To read One Hundred Years of Solitude is to be thrust into a vivid tale of loss, love, nostalgia, and memory that spans over a century. The novel follows the rise and fall of Macondo, a mystical South American town founded in the early 19th century by José Arcadio Buendía. The fate of Macondo is tangled within that of the Buendía family, a family of dreamers and revolutionaries who the reader follows through five generations. Márquez beautifully weaves together a story that is simultaneously hypnotically whimsical and heartbreakingly real, a story that depicts humanity at its glittering highs and disturbing lows.
One Hundred Years of Solitude is not only Márquez’s most acclaimed work; it is also regarded as one of the best pieces of literature from a Latin American author and as the foundation of the genre magical realism. When I picked up the novel, I did not know of its reputation. I simply chose it off the library shelf one day and opened it to a random page, as I do with many books. The first sentence I read was gorgeous, filled with beautiful imagery and poetic rhythm – every sentence in the book proves to be similarly poetic. Márquez beautifully takes images of dissimilar feelings or visions and brings them together in harmony, such as a character who feels “protected by [a] supernatural light, by the sound of the rain, [and] by the feeling of being invisible”. Due to the descriptive nature of Márquez’s writing, however, the novel is not a simple read. Towards the end of the novel, there is one sentence that covers over three pages of text. The book is comprised of descriptions after descriptions of everything from the weather to the innermost thoughts of the characters, interrupted occasionally by a rare quotation. The people of Macondo rarely speak, preferring the silence of the hammock where they take their siesta.
Márquez manages to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary and the impossible into the mundane. The novel is filled with mystical happenings that are made to seem perfectly normal. One character is able to survive off of nothing but dirt for months, while another floats up to heaven with the laundry one day and is never seen again. Early in its history, Macondo is struck by an “insomnia plague”, and those infected are unable to sleep and gradually lose their memories of people and everyday objects. The plague causes a state of wakeful dreaming, in which people see “not only… the images of their own dreams, but some saw the images dreamed by others”. The words of One Hundred Years of Solitude rise off the page, intriguing the reader’s imagination with tales of the impossible.
Towards the middle of the book you may feel as though it will take one hundred years to finish. You will begin to drown in the never-ending stream of Aurelianos and José Arcadios (the Buendía family tradition is to name newborn children after their ancestors – there are twenty-two Aurelianos and five José Arcadios in total, which can make the characters difficult to distinguish). You will grow weary of the repeated mistakes and misguided loves passed down through generation after generation of Buendía. Yet, just when you are about to collapse, your will to continue in the same state as the aging Buendía house, Márquez will once again enchant you with his beautiful imagery. Márquez’s words will raise your spirits along with Remedios the Beauty as she is lifted up to heaven by “a delicate wind of light” and “[waves] goodbye in the midst of the flapping sheets that rose up with her”. You will find yourself unable to lift your gaze from the gorgeous words, and you will grow closer to the novel as you find your own nostalgias reflected within its pages. Once you have read the last lines and have set the chronicle back on the shelf, the story of the Buendías and the people of Macondo will not leave your thoughts or heart.
Review by Tara F. ’18