Tuesday 20 February 2018

Cheat read: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

Written 1967, Colombia; Magic Realism

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

Justine Carbery

The Rundown: José Arcadio Buendía and Úrsula Iguarán, his wife (and first cousin), leave their home town of Riohacha, Colombia, to find a better life and a new home. One night on this journey, while camping on a riverbank, José Arcadio dreams of a city of mirrors. Upon awakening, he decides to establish the village of Macondo at the river side.

Here begins the chronicle of the Buendia household and the village, right from its inception until it ends up as a "fearful whirlwind of dust and rubble". José Arcadio develops a friendship with a travelling gypsy, Melquíades, their only link to the outside world who bring inventions and news to Macondo. He introduces José Arcadio to the magnet, the telescope, and ice. He also leaves a manuscript in a strange language, which future generations try to decipher. 

Need to know: This novel is considered a mainstay of Magical Realism: fiction that integrates elements of fantasy into otherwise realistic settings. Reading it is like stepping into a dream, where anything can happen. It is not unusual to encounter a woman ascending to heaven while folding sheets, a woman so sensual that her love-making causes livestock to reproduce at an unusually fecund pace, a priest who levitates when drinking hot chocolate. This style of writing opened doors for other writers like Toni Morrison and Salman Rushdie to take similar narrative liberties. With this ground-breaking book, Gabriel García Márquez not only established himself as a writer with singular vision, he also established Latin American literature and Magical Realism as forces to be reckoned with. It was the first work in Spanish to become a best-seller in the English-speaking world and in 1982 Gabo, as he was known, won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

the end Of the last generation of Buendías, one is murdered by a gang of oversexed teenagers, another haemorrhages to death after childbirth, a third is killed by the weather, while Aureliano's infant son is eaten by ants. The whole town is destroyed by a hurricane, leaving no sign that there was ever anything there. Aureliano, the last surviving member of the Buendia family, finally deciphers the parchments of the gypsy, Melquiades, finding that all this has been predicted: that the village and its inhabitants have merely been living out a preordained cycle, "because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth."

The Verdict: Salman Rushdie called it "the greatest novel in any language of the last 50 years" and The New York Times suggested making it "required reading for the entire human race". Unofficially, it's everybody's favourite work of world literature, from Bill Clinton to Barack Obama to me. Weaving together personal, social and political history, the genius of this book is in the operatic telling.

Did you know? One Hundred Years of Solitude was published in 1967, two days before The Beatles's Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band came out, and the reception it received was akin to Beatlemania. Everyone from intellectuals to blue-collar labourers to sex workers bought and read and talked about this wondrous book.

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