One Hundred Years of Solitude
By Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Penguin (2007, first published, 1967)
General reading value: 2.5 /5
Armchair travel value: 3/5
When I arrived at Colombia for my challenge, I knew there was no other book to read but One Hundred Years of Solitude. This is a book that seems to send reviewers and readers into delirious raptures and it frequently hits the top ten of must-read lists. Needless to say I was pumped! But like my recent experience of seeing One Day (how can so many bad things happen to one would-be couple?), the book failed to reach even base camp of the Everest of hype for me. Yes, there were moments of brilliance but they were shooting stars in an otherwise star-free sky.
The book is a magical realist tale primarily focused on the Buendia family who found the fictional village of Macondo and continue to live and love there through several generations. Each of these generation has a male whose name is some combination of Jose, Arcadio or Aureliano. This becomes, I would assume quite intentionally, confusing as the story wears on and after awhile resembles some sort of Marx brothers’ joke.
The family are composed of quite eccentric characters – perhaps a product of their blatantly incestuous ways. Indeed their proclivity towards inbreeding is a recurring sense of worry for the matriarch of the family Ursula who fears their children will all be born with pigs’ tails as punishment. Pigs’ tails aside, the family members do possess unusual characteristics. One is able to see into the future, another has the strength of eleven men; another has beauty icapable of literally causing death.
Interacting with the Buendias are a cast of other characters, some of whom become de facto family members – such as Rebeca who has a habit of eating earth and licking walls -others who are responsible for setting in train the various calamities and celebrations that befall and reward, respectively, the family as it, and the town of Macondo, lives through prosperity, war, industrialisation, immigration, flood and much more.
It has been said that 100 years is an allegory for the history of Colombia from the birth of the nation to modernity. From this perspective, the book is, of course, an amazing accomplishment and certainly a more interesting approach than the usual dry and dull straight historical fiction. I’m just disappointed that I didn’t enjoy it. My recommendation would be to either read this book in episodes interspersed with other reading in between or, alternatively, to listen to an audio version of have someone read it aloud. I imagine that it would have been much more enjoyable had I heard the story told to me by someone who could use different voices and actions to bring the tale to life, much like the way Dickens’ novels were conveyed when first published.
The Literary Nomad xx
| More on Colombia…
Largest city: Bogota
Area: 1,141,748 km2
Delay your stay: Our Lady of the Assassins by Fernando Vallejo; Even Silence has an End by Ingrid Betancourt; Love in the time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; A Tale of the Dispossessed by Laura Restrepo.