Posted by: Nathan | March 27, 2007

Book Review: One Hundred Years of Solitude

Continuing the BR fest, I come to Gabriel García Márquez and his masterwork Cien Años de Soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude)*. This novel tells the story of Macondo, a fictional pueblo in México from founding to destruction. The town’s history is dominated by the Buendías, whose exploits are the subject of the work. So many random events happen that I won’t try to convey them here, but they are all intriguing and many are supernatural. Cien Años is in the tradition of magical realism, wherein unbelievable, magical events are told with a straight face, as if such things happen all the time. It’s effective and delightful.

cienanos.jpgCien Años is an amazing achievement that isn’t hard to read but is difficult none-the-less. Why? First, all the of the characters share the same names. The intro to my edition has the Buendía family tree, which I consulted frequently, but this only takes one so far. The Aurelianos and the José Arcadios all run together after a while. Secondly, the story is split among so many characters that one does not see any continuity until the end.

This is the first novel I’ve read that has changed my opinion of it on the last page, so if you start it, finish it. The ending is spectacular and breathless as all the loose threads of the novel–the characters, curses, predictions, histories–are all intertwined before the reader’s eyes just before everything vanishes. It’s brilliant.

Other items of note. There is no small amount of sex in this book; unfortunately, some of it it is incestual, which is gross. To mount a meager defense, Macondo is small and isolated, but even so. That said (I’m just going to say this), García Márquez is the one of the best I’ve read at writing about sex (not the incest, of course). My favorite characters are Remedios the Beauty and Colonel Aureliano, so if you read this, look for them.

I only understood the completeness of this novel in retrospect, which is probably how GGM intended it. There is a lot in here about life, love, and especially the futility of war. The humor and supernatural events are enchanting. The characters are well-wrought, and the plot is intricate. The ending amazed me, but I’m taking points off for not being enjoyable all the way through. A harsh B+ @8.5/10, but I’ll probably like this one better on the second read.

*I read Gregory Rabassa’s translation, which García Márquez said is better than the original. You’ll notice the dreaded “Oprah’s Book Club” sticker; I tore mine off. I don’t need some talk-show host telling me what to read.

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