One Hundred Years of Solitude
by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Summary: One of the 20th century's enduring works, "One Hundred Years of Solitude is a widely beloved and acclaimed novel known throughout the world, and the ultimate achievement in a Nobel Prize- winning career. The novel tells the story of the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendi a 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 Buendi a 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.
I love reading classics. I love reading those "harder to read" books that most people agonize over. I love reading books with underlying themes and books that make me think. I also LOVED Love in the Time of Cholera by the same author. I found it to be beautiful in a way that One Hundred Years of Solitude was not. One Hundred Years of Solitude was just okay.
In the beginning, I thought I'd be in for a treat. I loved the quest for knowledge that the first Jose Arcadio Buendia immersed himself in. I loved the gypsies coming to town with new inventions to show them. I was excited to continue reading. I loved how the town of Macondo came to be and the adventures the family undertook in its early stages.
But by the time old Jose Arcadio Buendia found himself under a tree for ages, I was no longer intrigued. While the names of the characters are repeated throughout generations and some of the sons end up having a ton of children all with the same name, I didn't find it all that difficult to keep track of who everyone was. What I did have trouble with was finding the urge to care anymore about who they were. I felt some sort of connection to the first Jose Arcadio Buendia, but not a single character beyond him connected with me in any way. I even stopped caring about Ursula, despite the fact that she was the only original character left. It wasn't so much a question of who these people are, but why should I care about it in the first place?
While there was no shortage of crazy, amusing, interesting, screwed up events, somehow it just stopped being worth my time. I started to feel as if all the great symbolism and depth I enjoyed in the beginning were just being thrown around all willy-nilly by the author without any sense. It's like he started baking a really great cake, went to bake another one and just started throwing around ingredients without trying or caring and making this ridiculous concoction of cake ingredients that doesn't even resemble cake anymore.
The story jumps around a lot from character to character, which irritated me. I think I would have been more invested in the individuals and their stories had it been organized in a better way. The way it is written feels like a recap or summary of a story instead of the story itself. I don't know if this is true to translation or not. In some ways, following the lives of the members of this family reminds me of reading Greek mythology with so many names and relationships and adventures. But if I recall correctly, all the Greek stories I've read tend to keep the characters organized by telling their stories one at a time, whenever possible. I just felt like something was missing while reading this. Some element to the story just wasn't working for me and it felt very far away and dull, even during the parts that piqued my interest a little more.
When I put the book down and moved on to some other books I needed to read, I ended up thinking about it a lot. Stepping away from the pages allowed me to appreciate the story more in some ways. I still think I'd rather have the story stick to individual characters a little bit longer. I feel like this book is almost like an aerial view of the town, with a limited zoom and I wanted to zoom in and focus on the people a little more, get a crisper view of each person, if that makes sense.
I dislike the way that Marquez wrote this novel because it felt impersonal and nonchalant. But the more I research, I realize that this was the point. It was purposeful. And I feel like it didn't work for me at all. Now that I've finished, I think this book could have been at least half its length and still made the same point and perhaps I would be been able to overlook the writing style had it been a lot shorter. I also wonder if perhaps listening to the audiobook might be worth a try, since the writing resembles the storytelling Marquez's grandmother was known for.
My overall verdict is that this is a wonderful story and perhaps it is worth reading. Perhaps it's better read in a classroom setting where it can later be picked apart and examined because there are so many parts of it that were wonderful. It is not a book I'd recommend for enjoyment. Even I had to set it down a few times and back away and think over bits of the story in order to appreciate it more. I suppose I'm glad I read it and glad it was for a book club so there will be some more in depth discussion. But I went into this fully expecting to enjoy it and left a bit disappointed.