Marquez world and the Marquez world. At other times I was amazed – by the author’s talent and use of language, by his imagination, and by his great command of magical realism. Understandably, magical realism is not a bite for every mouth, but certainly one of the genres that every self-respecting reader should at least attempt to read. By combining a mundane realistic environment with magic events, Marquez creates a world of controversies, a solitary place, where times goes in a circle, a life strapped from happiness, a world without end or future.
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