A Book A Week Challenge – Week 35

Gabriel García Márquez was awarded The Nobel Prize in Literature for the year 1982 and regarded as “the greatest Colombian who ever lived” by the country’s President Juan Manuel Santos. 

Pre-Text: With the objective of making the most of the break from Man Booker Prize 2016 Reading List, I picked this masterpiece from Gabriel García Márquez. Three books remain from the Shortlist which I would return to after next week to finish them before the award ceremony.


Book #: 35

Title: “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez

Pages: 422

186 pages into the novel and after referring to the family tree of Buendías multiple times, this passage appears:

“Throughout the long history of the family, the insistent repetition of the name had made her (Ursula) draw some conclusions that seemed to be certain. While the Aurelianos were withdrawn, but with lucid minds, the Jose Arcadios were impulsive and enterprising, but they were marked with a tragic sign. The only cases that were impossible to classify were those of Jose Arcadio Segundo and Aureliano Segundo”

However, in the pages that follow, the characters break the pattern. The Segundo twins who looked absolutely identical and behaved very similar in their early days, were marked with names when their venture out to school. For the fun of creating confusion, they would exchange their name markers. As the story expands out, you would feel if the fun turned serious.

‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ is set up in a small village called Macondo in the South American waters where the founding family Buendías’ six generations form the core of a story. The first generation arrived in this region who were set out on an expedition and ended in a place through experiences of sleepwalking, suffocation, and hope. As the years pass by, the village goes through a transition that it struggles to keep up with. Gypsies, Turks, and Gringos all walk into the village with no inhibitions and the house of Buendías’ play host to most of them.

Two events mark significance in this novel:

  1. An explorer’s dream of building a house of mirrors and
  2. A small kid’s visit to see ice machine

The book returns to this theme time and again with a surrealistic attention on the theme that should never skip your mind.

Buendías generations transform from being a respected family in the village, who held the rights to the land which the first generation José Arcadio Buendía distributed among the villagers to a generation that sells lottery tickets to survive the day.

Three segments of characters run through the novel very strongly:

  1. Brothers: Three sets of brothers form the core of the family line. Often named Arcadio and Aureliano, they are contrasting individuals. They sleep with the same woman and only one of them from the branches that extend to next generation. These brothers were never hugging types neither are they hand shaking types. They live in the worlds of their own, one outwards fighting for the village and the other lost in the parchment manuscripts.
  2. Women: Even though the book tracks the family tree of Buendías, the women inside and outside the house form the core in extending the family tree. This has one of the best written strongest women characters. Ursula – who lives for more than one hundred and fifty years or so form the back bone of this family and Piler Ternera – who provided the family with next generation at step 1 who was the last to pass on.
  3. Friends: At first, the villagers were just like people under the rule of an empire and emperor took responsible in maintaining the harmony of his kingdom. As time passed by they turn into colleagues in arms to friends who the last generation regrets having left behind.

The themes used in this novel would go on to be referred as ‘reference guide to writing’ for generations to come:

  1. Illusions: There are illusions all through the book- the house filled with dead people, Melquíades, the first generation gypsy and immigrant, who walked through the streets of Macondo and settled down in the house of Buendías acts like a link between reality and magic that the family experience.
  2. Realism: As it is often done in present day novels with magic or fantasy as themes, the realism gets lost. The streets no longer represent a village. The people doesn’t look like humans. The vegetation doesn’t look like a real one. Here is the excellence of a man who is regarded as the forefather of writing “magical realism” where magic is as mundane as realism but as exciting as magic when experienced.
  3. Incest: I could think of a quote by a most renowned writer in India when he says “No country has a history that they would be proud of. If you dig deep, at every phase, the human race is so maligned and complex, you want to leave it alone” and so is the family of Buendías. Incest runs through the family, as if it is not sufficient, no generation had a clean family line. But surprisingly, the branches built through clean lines remain the strongest.

The last phase of the book makes you go amazed where the master concludes by saying:

(the gypsy in his parchment manuscripts) had not put events in the order of man’s conventional time, but had concentrated a century of daily episodes in such a way that they coexisted in one instant” and “like a magic trick, you need to skip and tie back the phases so as to make it look linear”

“the first of the line is tied to a tree and the last is being eaten by the ants” summarizes the journey of a hundred years of solitude of a family that runs through six generations.

David Gallagher in his Guardian Review referred to “One Hundred Years of Solitude” as “exceeding comic novel” despite the fact that it never speaks of humor in its written form. An interesting interpretation is “Humor” in Latin means “moisture”. The moisture that remains in the eye rather than moisture that a wet weather settles. The village of Macondo is built in a swamp with the mirage seen through the house of mirrors.

Post Notes: As I finished reading “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, I was left with a few moments of silence. Not because the content made me go blank, but the satisfaction of reading something that would remain for years to come. The book is considered as the single path-breaking master piece of 20th century and literature that opened up writings in magical realism. A lot had been written about the novel, the reviews of the book were considered as must-reads in their own way. The current generation should be lucky for being provided with the opportunity of transitioning between great literature in its natural form to a much complicated generation seeking quick summarizes and synopsis. Let’s be proud while we can to bridge that gap.


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