One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
reviewed by Dr. Daniel Castro
Department of History
I always look forward to the coming of summer, the same way other people wait for Christmas. The first weeks of summer are my golden opportunity to catch up with all the reading I have not done during the rest of the year. The first few weeks of summers are dedicated to fiction and the rest of the summer will be generally dedicated to research work and nonfiction, but fiction will always manage to work its way into my reading.
At the start of every summer, I face the same dilemma: choosing the first book. My choices are totally eclectic, from the mystery novels of Hillerman, Hammett and Chandler to the works of Dostoevski, Faulkner, Ginsberg, García Márquez, Borges, Eliot, Vargas Llosa, Kafka and Flaubert among a multitude of writers. This year, perhaps because I have finally succumbed to my vocation as a historian, I have returned to the seductive magic of Gabriel García Márquez’ novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, the saga of the rise and fall of the Buendía family in the mythical town of Macondo in the midst of the Columbian wilderness.
This quintessentially Latin American novel will suck you into the vortex of what for lack of a better word has been identified as “magical realism.” This is a world where magic and reality take turns competing with each other, devouring each other or happily coexisting. The novel is the chronicle of a century of different generations of Buendías, as much as it is the history of Columbia and by extension Latin America and the rest of the world. As the story unfolds, we are transported by the magical enchantment of traveling gypsies who, as the world wanderers they are, bring to Macondo the latest inventions of humanity, flying carpets, astrolabes, magnets, and ice.
It is thanks to the gypsies, as the purveyors of the instruments of modernity, that the patriarch of the Buendía family, Jose Arcadio, comes to conclude, by induction, that the earth is round, and he will embark on numerous adventures, from becoming an alchemist to attempting to capture the daguerreotype of God, for if He exists, then, he reasons, it must be possible to photograph Him while He is unaware. The universe of Macondo is a world where the second of the Buendía children, Aureliano, started “thirty-two armed uprisings and lost every one of them,” not because he had any particular ideological belief, but out of outrage against the absurdity of politics. This is a town where the local parish priest, in an attempt to collect money for building a new church, levitates at will after drinking cups of hot chocolate to impress the parishioners into contributing with him. This is also a world where the presence of one of its inhabitants, whose destiny becomes intertwined with the Buendía family, is announced by the presence of thousands of yellow butterflies.
Despite the ever present magic, the life of Macondo and the Buendías eventually succumbs to war, progress, and solitude, and their ravages leave the fading town and the last surviving member of the family, and ourselves, staring wordlessly into the void, holding for dear life onto our memories, the only inalienable things that we possess.
One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of those books I often carry with me when I embark on a new journey. As you begin this journey I suggest that you try it – you will enjoy a good read, and who knows, you might even make a friend for life.