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One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

By Anhelo | Books | November 24, 2009 |

By Anhelo | Books | November 24, 2009 |

Overall, I have to say that this was a wonderful book, and I can completely understand both why people claim it’s their favorite book and that it’s Márquez’s best work. I can’t say that I share that sentiment, but I also feel that I’ll have to go back and read it again so that I may fully enjoy it.

So, about the book.

To be perfectly honest, I was a little lost during the first 150 pages. I couldn’t fully comprehend what Márquez was trying to get at. See, normally I’m used to books that portray a focal character, and then from there, the new characters are introduced in relation to that character. Márquez doesn’t do that here. So, I spent about 150 pages a little baffled, a little confused. Then, I read the back cover, and everything fell into place. I was getting it the whole time.

Here’s what it says:

“One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of the rise and fall, birth and death of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendía family.”

Yes! That’s exactly what was going on. That whole time I was trying to ‘get’ what Márquez was doing, and the truth to enlightenment was right there on the back cover. And honestly, that’s all you need to know: this book tells the very very long story of the Buendía family. Now, I’m not going to give you a plot summary — it would be a great disservice to you as I would ruin the book for you, and it would be a grave disrespect to Márquez’s masterpiece as I would ruin the book period. There is no way that I can think of to truly capture the essence of this book. This book is an experience, and you need to experience it for yourself. What I will do is give you my reading of the book — parts of the book that stood out to me, elements that I thought were interesting, the like.

My first comment has to do with the characters … not the characters themselves, but their names. Márquez describes the entire Buendía family starting from the patriarchs, José Arcadio Buendía and Úrsula Iguarán, and tracks the entire family all the way down to the great-great-great-grandchildren (I hope I didn’t put too many ‘greats’). As if it wasn’t already difficult enough to remember so many characters, Márquez repeats many of the character names with slight variation. Now, that may be realistic in some families, some people have complexes — I know I do, all of my children will carry a variation of my name — other times it’s tradition, but come on, did you really have to do that to me? Let’s just give you an example with just one repeated name. There’s Colonel Aureliano Buendía, who has a child named Aureliano José and 17 other Aurelianos, let’s not forget Aureliano Segundo who has two grandchildren named Aureliano. Márquez was very kind to include a family tree … thanks, but no thanks.

As I kept reading, though, I realized that the repeated name thing actually works very well. Time isn’t a constant and clear element of the book, and it seems that events were layered and repeated. Through this process, personalities were recaptured by the newer generations, recaptured by characters with the same name. This also confused me at times, but when Márquez would return to stories and specific characters, everything seemed to fall into place. I liked that a lot about the book actually; it was very unique.

The one thing that stood out to me was Márquez’s leftism and how it was manifested in this novel. I have read two other Márquez novels before this one, which inspired my curiosity for the author. Through that time I learned that Márquez has leftist leanings and more recently I came across a book at Barnes and Noble titled Gabo and Fidel: Portrait of a Friendship. Upon reading that title, I wondered why I never observed these sentiments in his novels. After all, your art is an expression of your person, so therefore I should feel these sentiments to some capacity in his novels. This book does that with two things — the war and the banana plantations.

The War. There is a very long war that takes course through part of the novel in which Colonel Aureliano Buendía plays a crucial role. Márquez provides poignant social commentary as he provides his descriptions of the conflicting Liberal and Conservative movements. Through this discourse he reveals a lot of the contradictions of the conservatives which he describes through their paradoxical perceptions of religion, conflict, etc. In his ‘factual’ descriptions of what the liberal and conservative parties each represented, he subtly and almost subconsciously channels his beliefs to the reader; he creates this good (liberal) vs. evil (conservative) partiality in the process.

The Banana Plantations. The banana plantations scream American Imperialism. Right on, Márquez. The banana plantations, which are established and owned by foreigners, exploit the people, destroy the neighborhood, and in the process become a dirty symbol of evil. They are also the source of conflict as they have no regard for … anything.

This book was also very entertaining — it was funny, amusing, it would make me giggle. There are so many parts — whether through strange behavior i.e. eating mud, or romantic relationships i.e. literally dropping dead due to unrequited love (I think that happened?) — that were so exaggerated, you couldn’t help but be entertained.

Good book. I’d recommend it.

One last thing I will say before we part — has to do with a very ugly sticker on the front cover of this book. This book is a member of “Oprah’s Book Club.” The biggest turnoff. Ever. Reading a book from Oprah’s Book Club is like being told by the government to read a book. That’s why I hated most books in high school. You know people are going to read it just because Oprah recommended it. She got it like that. We vote for people because she says so. I can’t deny it. Now I love Oprah, and I’m actually quite sad that she will be announcing the end of her show — yes, I was raised on Oprah — but, we all know that if I were to write a book about safety pins and that somehow that lovely work of art managed to make its way onto Oprah’s Book Club list, I would turn into an instant mill-i-on-aire.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Anhelo’s reviews, check her blog.

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