Monday, November 03, 2008

One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel García Márquez

buy - author site

I don't remember when I first heard of this book, back in university I think. It's been recommended so many times over the years, it has always existed in my sphere of knowledge. It's lived on my bookshelves for about a year, and yet, when I selected it and opened to the first page, I discovered that I had no idea what the book was about and absolutely no expectations of my own, other than it be extraordinary.

Expectation met and exceeded.

If like me, you intend to read the book but like me have no idea what it is about and want to keep it that way, stop reading this, go out and read the book. Yes? Yes. Now be gone with you.

It documents the rise and fall of one family, and in doing so the rise and fall of the town of Macondo, and in doing so the passage of history, and in doing so the tricks of memory, and in doing so we end up where we started. It's full of strange and strong characters, and strange and ordinary miracles, little mysteries, big mysteries, and in truth, the wonders never cease. I read on, and on, wondering how the Buendía family would cope with this new hardship, this tragedy, this scandal, this surprise, as the narrative unfolds the way every day life unfolds; without reason, logic or neatness. There is no respite, because there never is, and while all things change, nothing really changes.

I did have some trouble with the names, as the family follows that fine tradition of naming their children after their forebears, and I lost track of all the José Arcadios and Aurelianos as more and more turned up with each generation, and tramped over the history of the last. Eventually, I gave up trying to keep them in order, which seemed appropriate as they barely kept themselves in order.

While the men dominate the world, it was the affairs of the women and the women themselves I loved the most. Although the family ends when the story ends, for me the true end came about with the death of Ursula. As Matriarch, she was the centre of the family for over a century, and thus the centre of the world. While her husband and sons and grandsons and great-grandsons fight wars, fall in and out of marriage, and closet themselves away in an attempt to unravel the secret of the gypsy's manuscript, she holds the universe together with all the strength and determination and thoroughness you'd expect of such a pioneer. In the last years of her life, with her sight gone and her touch with reality tenuous, she is granted perhaps the most clarity of them all. The insights she gains are those that come only from living so long, and through so much.

And, ah, Amaranta. I love you most of all.

I would comment on the theme of solitude, as it weaves in and out of the narrative, between characters, but I think the book has already said it all, and elegantly.

It is apparent, as the final sentence takes the family from existence and the town from the map that the manuscript that ensnared various men over the century is the very same book we are reading. Having read it, having taken on the knowledge it contains, we cannot unread it. The family is ended, the town gone, I cannot undo that.

Such is fiction.

Verdict: classics become classics because they earn the title, and continue to earn the title even as new stories are hatched every day. This is wonderful, and full of wonder.


  1. Anonymous3/11/08 20:59

    I bought it, opened it, and couldn't get along with it. At all. Is it one of those books where you need to push through the first 5,10, maybe 20 pages? I can't complain that it was boring. Kazuo Ishiguro's "The Unconsoled" is boring, and I loved it. I think "100 Years" gave me a strong sense that I was reading a book, and I wasn't able to get past that and into the book.

  2. I had some initial 'when is the story going to start?' thoughts too, until I realised what the book was actually doing and the story had started on the first page. Settled right in and was very cozy after that. It treads that line of being 'this happened, then this happened, then this happened', but I drew a lot from it.

    Possibly it helped I had no idea what to expect.

  3. Anonymous3/12/08 16:38

    Hi there... interesting reading your review although I do differ slightly in my opinion of the book. I've added a link to your review at the end of mine.

  4. This book was in my wishlist from the day it was declared in Oprah's Book Club, I guess in the year 2003. And finally when I actually got to read it, I think it was worth the wait. I lived with Ursula all from the very beginning from the discovery of Mocondo to the death of the last heir of the family after 100 year! Recommended to all readers and the family tree would be a great help provided at the beginning of the book since you are passing on to several generations in a single book. Congratulations to the Author!