Colombia – One Hundred Years of Solitude

Magic realism is a genre I have explored at length throughout this series (Beauty is a Wound, Kintu, The House of the Spirits). It’s a powerful tool that writers can invoke in order to deliver social and political commentaries, and it is one that is generally associated with Latin America.

The roots of magic realism in literature can be traced to the early twentieth century and the works of Jorge Luis Borges and Alejo Carpentier. However, the genre only became popular on a global scale during the Latin American Boom of the 1960s and 1970s. It was then that Gabriel García Márquez wrote the Great Novel of the Americas, One Hundred Years of Solitude. A novel that since its publication has been translated into 46 languages, sold over 50 million copies, and is considered to be one of the most significant works in the Hispanic literary canon, and in world literature.

Seven Generations, One Fictional Town

“A person does not belong to a place until there is someone dead under the ground.”

One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of the seven generations of the Buendia family and the fictional town of Macondo their forebear, José Arcadio Buendía, founded. The family is characterized by incest, absurdity, insanity and tragedy (and repeating names), while the town itself is a mirror of illusions and changes that well reflects its fictional nature. These themes are repeated throughout the book as each generation commits the same sins over and over again. Time changes everything except the (human) nature of the Buendias.

We can see examples of this in the obsessive behaviors of the first and second generation. José Arcadio Buendía, the patriarch is obsessed in his quest to uncover hidden knowledge, no matter how useless, and this leads him to completely neglect his family, and eventually to insanity. His son Colonel Aureliano Buendía witnesses a rigged election, and therefore decides to start a series of endless civil wars. He has premonitions, which make him unkillable. During the wars he fathers seventeen sons by unknown women. They will all eventually be murdered by assassins.

As the family grows and evolves so does the town of Macondo, and its absurdity mirrors their absurdity, while also mirroring the larger events that are taking place in the larger country of Colombia. An example of this is the invasion of banana plantation that leads to prosperity, unions, strikes, and eventually a massacre that is covered up. The town is kind of a reflection of life itself that grows, decays, and eventually dies before completely disappearing off the face of the earth.

The book itself has an insanely large cast so I will only mention the few who stood out to me.

  • Ursula – The founding matriarch of the Buendia family who lives to be well over one hundred years old. She is a very strong character who successfully influences six of the seven generations, and often succeeds where the men of her family fail. 
  • Colonel Aureliano Buendía – a tragic character. His premonitions made him unkillable, and this leads to a lot of pointless suffering. He is unable to defeat the corrupt government, and the corrupt government can’t get rid of him. The end result is a lot of wars which change absolutely nothing, and a soldier who is forced to witness constant death and defeat.

Was Any of It Real? What Is Real?

“It had never occurred to him until then that literature was the best plaything that had ever been invented to make fun of people.”

I had a really difficult time following and processing One Hundred Years of Solitude. It’s also very different from all the other magic realism books I have read and reviewed so far in this series. It’s much more masterfully written, and there is a sense of timelessness to the book even as I was very much aware that time was progressing. This was accomplished both through the liberal use of the foreshadowing technique, and interactions between members of different generations. No one ever truly disappears from this story, and past events impact the present and future even as the present and future reach back in time to impact the past. All of this is happening of course, while the plot progresses in a kind of linear fashion. 

In this story it was very difficult to tell what was real and what was not. Which symbols and metaphors were important and which could be ignored (should anything be ignored?). And which events were significant and which were trivial. Therefore, in a book rife with detail everything became important, and this created a more challenging read.

The historical events in the novel aren’t narrated. Instead they are reflected to the reader as they happened in the illusionary town of Macondo (but not just). This meant that very real events that I was largely unfamiliar with were related to me instead of told to me. It kind of felt like I was witnessing something important through a house of mirrors. It both enhanced and diminished the experience.

Overall, I felt like all of this helped create a work of art that I wasn’t really able to enjoy. At some point, it started getting repetitive as I began recognizing the patterns. I was happy when I finally finished the book. It’s not my style, and I had more than enough – of this book, and of magic realism in general. I need a break.

The Omer today is splendour in grandeur, which work very well with One Hundred Years of Solitude. True to its deceptive nature, this book is splendour that disguises itself as grandeur or grandeur that disguises itself as splendour. It’s really hard to tell. The beauty is fleeting and quick to fade, but the impact spans generations both in the fictional and real worlds. It is still very much relevant to this very day, but it’s beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. Visit at your own risk. Getting lost is all too easy.

#bebeautiful #begrand

About The Author

Gabriel García Márquez (6 March 1927 – 17 April 2014) was a Colombian novelist, short-story writer, screenwriter, and journalist, known affectionately as Gabo or Gabito throughout Latin America. Considered one of the most significant authors of the 20th century, particularly in the Spanish language, he was awarded the 1972 Neustadt International Prize for Literature and the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature. He pursued a self-directed education that resulted in leaving law school for a career in journalism. From early on he showed no inhibitions in his criticism of Colombian and foreign politics. In 1958 he married Mercedes Barcha; they had two sons, Rodrigo and Gonzalo.

García Márquez started as a journalist and wrote many acclaimed non-fiction works and short stories, but is best known for his novels, such as One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1981), and Love in the Time of Cholera (1985). His works have achieved significant critical acclaim and widespread commercial success.

One Hundred Years of Solitude

Author: Gabriel García Márquez

Translator: Gregory Rabassa

Publisher: Harper Perennial

Published: 1967

Pages: 417

Format reviewed: Physical