One Hundred Years of Solitude [Cien años de soledad]
Gabriel García Márquez
Gregory Rabassa, translator
Muchos años después, frente al pelotón de fusilamiento, el coronel Aureliano Buendía había de recordar aquella tarde remota en que su padre lo llevó a conocer el hielo.
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.(Opening line)
It’s unlikely that I would have revisited Macondo, that is reread One Hundred Years of Solitude this year, or any time soon, had it not been a selection for my in-person classic literature book club (for May). There’s so many other books on my list, do I take the time to reread such a long, and sometimes, slow, classic? Perhaps more importantly, do I dare reread something that I loved so much the first time I read it, and risk finding out I’m no longer so enamored?
I still loved it.
But this raised an interesting question in my mind: why? I knew that for the book club meeting, I would likely be one of the few to so thoroughly love it (it turned out I was one of only TWO to have finished it!), and so I would likely be tasked with conveying my enthusiasms. And this is where I got stuck.
Sometimes it’s easy enough to know why we love a book: a character, the plot, the setting. For some people, it’s the language that’s used, the flow of the words over the page.
Ordinarily, I would characterize myself as a plot reader, there for the story. But that’s not the case here. I’m not sure I can identify a “plot” as such, at least not in the traditional idea of inciting action + conflict + resolution. This is an epic–a story of multiple generations of a single family over the span of a hundred years and of the town, Macondo, that lives and dies with their fortunes. There are many stories, many plots, many characters.
No, it is something about the telling of the story itself. The style of the narrative.
Pero la india les explicó que lo más temible de la enfermedad del insomnio no era la imposibilidad de dormir, pues el cuerpo no sentía cansancio alguno, sino su inexorable evolución hacia una manifestación más crítica: el olvido. Quería decir que cuando el enfermo se acostumbraba a su estado de vigilia, empezaban a borrarse de su memoria los recuerdos de la infancia, luego el nombre y la noción de las cosas, y por ultimo la identidad de las personas y aun la conciencia del propio ser, hasta hundirse en una especie de idiotez sin pasado.
But the Indian woman explained that the most fearsome part of the sickness of insomnia was not the impossibility of sleeping, for the body did not feel any fatigue at all, but its inexorable evolution toward a more critical manifestation: a loss of memory. She meant that when the sick person became used to his state of vigil, the recollection of his childhood began to be erased from his memory, then the name and notion of things, and finally the identity of people and even the awareness of his own being, until he sank into a kind of idiocy that had no past.Third chapter
One Hundred Years of Solitude is well-known as a novel employing magic realism, the mix of a realistic setting, and elements that are fantastic or “magical.” But that’s not quite what I mean by “style.” For me, it’s the voice in which it is told. García Márquez presents everything straightforwardly, be it realistic or fantastic. And sometimes it’s the realistic thing, typically new technology, that is presented as fantastic, at least as perceived by the residents of Macondo. To this, García Márquez adds a touch of humor, a wryness at times, which I found delightful.
Al principio, la curiosidad multiplicó la clientela de la calle prohibida, y hasta se supo de señoras respetables que se disfrazaron de villanos para observar de cerca la novedad del gramófono, pero tanto y de tan cerca lo observaron, que muy pronto llegaron a la conclusión de que no era un molino de sortilegio, como todos pensaban y como las matronas decían, sino un truco mecánico que no podía compararse con algo tan conmovedor, tan humano y tan lleno de verdad cotidiana como una banda de músicos.
At first curiosity increased the clientele on the forbidden street and there was even word of respectable ladies who disguised themselves as workers in order to observe the novelty of the phonograph from first hand, but from so much and such close observation they soon reached the conclusion that it was not an enchanted mill as everyone had thought and as the matrons had said, but a mechanical trick that could not be compared with something so moving, so human, and so full of everyday truth as a band of musicians.Twelfth chapter
Another aspect of One Hundred Years of Solitude which I really appreciated this read, was García Márquez’s worldbuilding. Colombia is relatively unknown to me, nineteenth century Colombia even more so. Yet the world of Macondo was vivid. I could readily imagine the scenery, the settings, from its earliest days as a small village of adobe houses to the dry wind-swept streets of the closing scenes. Such transportation to another world is always a delight in reading, but especially so when the reader gets to spend so much time there. At the end, you’re not sure if you’re mourning the fate of the Buendía family, or that the novel is over.
There are many other things that could be said of One Hundred Years of Solitude. The motif of “solitude.” The circularity of time and history. The representation of Colombian history (is the novel an allegory? metaphor?). But on this read, I simply enjoyed the time I was able to spend with it, in it. Sometimes that’s all a reader really asks for.