One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, March 6, 2014

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
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.”


Sandy Nawrot said...

I tried reading Love in the Time of Cholera and didn't make it far either. Sometimes beautiful writing just isn't enough...I need just a LITTLE bit of plot and some kind of compelling premise. I'll definitely pass on this one. (Sometimes I get so disheartened when I hear that a book is "one of the best in modern literature" and totally don't get it.)

JoAnn said...

What a perfectly timed review - I just saw on Writer's Almanac that today (3/6) is GGM's birthday! I've tried to read this book at least a couple of times and never seem to make it beyond page 50. Think I just don't get magical realism. I did make it through Love in the Time of Cholera, but it was just ok for me...

Kat @ NoPageLeftBehind said...

I bought this book because I usually like magical realism. Still, it daunts me and has remained unread on my shelves.

Even though you didn't love it - I still want to give Marquez a try.

Great review!

Rebecca @ The Key to the Gate said...

This one has been on my reading list for a long time as well but I never have been motivated to begin. It is still one of those books I hope to get to one day but I think I will need to really commit to it to finish. Great review. Thanks for sharing!
Happy Reading,
Rebecca @ The Key to the Gate

Riv said...

I think you are absolutely right when saying that this genre isn't everyone's cup of tea. I personally have two completely different reading experiences with this book. The first read in high school basically left me with big question-mark shaped "WTF" on my face. However, I decided to give the book another go last spring, as I bravely added it to my Classics Club list, and lo and behold, it was a very enjoyable experience.

One of the factors might have been that I have read quite a bit of magical realism between now and high school (10+ years). I feel it takes getting into a certain mindset to enjoy it, and to be able to not ask realistic questions all the time. The language in this book is so beautiful (and I read it in Estonian, not English), and overall this book cemented my belief that re-reads are sometimes worth it.

But yes, it's one of those books that people seem to either love or hate, and I have experienced both of those :)

Brooke said...

Marquez terrifies me. I have a couple of his novels on my classics club list and keep putting them off. I'm convinced I they are too big for my somewhat tiny brain.

Laura said...

I own this, and I'm kind of worried about reading it because I feel like I'm going to feel the same way as you about it. I don't think it's a magical realism thing (I love Salman Rushdie and Murakami) but a Marquez thing- I read Love in the Time of Cholera and I couldn't get into it AT ALL. Just, no. I think he might just be one of those authors I don't get at all.

Sara said...

I really love Marquez, but I agree that One Hundred Years of Solitude is difficult to get through. I personally prefer his novellas. No-One Writes to the Colonel and Of Love and Other Demons are excellent stories. I'm glad you've decided not to give up on Marquez entirely; he is an excellent writer and his novels aren't necessarily supposed to be easy reads, but they are beautiful and well worth the effort. :)

o said...

I've struggled with Márquez - I think you did better than I did! :)

Anonymous said...

I probably should check but I *think* this is a book I abandoned many years ago after just not getting it - not too many pages in. I know something turned me off to this author but I do wonder if I have the right title in mind. I have been known to confuse authors in my head and find out years later how wrong I've been! (example - confusing John Irving with John Updike.)

Captain Nick Sparrow said...

After reading Love in the Time of Cholera I vowed to never read another by him!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Sandy - I know! I hate the feeling that I'm just not getting it.

JoAnn - Ha, I didn't even realize it was his birthday! Perfect timeing!

Kat - You absolutely should! It's a classic for a reason and even if I didn't love it, I'm glad to have a better understanding of his work. It really is unique.

Rebecca - I'm glad I finally read it. It was on my list for so long!

Riv - It was your review that encouraged me to finally tackle it! Such a great look at the book since your opinion of it had changed.

Brooke - I think that if I try one of his again it won't be for a long time.

Laura - We all have those authors and I think he's one of mine as well.

Lit Major - I may have to try one of the novellas next. Thanks for the recommendation!

o - I think he just might not be a good fit for everyone.

bkclubcare - John Updike and John Irving are seriously so much alike! Once I confused Henry James and Henry Miller - so different!

Captain - Wow, glad I'm not alone.

Roof Beam Reader said...

Huh. I've only read his Memoirs of my Melancholy Whores, which I loved; but it was very short, and I can see how a much longer work, in the same style, might be a bit much. I still need (and plan) to read this one, someday, but it sounds like a lazy summer kind of read - where there's plenty of time to just sit with it and digest it slowly. Alas, I don't have that kind of summer in my future this year. Lol

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Roof Beam Reader - I think maybe I need to try some of his short work next.

Joseph said...'s a bit...hard to characterize isn't it. My favorite aspect was the names (though also confusing), and the fatalist theme they presented. I especially liked the twins, who Ursula though switched places...and then they were buried in the other's grave...probably setting things right.
My own review:

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Joseph - How interesting, I'd never heard this one compared to Don Quixote. I also liked the back and forth of the twins. I haven't read too much magical realism, so this one was out of my comfort zone, but it's good to challenge yourself that way.

YessieC said...

This is my third time trying to Cien Años de Soledad, and still as confusing as the first time I read it in high school, but now I am reading it as a challenge to myself. This classic book is not for everyone and the brave ones that read it, never fully understand it. As some of you mentioned this a book with magical realism, incestuous relationships, lust, gluttony, barbarism, love, hate and even a tad of dark and mythical power. At times, I could relate to this book more when they mentioned the foreigners and the banana fields and how they were there to exploit the people of Macondo. My grandparents used to tell us about this real horror they lived thru at that time, the harsh living and working for the foreign companies at the banana fields, it also reminded me of the book Prision Verde (Green Prison) about the banana fields in Honduras and the exploitation of the local folks by the foreign companies. Anyway, I guess we all can agree that this is a classic book by Garcia Marquez and that it is not for everyone’s liking..