Who can write a novel sans dialogue but so engaging it keeps you up at night? Who can weave a story so loopy that it spins you in dizzying circles? Who can create a place so mystic that you never doubt its reality? Who?
Gabriel García Márquez.
Gabriel García Márquez, one of the greatest writers of all time and one of the reigning champs on the top of my bookshelf where all favorite authors reside, has passed. He died Thursday, April 17, in Mexico City. He was 87.
And the book—One Hundred Years of Solitude, the first book I’ve read by García Márquez. I am amazed by García Márquez’s talent and his clarity in his observation of humanity. This novel depicts the progress of civilization. It is one of the greatest novels I have ever read and it has left a deep impression on me. One Hundred Years of Solitude was my introduction to a profound artist and I am saddened to learn that he is gone.
May his soul now rest in peace.
“One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez
I have always heard mention of García Márquez and his books are always recommended to me. At first I shied away from them thinking, as I always do, that since he is a literary novelist and most of his books are considered classics, his prose would be cumbersome and his plots a drag. One would think my mind would stop thinking this by now. I was pleasantly surprised, when I finally buckled down to read One Hundred Years of Solitude, that I enjoyed it and could hardly bear to tear my eyes away from the book to do other things. The story would haunt me throughout the day while I worked. I constantly wondered how the story would progress, how would it end, would I get confused by the cast of characters all bearing similar names? It was torture to be away from the book for too long.
I plucked One Hundred Years of Solitude off my bookshelf after reading a passage in Wonderbook (by Jeff VanderMeer) that states One Hundred Years of Solitude is a story written without dialogue. I found that amazing and wanted to experience such a story. I wondered if such a novel would be dreadfully boring. After all, many times dialogue is used to speed the story along or simply to give the reader a break from stacks of paragraphs or to showcase other facets of the characters. Like in Robert Jordan‘s Wheel of Time series where the characters often interject certain aphorisms and similes in their conversations that reveal who they are and where they’re from. For example, Siuan Sanche, the Amyrlin Seat, is from Tear and is the daughter of a fisherman so she often uses aphorisms and similes that include boats, nets, and fish.
Really, I should not have worried. García Márquez’s novel was hardly a bore though his prose was very descriptive. The plot was not a drag but neither was it fast-paced. What keeps the reader’s interest is simply the lure of the tale. What will happen to the Buendía family, which seems to have much bad luck probably because of their solitary nature? How does this immense story and history end? Does it have an ending or simply drift into a bottomless abyss of ellipses?
It’s hard to sum up this book in a few short paragraphs. It has so much going on. One Hundred Years of Solitude opens with the narrator mentioning Colonel Buendía facing the firing squad (which occurs close to the middle of the story) and thinking of when he was a boy and his father took him to discover ice. Thus, the story jumps somewhat to the beginning, to a happier, Eden-like Macondo (a fictional village in Columbia) when the gypsies would visit and bring wonders for the residents of Macondo to see. The story continues from there, introducing us to José Arcadio Buendía, patriarch of the Buendía family, an eccentric man of great strength and knowledge who sought a way to make gold; his wife Úrsula Iguarán, matriarch of the Buendía family, a practical woman who worked to keep her family together; and their children, José Arcadio, Colonel Aureliano Buendía, and Amaranta.
The story follows the progress of the Buendía family from José Arcadio Buendía and Úrsula’s exodus from their home village to the founding of Macondo to the arrival of the gypsies and Melquíades, who records the history of the Buendía family, to José Arcadio Buendía’s obsessions and manias with inventions and knowledge and Úrsula forever supportive and strong and trying to keep the family together, to the usurping of Úrsula’s influence in the form of Fernanda del Carpio, to the decline of the Buendías when Aureliano and his aunt Amaranta Úrsula fall in love and Úrsula’s greatest fear for the family is born—a baby with a pig’s tail.
The history of the Buendías is also the history of Macondo. It was José Arcadio Buendía who led the people to that land and it was he who designed the village. It seems that the ups and downs of the Buendía family is also felt by Macondo. So the village is an extension of the family. Macondo progresses from a small, reclusive village whose only visitors were the gypsies to a thriving town with such advanced technologies as the railway and even a banana company. For both the Buendías and Macondo, the banana company marks the beginning of their downfall.
The timeline of this story is not linear. It’s circular. The novel is made up of small circles that compose the larger circle of the overall story, the history of the Buendía family from beginning to end. But the reader does not notice this larger circle, or rather how this larger circle is formed, until the end of the book. Thus the beginning of One Hundred Years of Solitude is not really the beginning of the story but just a point where the narrator starts. It’s a wonder how García Márquez managed to write this book. I mean, how large was his imagination? How did he keep track? Did he ever get confused jotting all this down?
Many who have heard Gabriel García Márquez’s name would probably have heard the words “magical realism” soon after, unless of course they’re talking politics and then something about Fidel Castro might pop up. But magical realism—a style or genre of fiction where the fantastical and surreal is presented alongside, or blended into, everyday life—is what I’ll focus on. García Márquez is known as “the master of….magical realism” and One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of the most well-known texts in which it is used. The fantastical elements inherent in the text are just another factor in the lives of the characters. According to García Márquez, this is how his grandmother relayed stories to him when he was a boy. She didn’t place any particular emphasis on the fantastical elements in her stories because they were as real as the realistic ones. García Márquez emulates this method in his own work. (Click here for a list of examples of magical realism in One Hundred Years of Solitude.)
I am particularly fond of magical realism because it reminds me of my childhood when I would overhear the older folks talking about visits from ghosts or having to fight off a spirit or suspicious of someone who probably laid a curse on them. I think it fitting to include spots of surrealism in literary realism. Literature is humanity’s attempt to tell its own story and, by doing so, explain its existence. We sometimes experience the surreal in our daily lives but we often disregard it or simply label it a miracle.
Melquíades has performed feats akin to miracles throughout the text. He returned from the dead in time to heal the Buendía family of the insomnia disease and he wrote a book documenting the history of the Buendía family. I have come to think of him as a prophet; though, at one point I thought of him as García Márquez’s way of including himself in the story. I think García Márquez found this mammoth story hard to control as he was creating it, especially the characters. So he created Melquíades to help him direct the story. This may be incorrect of course but it’s what I thought after reading.
When summarized (especially when it’s a shoddy job like mine), One Hundred Years of Solitude might sound like an intimidating read. After all, how can one keep up with many characters with almost the same names and characteristics existing in a fluid timeline that moves in circles with fantastical elements thrown in? But it’s not so bad or hard to keep up with the story. García Márquez is a talented storyteller and he provides his readers with certain emblems by which readers can identify the characters. For example, apart from being the Colonel, the first Aureliano is also known for the prized goldfish he makes. Also, there are certain events that disrupt the lives of the characters to mark a turning point in the story such as the insomnia sickness, the rains that came after the banana company shuts down, and the great wind at the novel’s end. All these occurrences mark the end of one period or the beginning of another.
I really have not done this book justice. There is much I have left out. If I tried to include all I read and experienced with this story, this reflection would continue seemingly without end. I recommend that everyone read One Hundred Years of Solitude and experience the magic and magnitude of one of García Márquez’s greatest creations for themselves.
Quotes from the book:
“…Aureliano skipped eleven pages so as not to lose time with facts he knew only too well, and he began to decipher the instant that he was living, deciphering it as he lived it, prophesying himself in the act of deciphering the last page of the parchments, as if he were looking into a speaking mirror.”
“The uncertainty of the future made them turn their hearts toward the past.”
“Wherever they might be they 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.”
“…time was not passing…it was turning in a circle…”
“He really had been through death, but he had returned because he could not bear the solitude.”
“It’s enough for me to be sure that you and I exist at this moment.”
“Lost in the solitude of his immense power, he began to lose direction.”
- RIP Gabriel García Márquez (akidwithgreatambition.org)
- One Hundred Years Of Solitude By Gabriel Garcia Marquez (rashiprasad.wordpress.com)
- A Different Take on Organizing Books (builddirect.com)
- In Memory of Gabriel García Márquez (compassandcamera.wordpress.com)