Cien años de soledad, 1967. Gabriel García Márquez's masterpiece and the breakthrough work that put him on the literary map. Written in 18 months of solitude, where he locked himself into his room with paper and cigarettes, writing day and night. Translated into thirty languages, winner of four international prizes, the novel is certainly one of the most remarkable books ever written, a tale that spans generations told against a backdrop where the absurd seems logical and the sensible ludicrous.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is the history of the isolated town of Macondo, focusing on the lives of the most prominent inhabitants of the town, the Buendía family.

This book, is an absolute pleasure to read. Garcia Marquez has you believing that daisies fall from the sky upon lovers, or that iguanas truly can gesticulate inside a woman's womb. It has become perhaps the most important book in the genre of contemporary literature known as magical realism.

This somewhat oxymoronic term pertinently suggests the fundamental thematic tension of the novel. In one way, One Hundred Years of Solitude is sensible in its approach. It does lend itself towards a type of poetic euphemism, yet it does not shrink back from portrayals of violence and sex. It also straightforwardly addresses complex political and social issues. The overall tone of the novel is matter of fact, with events portrayed bluntly, as though they had actually occurred. But into this generally realistic narrative Garcia Márquez has inserted magical elements that flout conventional realism. One incidence of this is when we witness Remedios the Beauty floating up to heaven rather than dying.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is, in a certain sense, a work of Biblical proportions. The novel conjures Macondo into being from its earliest Edenic days of innocence and traces it until its Apocalyptic end.

The major problem I had with with reading this book is that it is terribly tricky to keep track of who is who! We must keep continually flipping back to the family tree. My English teacher’s suggestion is to photocopy the family tree and keep it as a bookmark. Garcia Márquez made the very deliberate decision to give the Buendía members a very limited selection of names. The novel spans six generations, and in each generation the men of the Buendía line are named Jose Arcadio or Aureliano, and the women are named Ursula, Amaranta, or Remedios. It can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between different people of the same name. Garcia Márquez' chose to do this to dramatize the way he saw history repeating itself in cycles. In this novel, each generation is condemned to repeat the mistakes and to celebrate the triumphs of the previous generation.
In order to get a grip on what’s happening then we have to hence pay fastidious attention to the full names of the protagonists, which often contain slight distinguishing variations.

Milla Jovovich absolutely adores this book. It is her ultimate favourite, she loves the "nuances between dreams and reality". If you look closely, you will see her holding a copy of the book in her movie The Million Dollar Hotel. She also improvised some parts from the story towards the end of the movie.

Wherever they might be they always remember that the past was a lie, that memory has no return, that every spring gone by could never be recovered, and that the wildest and most tenacious love was an ephemeral truth in the end.
While I am not normally one to appreciate a book amounting to a catalogue of woe, a pardon can be granted on the basis of extreme beauty in composition. For me, the classic woeful novel is probably Scottish or Irish. The Country Girls and No Great Mischief come instantly to mind. Other examples of beautiful melancholy include Snow Falling on Cedars and Anil's Ghost. The oftentimes spartan style of One Hundred Years of Solitude doesn't make it an obvious member of that grouping. While there are certainly compelling images and clever similes, the book plays more like a forceful waltz than a playful piano sonata.

The overall sweep of the book is badly confused by the identical names of so many characters. Clearly, Marquez is trying to demonstrate the cyclical nature of the family history - though underscored by a long-term decline. Marquez explains that:

The history of the family was a machine with unavoidable repetitions, a turning wheel that would have gone on spilling into eternity were it not for the progressive and irremediable wearing of the axle.
While clearly intentional, the repetition becomes grating. Ultimately, Marquez presents you with a long series of character vignettes that play with similarity and difference like a piece of music alternating between repetition and invention. The most notable sections of the book are surely the snippets where Marquez conveys a wonderful image of a person with so few words as to be amazing.

The setting of the book, somewhere in Latin America, was off-putting for me. It's a place that repels me by being alien, without seeming exotic. It's the kind of place that feels dusty in the mind. Despite that sense, there are many truths presented about human relationships. I can't help thinking of my own life when I read about how:

Aureliano Segundo had the impression that no link existed between them anymore, that the comradeship and the complicity were nothing but an illusion of the past.
Then he thought that Gaston was not as foolish as he appeared, but, quite the contrary, was a man of infinite steadiness, ability, and patience who had set about to conquer his wife with the weariness of eternal agreement, of never saying no, of simulating a limitless conformity, letting her become enmeshed in her own web until she could no longer bear the tedium of the illusions close at hand.
The story of Ursula I found most compelling, probably because it was told in the most comprehensible and uninterrupted arc.

In the end, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a swarm of brilliant fragments that do not assemble into a particularly sensical whole. The story is almost maniacally anti-epic, with everything promising ending in failure and everything beautiful ending in ruin. Disaster piles on disaster and makes the reader wary to enjoy anything read, due to the knowledge that it will be unravelled by Marquez in the space of one hundred pages.

I've been in a book club for the past five years, though it has lately become a very occasional thing now that we are all getting older and having children (among other grown-up things). Back when we all read avidly and met often to drink, eat, and talk about books, I had a reputation for being the staunch literary realist of the group. I resisted anything that didn't conform to reality as I felt it was lived, anything that was sentimental or magical or lacking in brutal truths about our world. I felt very strongly about this. I was a real jerk. So it would be no surprise to my book club pals that I didn't care for this novel. What surprised me, though, was how much I learned about myself, and my relationship with literature, from reading it.

What I've learned is that there is more than one kind of realism. The more obvious kind (which I always thought was the only, the legit, the capital-R Realism) is the one that slavishly imitates life as we know it. Think of Cormac McCarthy, Madame Bovary, To the Lighthouse, The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Books where you can imagine yourself as a visitor in some distant, but still coherent, part of the world. The characters might be the most vivid people you will ever meet, but they are still human beings who think and feel like you do. The events are all within the realms of historical possibility, and each chapter follows from the previous in an orderly sequence of happenings, each one building on the last one in such a way that feels not only possible but inevitable. The sense of inevitability is something I always crave in fiction — the feeling that the world just makes sense.

But when I read this novel (which was my second attempt at it — the first time I gave it up in frustration), I realised that there is a second kind of realism. Márquez is often called a Magical Realist, but I prefer to think of him as a chaotic realist. The places, events, and characters of this particular book only superficially resemble our reality. The people don't speak, think, or act like anyone you've ever met in your waking life. Frankly impossible things happen, with no apologies or attempts at explanation. Everything feels chaotic, incomprehensible, and unreal. And worst of all, it just keeps going and going and going without any structure or apparent meaning. But despite this, the novel captures an aspect of reality that capital-R Realism always struggles to portray, which is precisely the chaos and incomprehensibility of our reality.

It's as if the capital-R Realists are painting a portrait with painstakingly lifelike detail, and Márquez is throwing paint against the wall, creating a fresco of a landscape seen through sun-dazzled eyes, which is indistinct and hazy, lacking the fidelity of a portrait, but boldly conveying the indescribable feeling of being alive.

And I don't like that.

Márquez succeeds brilliantly in capturing the chaos and rudderless confusion of life, and it is overwhelming. There are so many questions that are never addressed. Who are these people? Why can't I tell one person from another? Where are we? Why do things just keep happening non-stop, one after the other, at such a rate that I can't keep up? Who and what am I supposed to care about? Which events are good, which ones are bad? Is it possible to judge? Why do people get away with doing such terrible things? Are they terrible things at all? Did the events of last year truly cause the events of now, or are they all just random (as they seem to be)? How do I know what to believe? Which of these wise observations upon the page are truly wise, and which ones are false or ironic? When the tale constantly contradicts itself, is there such a thing as truth? Why does everyone keep fucking all the time? Are these symbols meaningful, or are they merely for appearance?

These are the same questions that plague us all throughout real life, and none of them seems to have an answer.

So by reading this novel, I have learned something important about the literature I've read and enjoyed for a long time: That what I have always thought of as the true realism, the capital-R Realism, is perhaps more magical than Márquez's magical realism. Capital-R Realism performs the magic trick of making life seem orderly and comprehensible. It starts at the start, then it proceeds logically from one stage to the next, and then it ends. And it creates the illusion that real life can be seen that way too. This makes it enjoyable and comforting to people like me (despite how pessimistic or dark it often is), because grey orderliness is preferable to the chaos of incomprehensible light and colour - the chaos of reality.

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