I first read "One Hundred Years of Solitude" not long after it was first published in English, almost 40 years ago. It was a wonderful, and magically, if you will, introduction to Latin American literature. Subsequently, I've read several other works by Marquez, notably, Love in the Time of Cholera (Vintage International) some 20 years later, but none have quite cast the spell of my first "love," this one, so I figured a re-read was in order. The "magic" of magic realism has lost none of its charm.
The story involves six generations of one family, established by Jose Arcadio Buendia and Ursula Iguaran, who also helped found the town of Macondo, in the lowlands of Columbia, though the country is never specifically identified. The in-breeding (and also out-breeding) in this one family is simply astonishing. I can't remember if the original edition had a genealogical chart at the beginning, but this one does, and it provides an invaluable reference in keeping the philanderings, and the subsequent progeny, straight, particularly since numerous individuals over the generations have the same name. What is the "Scarlet Letter" that is prophesized for a family with such a high degree of consanguinity? That a child will be born with a pig's tail.
Marquez dazzles the reader with the intensity of his writing; it's as though he had a 1600 page book in him, but is given a 400 page limit. It is the furious sketching of a street artist, making every line count in a portrait. The strengths, follies, and interactions of the men and women are depicted in memorable events. And there seems to be a realistic balance and development of his characters. Marquez is also the master of segue, from one event to the other, and from one generation to another, with his characters moving from swaddling clothes, on to adulthood, and then into their decrepitude.
From my first reading, I had remembered Rebeca, with her "shameful" addiction to eating dirt. First time around, I chalked it up to Marquez's "magical realism," since no one really ate dirt. Several years later I learned that it is a wide-spread medical problem, often driven by a mineral deficiency that the person is trying to remediate. The author also describes the disease of insomnia which was spread to Macondo, with an accompanying plague of forgetfulness. Magical realism, or the forgetfulness of the "now" generation that has lost the stories of the past?
Establishing the time period comes slowly. Marquez mentions Sir Frances Drake, but he is in the unspecified past. It is only when a family portrait is taken, as a daguerreotype photo, that one realizes it must be in the 1840's-50's, with six generations to go. There are a multitude of themes: since this IS Latin America, Marquez has the obligatory gringos and their banana plantations (alas, all too true); there is endless, senseless war, with the two sides eventually unable to state what they are fighting for, except, of course, the war itself; there are the women who drive men crazy with their beauty, and there is the spitefulness of women to each other (alas, again, the "sisterhood'); there is economic development, and a worker's revolt, and the use of other members of the same class, but in uniform, who repress it; there is the role of the Catholic Church in Latin America, and even a family member who would be Pope and there are unflinching portrayals of the aging process, alas, to the third power.
On the re-read, I noticed a portion of the novel that was much further developed in Innocent Erendira and Other Stories (Perennial Classics). Also nestled in the book was an important reference: "Taken among them were Jose Arcadio Segundo and Lorenzo Gavilan, a colonel in the Mexican revolution, exiled in Macondo, who said that he had been witness to the heroism of his comrade Artemio Cruz." Checking Marquez bio, he has been a long-time friend of Carlos Fuentes, slipped this reference in 100 years, which is an omen for me, since I was considering re-reading Fuentes marvelous The Death of Artemio Cruz (FSG Classics) And in terms of omens, redux even, do future travel plans include meeting another character in the book, the Queen of Madagascar?
I recently had dinner with a woman who had been Ambassador to one of the Latin American countries. Spanish is her native language, and she still reads some of the Latin American writers in Spanish to "keep her language skills up." As for "100 years," she had read it four times, each time in English. It's a record I am unlikely to repeat, but this novel, which honors the Nobel Prize with its name, could use a third read, if I am granted enough time. It ages well, sans decrepitude, and provided much more meaning the second time around. 6-stars.
(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on February 04, 2011)
on 29 January 2003
This has to be the book that best encapsulates the true meaning of the magical realism school of literature. Although Marquez's world is steeped in strange, mythical images and happenings the "realness" of its people and issues makes the surreal seem logical in a way that should not work- but it does. The mixture of reality and surrealism feels dream-like in scope.
OHYOS is the kind of story that has to be read more than once to get the full amount of understanding from it- details from the beginning are important at the end. This may be especially be true if, like me, find the dense, rich language difficult to get into for a few chapters. The writing is so rich, in fact, that a huge amount of action can take place in the space of a few pages. This can be a hindrance at first but when you start to enjoy Marquez's words then you realise how beautiful a novel can be.
There is also much meaning behind the story line. The evolvement of the family shows a move from traditional to modern in the wider world although the time the novel is set is never shown (or needed to be).
There is much sadness in OHYOS to match the magic and dreaminess. If you like happy endings and glosses over deaths than this might not be suitable reading for you. For everyone else though I would highly recommend OHYOS- it is well worth the effort needed to place yourself in Marquez's world.
This is not your typical novel. It's difficult, confusing, strongly metaphorical, and far more concerned with history and message than any deep look at its characters. At the same time, it is sometimes lyrical, beautiful, inventive, and given to unexpected trips to the magical, just when it seems bogged down in a very harsh reality.
It's the story of the town of Macondo and the family that help found the town, stretched over the hundred years of the title. It's clear, when you step back from the details of this work, that the entire work is a metaphor for what happened to Columbia, from its early run-in with the Spanish invaders through the exploitive actions of companies out to rip the riches from the country with no regard for the human cost of their endeavors, and on into to the modern day world of political corruption backed by barely sheathed threats of force.
The family that the book follows is unique in many ways, peopled by characters both incredibly strong and driven by obsessions, and yet insular, separated from the real world by their own internal fantasies. Here we find the rebel hero and the dominating matron side by side with ghosts, the Wandering Jew, and highly mysterious gypsies. However, all of these characters are seen from a distance, even though we are privy to their internal thoughts and ideas, and it is difficult to get emotionally involved with any of them. Not helping in this regard is the extreme similarity of names through various generations of the family, and frequent references to the genealogical chart at the beginning of the book are necessary to try and keep everything straight.
Stylistically, be prepared for page long sentences and sudden multi-page discourses not immediately connected to current happenings. Often this prose is quite beautiful, and at times very effective in painting pictures of some very horrible occurrences in ways that can sear into your brain. Also be fully prepared for the flights of magical realism, when you go from the mundane of everyday to things clearly impossible in ordinary life, items which often highlight by contrast the depth and trivialness of the ordinary.
If you are looking for a straightforward story with normal people, this is not the place to look. If instead you are looking for something very much out of the ordinary, and willing to work to find the core of what's happening, this work can be quite rewarding. It's doubtful if a single reading of this work will expose all of its potential, there is too much buried meaning, symbolism, and metaphor here that needs careful inspection to yield its full treasure. Its themes are not uplifting; futility, the constant of man's inhumanity to others is stark, the repetitiveness of the actions and character types from one generation to the next leads one down the path of asking what purpose does anything have, and the pervasiveness of each individual's necessary isolation from others keeps a dark cloud over the entire work. This is a somber work, with its gold carefully buried, and the reader must be a diligent prospector.
---Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
on 24 February 2005
Gabriel Garcia Marquez' "One Hundred Years Of Solitude" is the literary equivalent of a magic carpet ride, your own magic genii come to life, and Shaharazade's 101 tales wrapped into one brilliant, multilayered epic novel. From page one you will voyage with the most remarkably original cast of characters, through worlds of vibrant color, where the sun shines almost always - when not obscured by a four year downpour. You will find yourself laughing out loud when you are not sobbing in sympathy with someone dying of heartbreak. I do not like to label Sr. Garcia Marquez' work "magical realism." There is no label to accurately describe the writing that gifted us with "One Hundred Years Of Solitude." This is a book that defies description. You must read it to experience the fantastically real world of Macondo, and the people who live there. Have you ever looked at a painting, walked into it and become a part of it? When you open this novel at page one, you are beckoned to enter.
Macondo is a mythical South American town, founded, almost by accident, by Jose Arcadio Buendia, and populated primarily by his descendants. This is the story of one hundred years in the life of Macondo and its inhabitants - the story of the town's birth, development and death. Civil war and natural calamities plague this vital place whose populace fights to renew itself and survive. This is a huge narrative fiction that explores the history of a people caught up in the history of a place. And Marquez captures the range of human emotions and the reasons for experiencing them in this generational tale.
There is much that is delightful and comical here. Surprises never cease, whether it be Remedios ascending, or a man whose presence is announced by clouds of butterflies. There is satire, sexuality and bawdiness galore. But there is also a pervading sense of sadness and futility. Cruelty is a reality in Marquez' world, as are failure, despair and sudden, senseless violence. The plot is filled with passion, poetry, romance, tragedy and the echoes of the history of Colombia and Latin America.
I first read "One Hundred Years Of Solitude" in 1968, while living in Latin America. I have read it 2 or 3 times over the years, always picking up new pieces of wonder that I had previously missed. This is my favorite novel, and I am an avid reader. My favorite fictional character is Melquiades, the gypsy who foretells the future of the township and whose ghost accompanies the reader until there is no more to read. Having read this in Spanish and English, I must laud Gregory Rabassa's extraordinary translation which faithfully brings to life not only Marquez' story, but his lyrical prose. This is one of the 20th Century's best works of fiction. It is a masterpiece not to be missed.
on 23 June 2004
After reading this novel i felt compelled to add to the already favourable reviews. I have read many books in many genres but 100 years of solitude is the first piece of literature that i have found to be perfect.
In One Hundred Years of Solitude, Marquez creates a novel to show the nature of time. For this reason, there is no single main character in focus, nor does the novel follow a regular timeline. Instead the names of the characters are repeated and the flaws of each generation are magnified. As the generations grow, time speeds by and stagnates. The family is one drawn toward nostalgia and solitude, unable to feel love and charity. Because of this they are condemned to an ever decreasing circle where the passing of generations bring a concentration of loneliness.
Throughout the novel, Marquez creates the sense of eventual doom through his continued dispassionate tone. The ongoing wars, and the advent of modernity do not bring a solution. Time moves on, but progress is denied.
What makes this novel so spectacular is not only the equisite writing style but the sense of saga the reader feels. This is not only the story of one family, but an allegory to that of civilisation. The links to Genesis are plentiful, but also something of a Greek tragedy in the rise and fall of the family.
The characters are compelling with believable vices and fears and Marquez paints a vivid picture of the smells, sounds and sights of Macondo i found it impossible to put the book down.
I will ensure that every person i know has a copy of this book and am sure in years to come, it will be a book i have read over and over. Buy it, borrow it.... just read it!!!!
on 26 June 2010
Honestly I was half-way through this book and was prepared at that moment to consign it to the pile of worthy books I have started but never finished. But a long train journey found me with no other literature and hours stretching beyond me, so out it came and suddenly, unexpectedly I found it finished before me.
For the first half of the book I had been mystified by the swirling mess of characters and the magical realism elements that at first annoyed me. But as I passed the half way mark and the modern world encroached on Moncado the atmosphere of magic faded, the creeping hand of death and dissolution becoming stronger as the Buendia family passed away.
It was the moment of realisation of this change that made me persevere with the book to the end. Suddenly the tone of the first half made sense as if history was a more magical place than more recent times. Indeed the past in the book is something that leaves an almost physical mark on a place so that even as the vagaries of modernity are introduced, they are inevitably rejected by nature just as it seems Macondo will eventually be reclaimed by the jungle.
The sheer scope of some of the writing is what make it attractive. I am by no means condoning the poor quality of the characterisation, and the entirely pretentious tone. But sometimes, just often enough, a piece of writing in the text is so concise and so beautifully weighted that you can almost forgive GGM.
So for heaven's sake, if you are struggling with this book, don't dismiss it as worthless. It's by no means perfect, but consider its structure as a collection of sublime moments surrounded by the less than brilliant, much like life it seems.
on 12 February 2000
It is to my shame that I have never heard of Gabriel Garcia Marquez before picking up this book. Once in a while, there comes a book that completely grips your attention and tugs at your emotions at several levels. I say without exaggeration that One Hundred Years of Soltitude is one of the best books I have read in my entire life. I am an avid reader, reading all kinds of stories: horror, fantasy, sci-fi, serious fiction, humuor, crime, thrillers, and even romance. But very few books touched me as this book did. This book made me smile; made me laugh; made me shocked and horrified; but most of all, it made me sad.
This book tells a story of several generations of the Buendia family, and the town Macondo. You will love the characters, each with their quirks, strengths and weaknesses. And you will love the town as it grows from a naive, simple town to a modern, complicated town. Mind you, this is not your average town. It has flying carpets, people levitating, and pig-tailed babies! Rather than distracting us, these fantasy characteristics enhance the style and beauty of the story. This book reads like a mature fairy tale, but one that has a dark humour. Though the author keeps you amused by some light moments in the book, you will feel that all is not as it seems. Though you cannot pin point it, you will feel as if something bad will happen; a sense of brooding and disturbing fear. This is an example on how well this book was written. And the ending was very sad.
I rarely get emotional reading books, and I am always wary of good comments from professional reviewers, and even books that win awards. But I totally agreed when one reviewer said this book is a classic of the 20th century.
I cannot recommend this book enough. Forget the paperback, get the hardcover. This is a book that must exist on all book shelves for the entire family to read, and re-read.
Yes, folks, this book is that good.
on 1 August 2002
One hundred years of solitude is unparalleled in its scope and originality, Marquez's style and prose is something the like of which I have never seen in all my years of reading. I'm not sure if it true to the 'magical realism' style of writing, but the rules of grammar appear to have been ignored here - there is a lack of punctuation, some unfeasibly long sentences and the smallest amount of dialogue you are likely to find anywhere in a book of this size (with the possible exception of his own 'The Autumn of the Patriarch', which has none!) Yet this is a work of beauty and genius.
The basic story is of a fictional town in South America (Macondo) and one central family - The Buendia's. Marquez writes of many things mundane and ordinary in the lives of this family, yet interspersed with the normal is the strange. Within the first few chapters the reader's imagination is fuelled by images of flying carpets, a man who turns into a snake, Arabs who will only trade their goods for Macaws and an insomnia plague which eventually makes the populace lose their memories until it is cured by a gypsy's brew. As the novel progresses it is easy to lose track of some events due to the way they follow each other in a cyclical pattern - the same can be said for the names of the characters, but I think this is intentional once you realise what the themes of the book are. The political aspect of the novel is also quite remarkable, Marquez manages to sum up the Liberal-Conservative struggle superbly, adding to the notion that this could be set anywhere in South America as it mirrors conflicts there in the last two centuries.
Despite the writing style and the ambiguity of the events/characters I would recommend this novel to almost anyone as something they must read, purely through the sheer escapism it provides. There are much more telling themes behind the book though, obviously solitude is one of them but I think time is also something else Marquez intended readers to think about. What he is saying is that no matter how ugly, beautiful, wealthy, stupid or intelligent a person is they can not escape the ravages of time - we come into this world alone and we will leave it alone. He has taken the one ultimate truth of life, flowered things up a bit and told us that death is inescapable. This is backed up by the depressing thought that no matter how hard you try you will start to forget names and events even as you are reading it, as if the Author is showing us that it doesn't really matter what sequence these events occur in.
Still, as sobering a thought as this is, you should not miss out on reading about the doomed yet wondrous Buendia family, it contains some of the most imaginative characters ever invented and you won't be able to help being sucked into their magical world, created by a man with more talent for writing than most can only dream of.
on 26 January 2003
'100 Years...' traces the history of the Buendia family over a century long period in an unnamed South American state at an unspecified time. This is not some sweeping historical epic, however, as Marquez emphasises the unchanging nature of life and attitudes over this period using a skillful blend of magical realism and clever prose. The names of individuals recur every generation, as do their mistakes, their ambitions and their failures. The solitude of the tiny town of Macondo results in its inhabitants' inability to change anything, despite the zeal with which 5 generations of Buendias try. It is, I suppose, a book about the small town stupidity which affects the whole world.
Marquez's magical realism is very heavy handed. You are required to suspend a little more disbelief than someone like Rushdie asks of you. The tone of the book makes this very easy, however, and I was swept along with his style after a few pages. The story has a dream like quality and, in places, has the appearance of an (albeit rather dark) adult fairy tale. People who struggle with the sudden appearance of ghosts and magic carpets in a mostly normal novel should not bother with this one.
I found the book very readable, and read it at a furious pace. I would not describe it as un-put-down-able, but I did find myself reading large chunks at a single go. Major events in the Buendias' lives are raised and dispatched in a couple of pages, and the speed with which these occur add to the surreal feeling of the book.
My problem with the book stems from this. Everything happened so quickly that generations of Buendias flew by, making it hard for me to get stuck into any particular character. The repitition of history turned the book into something of a grind, especially when you realise that these people are going nowhere and nothing will change. This is, of course, Marquez's point, and he makes it beautifully, but it is, perhaps, overlong for a parable. The impression the book left on me is memorable, but the reading of it was not. I think everyone should read this book. Once.
on 4 February 2002
Without a doubt the finest novel I have ever read, A Hundred Years of Solitude is generally acknowledged as Garcia Marquez's masterpiece. The book charts the rise and fall of a single family, who, led by the first patriarch, found a new township in civil war-torn South America. As with all Garcia Marquez novels, the time is usually left indistinct, but we know from historical references the time is the early nineteenth century, when the continent is being wracked by civil wars in the aftermath of liberation from the Spanish; the scene is most likely Columbia. At first the town and the family, whose histories are one, flourish; but this is all too brief a period. The family is beset by plague after plague, as internecine struggles take their toll and the characters seem fated to destroy each other. The repetition of history, as if stuck in one merciless rut, is emphasised with leaden weight by the repetition of male names, meaning the family tree the author provides by way of preface is not only helpful, it is a neccessity. As with most Garcia Marquez novels, it can be seen in a misogynist light, but my personal feeling is that the author is above such concerns. A Hundred Years of Solitude is the pinnacle of his talents as a writer of the most profound tragedies that simply drip pathos with every paragraph and leave the reader, finally, breathlessly devastated. Powerful, intense and gripping until the very last, this is a novel that everyone should read at least once during the course of their lives, or be poorer for it.