One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

Translated from the Spanish Cien años de soledad by Gregory Rabassa. Penguin, 1998, 432p

The first sentence of this book reads, “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” I blogged about it here. While the Colonel is an important character, as this could be described as a family saga he is not the main one, the book is not his reminiscences. And we don’t get to the ice till page 18.

This is characteristic of Márquez’s approach. Chapter after chapter begins with a revelation of sorts that takes pages later in the narrative finally to be reached – a tic which can be annoying till you come in the end to expect it.

Not till p 402 do we encounter a rationale, “A century of cards and experience had taught her that the history of the family was a machine with unavoidable repetitions, a turning wheel that would go on spilling into eternity were it not for the progressive and irremediable wearing of the axle,” by which time we are winding down to the end.

Throughout this story of the town of Macondo and of the Buendía family who founded it there is an enormous amount told rather than shown, and not much in the way of dialogue. Given the propensity for children to be named after previous family members it can also be difficult to keep track of who exactly is who among the plethoras of Aurelianos, José Arcadios and Amarantas. Certainly all of human life is here, not to mention sex and death; but the characters don’t understand one other at all well. As a result the word solitude tolls regularly throughout.

Added to the mix is the magic realism. One character suddenly ascends to heaven and it’s not remarked as unusual, another comes surrounded by clouds of yellow butterflies, it rains non-stop for four years, a child is born and has a pig’s tail, several thousand people are killed by the army and their bodies carried off by rail to be thrown into the sea and barely anyone remembers. This episode may be one of induced mass amnesia, though. There is also a woman who, Miss Havisham-like, shuts herself away in her house for decades until she dies. Dickens as a magic realist; now there’s a thought.

For anyone who might find it a stumbling block I should mention that the translation was into American English.

One Hundred Years Of Solitude is not an easy, nor at times comforting, read. The struggle against governments of various stripe – and the powerful forces which back them up – is presented as unavailing even when they are apparently willing to compromise.

Márquez’s thesis is perhaps best illustrated on p 408, “…they must always remember that the past was a lie, that memory has no return, that every spring gone by could never be recovered, and that the wildest and most tenacious love was an ephemeral truth in the end.”

I’m glad I’ve read this as I felt that my unfamiliarity with Márquez was an omission to be remedied but it all does seem rather a long winded way to say, “carpe diem.”

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