BOOK REVIEW: One Hundred Years of Solitude

By Gabriel Garcia Marquez This masterful work of fiction tells the story of the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendía family. It is a rich and brilliant chronicle of life and death, and the tragicomedy of humankind.

By Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This masterful work of fiction tells the story of the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendía family. It is a rich and brilliant chronicle of life and death, and the tragicomedy of humankind.

In the noble, ridiculous, beautiful, and tawdry story of the Buendía family, one sees all of humanity, just as in the history, myths, growth, and decay of Macondo, one sees all of Latin America.

The family chronicle centers on five generations of descendants of José Arcadio Buendía and his wife Ursula, who sometime early in the 19th century founded the village of Macondo on a river of clear water somewhere in South America.

The uncertainties about time and place, like other factual puzzles in the book, are not fashionable evasions on the part of the author but genuine reflections of the minds of the people about whom he is writing.

From the beginning we are told that Buendía knew nothing about the geography of the region. He comes to love maps and compasses, but his sense of where he is remains very much his own. He plays with an astrolabe and sextant, but, with characteristic excess, almost contracts sunstroke.

Love and lust, war and revolution, riches and poverty, youth and senility -- the variety of life, the endlessness of death, the search for peace and truth -- these universal themes dominate the novel. Whether he is describing an affair of passion or the voracity of capitalism and the corruption of government, Gabriel García Márquez always writes with the simplicity, ease, and purity that are the mark of a master.

Alternately reverential and comical, One Hundred Years of Solitude weaves the political, personal, and spiritual to bring a new consciousness to storytelling. Translated into dozens of languages, this stunning work is no less than an accounting of the history of the human race.

The book is a history, not of governments or of formal institutions of the sort which keeps public records, but of a people who, like the earliest descendants of Abraham, are best understood in terms of their relationship to a single family. In a sense, José and Ursula are the only two characters in the story,  and all their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are variations on their strengths and weaknesses.

José, forever fascinated by the unknown, takes up project after project, invention after invention, in order among other things, to make gold, discover the ocean and photograph God. He eventually goes mad, smashes things, refuses to speak except in Latin and is tied to a giant chestnut tree in the middle of the family garden.

Macondo oozes, reeks and burns even when it is most tantalizing and entertaining. It is a place flooded with lies and liars and yet it spills over with reality. Lovers in this novel can idealize each other into bodiless spirits, howl with pleasure in their hammocks or, as in one case, smear themselves with peach jam and roll naked on the front porch.

Near the end of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” a character finds a parchment manuscript in which the history of his family had been recorded “one hundred years ahead of time” by an old gypsy.

The writer “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.” The narrative is a magician’s trick in which memory and prophecy, illusion and reality are mixed and often made to look the same. It is, in short, very much like Márquez’s astonishing novel.

García Márquez has a gift for blending the everyday with the miraculous, the historical with the fabulous, and psychological realism with surreal flights of fancy; One Hundred Years of Solitude has influenced nearly every important novelist around the world. It is a revolutionary novel that provides a looking glass into the thoughts and beliefs of its author, who chose to give a literary voice to Latin America.

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