Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is considered a masterpiece of literature. In summary it follows the generations of one family from its founding parents – Jose Arcadio and Ursula Buendia – as they also build the city of Macondo to its final disappearance after 100 years of solitude. From one incest to another, it follows one line as it destroys itself.
In one word: long. I didn’t particularly like the book. I found it difficult to connect with any of the characters, I found it hard to immerse myself in their world and in the end I just found it tedious to read.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some interesting elements, and I can recognize the amazing writing skills of Marques. One of these is the constant repetition of history, as no man (or woman) of the family seems to learn from the lesson of the past, something Ursula – who lives to be past 115 years old – notices several times during the book. It gives the impression of the snake eating its own tail, as history repeats itself from one generation to the next.
Whether you like the story or not, there’s a sense that time isn’t really happening in its chronological order – and thus reinforcing the sense of repetition. It can actually be a bit overwhelming because you’re not sure when you are. And you can’t escape it. Marquez uses it masterfully. One can’t deny that; that sentence “years later when…” enhances that feeling and it repeats itself numerous times.
One must also admit that the characters are rich: by that I mean they’re complex, multi-layered and sometimes totally contradictory and weird. For example, Amaranta is deeply in love yet when the man she loves proposes she says no. This happens not once but twice. Who does that?
That being said, I felt cheated; I think I’ve seen the very first sentence of the book used many times in writing prompts or as inspiration for writing class… and I was expecting something different, something with more action. After all it says “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” Like many readers before me, I wanted to know the answers; it was enticing, a great teaser, and I was really excited at first, but in the end it was mostly disappointing.
I guess I’ve discovered that I don’t particularly enjoy magical realism – I think that’s what it’s called. I can understand the concept but more often than not it felt to me that it just came out of nowhere. The most obvious was Remedios’ Assumption; a reference to the Virgin Mary but somehow just not working for me.
Which brings me to my next point. There’s something almost biblical about the book: Jose Arcadio Buendia seems a bit like Cain after the murder of Abel or like Adam and Eve chased from Eden. But also a bit like Abraham moving from his home to a place where he’ll lead his people. In some ways he has many descendants, at least 30 grandsons from Aureliano, but then his line is interrupted. You also have the Great Flood and the Exodus referenced in the book and, to a certain extent, the Apocalypse.
I trudged through the book in order to finish it so maybe I didn’t appreciate its intricacies and what makes it special and amazing for so many out there. I don’t know. I felt like a teenager in school forced to read Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. So it wasn’t a pleasant read for me.
Maybe one day I’ll pick it up without a deadline and see if I can find in it some of what makes it a masterpiece and a part of that list. But right now, I’m not convinced.