This book is lauded as one of the greatest of the 20th Century. It’s been on my TBR shelf for years and now that I’ve finally read it I feel like I’m still in the dark.
The plot, and I use that term loosely, follows the Buendía clan. Patriarch José Arcadio Buendía founds the fictional town of Macondo. Beginning with his life, the book chronicles seven generations in the family’s history. There are so many overlapping names within the family tree that things can seem a bit muddled at times. Up and down and in and out of the characters’ lives, we see romances blossom, an insomnia plague, military occupation and more.
The Buendía family is a pretty incestuous bunch. One man marries his adopted sister, another has an affair with his aunt, another marries his first cousin, etc. There is a serious focus on beauty, lust and how it almost inevitably leads to destruction or unhappiness. From the very first generations, the Buendía chose immediate infatuation over long term consequences.
As many others have said before me, the writing really is beautiful. Márquez can paints a lovely picture, but I always felt like I was just outside of the room where the action was happening if that makes sense. I never felt connected to the story in any real way. I know magical realism isn’t for everyone, but I’m not sure if that was the issue or if it was just the lack of a clear storyline. I feel like I had an open mind and no specific expectations going into the book, but it was still hard for me to feel compelled by the characters.
The aspect of the book that was actually the most interesting to me was its inspiration. Márquez said he decided to write the novel after his Grandmother told him stories about her childhood that wove unbelievable supernatural elements into her everyday life. He said she told the stories as though there was nothing magical in them and so he never doubted them. He wanted to create a world within his novel where the same was true.
BOTTOM LINE: Confusing and strange, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a classic but it's not for everyone. I'm glad I read it and I think I understand magical realism a bit more. I may try to re-read it in the future and see if the style clicks for me.
“It's enough for me to be sure that you and I exist at this moment.”
“Thus they went on living in a reality that was slipping away, momentarily captured by words, but which would escape irremediably when they forgot the values of the written letters.”