Filed under: Book Reviews, Classic Fiction, Fantasy, Literary Fiction | Tags: book review, books, buendia family, gabriel garcia marquez, gushing about books i love, literature, magical realism, one hundred years of solitude
You’d think that Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude would get easier to write about after a third read, but it doesn’t. So, instead of a review this one will be a scattered collection of my thoughts on the novel.
- This novel has one of the greatest first lines ever written: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendìa was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice” (1).
- Márquez writes about a world that is heavy with time and its confusions and its progression or circular nature. Macondo, the town and time of the Buendìa family, sometimes exists outside of time, in a world that is “so recent that many things lacked names” (1) with progress and knowledge and the time of the outside world entering in the form of others: the gypsy Melquiades, Pietro Crespi, the train and the banana company. Macondo never feels a part of the world as much as it feels a place acted on by the rest of the world.
Márquez’s characters experience “hereditary memory,” like the passed-down image of Melquiades:
Aureliano, who could not have been more than five at the time, would remember him [Melquiades] for the rest of his life as he saw him that afternoon, sitting against the metallic and quivering light from the window, lighting up with his deep organ voice the darkest reaches of the imagination, while down over his temples there flowed the grease that was being melted by the heat. Jose Arcadio, his older brother, would pass on that wonderful image as a herditary memory to all of his descendants. (6)
I’ve always loved this idea of memory being passed down in this way, and also how Márquez uses it in the novels – how characters, later on, will experience this image without knowing what it is or where it comes from, whose memory it is or that it is a memory at all, and how that circles the reader back to this early point in the novel. This may be what Marquez does best, inspiring the reader to loop across the novel’s time, with characters’ whole lives being revealed to us in a few sentences, as when we learn in the first line of the book that Colonel Aureliano Buendìa will one day stand before a firing squad, which colors our expectations of his future. (The Reading Ape gave a word and definition to this: telechronance, which is about perfect and captures the way Marquez reveals a whole life in a sentence, suggesting or revealing the future impact of a moment.)
- It’s not just hereditary memory that characters experience; they also actively remember their pasts, as when Amaranta wears a life-long black wrapping on her hand after Pietro Crespi kills himself, or when Fernanda turns “the royal regalia into a device for her memory” (369 – 370). These memorial devices don’t always seem necessary, though; characters are so tied with their pasts that the notion of a device for memory is nothing more than a formality.
- The first time I read this book I didn’t flip back to the family tree often, but this time I must’ve checked that page about a hundred times while I was reading. Hard as I try, I still can’t keep all the Aurelianos and Arcadios straight.
So much like the way the reader is circled around in the novel is Pilar Ternera’s understanding of the Buendìa family history:
There was no mystery in the heart of a Buendìa that was impenetrable for her because a century of cards and experience had taught her that the history of the family was a machine with unavoidable repetitions, a turning wheel that would have gone on spilling into eternity were it not for the progressive and irremediable wearing of the axel. (402)
Which Úrsala guesses at, too. (And she is by far one of my favorite characters from the novel – how she goes blind but keeps better track of where things and people are than anyone else, how she realizes the absolute sameness of her family’s daily routines, how no one around her realizes that she’s gone blind…) Okay, back to the quote which I wanted to get to:
“Lord save us!” she exclaimed, as if she could see everything. “So much trouble teaching you good manners and you end up living like a pig.”
José Arcadio Segundo was still reading over the parchments. The only thing visible in the intricate tangle of hair was the teeth striped with green slime and his motionless eyes. When he recognized his great-grandmother’s voice he turned his head toward the door, tried to smile, and without knowing it repeated an old phrase of Úrsala’s.
“What did you expect?” he murmured. “Time passes.”
“That’s how it goes,” Úrsala said, “but not so much.”
When she said it she realized that she was giving the same reply that Colonel Aureliano Buendìa had given in his death cell, and once again she shuddered with the evidence that time was not passing, as she had just admitted, but that it was turning in a circle. (341)
- Gosh, gosh, gosh. I love this book. When I was on vacation in January some people at the hostel we stayed at started going off on Márquez and the “cuteness” of his work. Whatever you might say about his work, it’s not “cute” and it’s not “light.” His writing is gorgeous, spider-webby, baffling, and I have no patience for anyone who blames the overwhelming sense (in North America, anyway) that reading a book by Márquez handles all “those magical realist writers from South America” on Márquez himself.
- There are some books I just need to quote from and gush about, and this is one of them.
- My page numbers are from the British Penguin Edition.
- Over and out.