#9: ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE, Gabriel García Márquez
For the next few weeks, I’ll be thinking back through the books I read in 2010 and ranking my favorites in a top 10 list. Today, we reach number 9: Gabriel García Márquez’s expansive family chronicle, One Hundred Years of Solitude.
I feel like I had this book on my “to read” list for one hundred years. It’s been staring me in the face forever and I never had the wherewithal to pick it up. Quite frankly, I’ve never enjoyed much of the South American fiction I’ve read, but this could be because I’ve read comparatively little of it. Fair or not, I never had much enthusiasm to read García Márquez. This could also be because I once watched The Worst Movie Ever Made, which was an adaptation of his novel Love in the Time of Cholera. So. Bad. Don’t watch it. You will regret your life if you do.
All that to say: I finally picked up One Hundred Years of Solitude from the library in July and I was glad I did. I’m a sucker for family epics (much like Ada, actually, or Anna Karenina) and this is one helluva family epic. The novel tells the long, fabled story of the Buendia family through seven—yes, seven—generations. It’s difficult to keep track of what generation you’re in, because everyone in the story shares the same pool of names, sometimes slightly rearranged in order. For example, we have the patriarch Jose Arcadio Buendia, who names his sons Jose Arcadio and Aureliano. Aureliano goes on to name one kid Jose Aureliano and then has seventeen more named… Aureliano. It gets very confusing; just take a look at this family tree that some crazy person made. But maybe that’s what García Márquez intended. This family is supposed to swallow you whole.
I have a distinct memory of reading and really falling into the novel while waiting through a wedding rehearsal. Guion was playing in the ceremony and I had the forethought to bring the book while he was practicing for an hour. I remember trying to stop myself from laughing or gasping too audibly, lest I disturb the militant wedding director. It’s funny and crazy and often totally unbelievable. I liked the impossibilities of the story. García Márquez demands the constant suspension of belief. You must believe than an entire village did not sleep for a decade and that the ghost of the matriarch’s husband really is living in the yard, tied to a tree. These are not fairy tales; all of this really happened and these people are not crazy. I think of it like what Toni Morrison did with Beloved: At no point in the narrative are you led to believe that anyone has lost his or her mind. All of these seemingly supernatural things have indeed happened. You just have to have the faith to believe it.
García Márquez goes back to what feels like the beginning of time to tell the Buendia family’s story. The people who orbit in the world he’s created seem so primal that, at first, they appear barely relatable. But that’s the magic of García Márquez’s skill: Suddenly, you realize that this manic, superstitious, unethical, ambitious family is not all that different from your own. (I mean, hopefully, they’re a little different. I hope your family doesn’t routinely kill each other off or become hermit alchemists or speak to other dead relatives at the dinner table.) But you catch my drift. Maybe you do. What I’m trying to say is that García Márquez can really write about the human condition with characters that barely seem human at all. They’re magicians or temptresses or liars or warriors, but they all carry the same hopes, ambitions, and wishes that we do, we who are so far removed from the earth.