This book is a strangely dispassionate fever dream from start to finish. I’m glad I read it, but I can’t say I wholly enjoyed the experience.
Imagine you’re a dog. You’re a dog, and you’re running through some wild place—a forest or a field, it doesn’t matter. Your senses are open to everything around you, and you’re taking everything in at once, a sort of sensory kaleidoscope that gives you an ever-updating understanding of your surroundings. Once in a while, a particular thread of scent catches your attention, and for a moment you are blind and deaf to everything else. You race ahead or you suddenly backtrack on your course and you sniff this one thing, probing for detail until you know all there is to know about it. Does the thing make sense? Is it normal? It doesn’t matter! You’re a dog, and you have no interest in logical or moral judgments. All you have are your senses and your observations, and all you care about is the impression they give you, which helps you to navigate your world.
That’s what reading this book is like.
The dog from the metaphor is Marquez’s narration. It moves in a generally forward direction through the rise and fall of a fictional Latin American town, with the occasional leap forward or back in time, seemingly at whim. It ranges in scope from events involving the entire country and lasting months or years, which are described in broad and unspecific terms, to events involving single individuals, which take place in great detail over the course of maybe an afternoon. It is both extremely expressive and completely detached. At no point does it make any sort of judgment regarding whether the events it describes are morally acceptable or even realistic, no matter how horrifying or fantastic they might be (and there’s a lot in this book that might strike the reader as shocking: pedophilia, incest, massacre, suicide…you get the idea).
Marquez wasn’t the inventor of magical realism, but his writing was extremely well known for it. It’s surprisingly approachable in this book. No matter how magical what he describes might be, the realism underneath is generally clear. (Although since finishing the book, I read this article about his inspiration, so maybe even the magical stuff is more real than I’d originally thought.)
Ultimately, I wouldn’t say that this is an easy read. It takes time, and concentration, and a willingness to suspend disbelief. But it’s worth the effort.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, Gregory Rabassa
Genres: Fiction, Literary
The novel tells the story of the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the family. It is a rich and brilliant chronicle of life and death, and the tragicomedy of humankind. In the noble, ridiculous, beautiful, and tawdry story of the family, one sees all of humanity, just as in the history, myths, growth, and decay of Macondo, one sees all of Latin America.
Love and lust, war and revolution, riches and poverty, youth and senility--the variety of life, the endlessness of death, the search for peace and truth--these universal themes dominate the novel. Whether he is describing an affair of passion or the voracity of capitalism and the corruption of government, Gabriel Garcia Marquez always writes with the simplicity, ease, and purity that are the mark of a master.
Alternately reverential and comical, One Hundred Years of Solitude weaves the political, personal, and spiritual to bring a new consciousness to storytelling. Translated into dozens of languages, this stunning work is no less than an accounting of the history of the human race.