One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a slow literary slog. This 1967 novel, considered a landmark work of Latin American magical realist fiction, is a major drudge. It felt like it took me 100 years to read. I couldn’t find my way around the Buendia family tree and all its weird, gnarled branches.
Even so, there are amazing and memorable moments in this book, as well as a few genuinely shocking events, including multiple cases of incest (the Buendia family has a proclivity toward incest, as well as a constant fear of birthing a monster baby born with a “pig’s tail”).
Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s language is breathtaking and strange:
“He had wept in his mother’s womb and had been born with this eyes open”
Surrealistic fiction means anything can happen, and it often does in One Hundred Years of Solitude. It rains for “four years, eleven months, and two days.” They tie the family patriarch to a tree for decades. There’s a rain of flowers. All this strangeness is taken in stride, which is what makes it so surreal. The overall theme seems to be the Buendia family’s failure to learn from past mistakes.
Family matriarch Urusala notes:
“Every member of the family, without realizing it, repeated the same path every day, the same actions, and almost repeated the same words at the same hour. Only when they deviated from the meticulous routine did they run the risk of losing something.”
The word “solitude” takes on a different meaning each time it appears in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Sometimes it means being alone and/or lonely. Other times solitude is a type of personal obligation or duty that one must endure. Solitude above all seems to be the common thread that runs through the Buendia family, as each member has their own moments of intense personal reflection.
García Márquez mentions “the paradise of shared solitude,” and says of the relationship between Jose Arcadio and Aureliano:
“That drawing closer together of two solitary people of the same blood was far from friendship, but it did allow them both to beaer up better under the unfathomable solitude that separated and united them at the same time.”
There’s undoubtedly a lot of political metaphor here. Marquez’s fictional town of Macondo is a stand-in for Colombia, and I’m sure I missed the geopolitical significance of many of the events in the novel since I’m not familiar with Colombia’s history. Evidently there are a lot of real-life events seen metaphorically in One Hundred Years of Solitude, like the building of a railroad into the secluded mountain regions, the slaughter of striking workers by government soldiers, and the influence of big business on the culture. (The novel’s “American Fruit Company” is a stand-in for the United Fruit Company, an American company whose rapid expansion into Central and South America countries in the early 1900s brought about the term “banana republics.”)
According to our omniscient overlord, Wikipedia, “García Márquez is said to have a gift for blending the everyday with the miraculous, the historical with the fabulous, and psychological realism with surreal flights of fancy.” It’s true (like everything Wiki tells us, right?) but García Márquez makes it hurt with dense language and ponderous pacing.
One Hundred Years of Solitude may be a literary classic, but something got lost in translation for me.