Gabriel Garcia Marquez wasn’t taught to me in middle school or high school. Minus The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, I didn’t read other Latinx authors. Come spring semester of fourth year, in which I was taking a class about the construction of the short novel, we were assigned to read Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold. It was a difficult read, but the more I thought about it the more I enjoyed it. I liked the whimsy of the town, Marquez’s way of retracing the steps of the narrative through the characters involved. He accomplished a lot in a short amount of pages.
One Hundred Years of Solitude is considered a classic, and rightfully so: it won a Nobel Prize. It’s finished at 417 pages and was originally published in 1967 in Spanish; the English version was published in 1970. What’s great about writing this review is that it’s difficult for me to spoil anything. The central narrative follows two things: the birth, life and death of a town called Macondo; and about seven generations of the Buendía family.
I’ll start this off by saying that you have to get used to Marquez’s style, and thus I recommend Chronicle of a Death Foretold first. Granted it’s the only other thing I’ve read by him, but I feel like if I started Marquez with One Hundred Years, I would’ve been jumping into the deep end. This is definitely the deep end.
That said, I have mixed feelings about the book.
Again, I’m a fan of Marquez’s ability to capture the narrative through various timelines and characters. One important skill I learned in my workshops last year was to start drawing the shape of the narrative. I imagine One Hundred Years to look something like this:
There’s a central point through which the story begins, and the characters are the loops. It was in this book, however, that I felt much like the Buendía family–trapped in a vicious circle. At some point I wondered if they would ever escape the family tendency, the family curse (you’ll know it early on) and if the cycle would ever be broken. It also didn’t help that names were recycled from one generation to the next, and with the recycling of the names came the rebirth of personalities.
Marquez writes beautifully, though. There were a bunch of quotes and thoughts that he wrote in this book that made me wish I could speak Spanish just so I could read the original and get the original flavor of it. But even in English I found myself nodding my head or being moved by the beauty of his sentences (scroll down to the end if you want to know my favorite quote). Translation is no easy feat, so kudos to Gregory Rabassa for the excellent work.
I realize this statement is going to contradict my earlier one, but at times I could stand the fact that they were trapped in a cyclical reality. I found myself able to get really into it when characters named after their ancestors were trying to be unlike their predecessor, but fell into the traps that all Buendías inevitably fell into. I’m convinced if they hadn’t named the children after their ancestors then all would’ve been fine for the Buendía family. But that’s pure speculation. Perhaps in my speculation, I’m missing the point. Maybe the point is that there’s no escape once you’re in the Buendía family. There’s no escaping the pig tail (minor spoiler).
Most of all, I loved the embedding of solitude throughout the novel. I think in any language there are two kinds of word: some with little meaning, and those that mean everything. It’s interesting what words we choose to have more impact than others. On a normal day, solitude implies loneliness, a negative kind of loneliness. Solitude for the Buendía family has come to mean that and more with each character’s individual experiences. Solitude became something physical, emotional, mental–a reflection of their deepest fears realized.
I can’t say that One Hundred Years of Solitude is my favorite read, but it’s definitely one of the more thought-provoking books I’ve had in awhile. I recommend it, but do know that it’s quite the beast. Even so, I recommend Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Better yet, I recommend familiarizing yourself with authors of color. Their works are just as important, just as relevant, to the world of literary genius.
Favorite quote: “Always, at every moment, asleep and awake, during the most sublime and most abject moments, Amaranta thought about Rebeca, because solitude had made a selection in her memory and had burned the dimming piles of nostalgic waste that life had accumulated in her heart, and had purified, magnified, and eternalized the others, the most bitter ones.” –One Hundred Years of Solitude, pg. 219