One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcίa Márquez, translated by Gregory Rabassa (New York: Harper Perennial, 1967. 417 pp)
Gabriel Garcίa Márquez is a Colombian novelist whose notable books include Love in the Time of Cholera, The Autumn of the Patriarch, and Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982, Márquez is considered one of the most significant authors of the Twentieth Century.
With a foundation in magical realism, One Hundred Years of Solitude follows the growth of the Buendίa family and the city of Macondo. Drawing from childhood stories, Márquez pens an extraordinary tale of love, death, and loneliness. The book begins with a foreboding sense of determinism when Márquez writes:
“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendίa was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice” (p. 1).
In fact, an impending sense of helplessness meanders through the book as the family expands with children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. With each generation, the names of Aureliano, José Arcadio, and Remedios are recycled. There is a sense in which each person is merely an extension of a larger character. “There was no mystery,” claims Márquez,
“in the heart of a Buendίa that was impenetrable for her because a century of cards and experience had taught her 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” (p. 396).
Just as each character blends with previous characters that have come and gone in the narrative, each lives and dies in resolute isolation. Whether through external circumstances or internal influences, each family member succumbs to a life of seclusion. For example, Márquez describes a character’s despair, saying:
“Instead of going to the chestnut tree, Colonel Aureliano Buendίa also went to the street door and mingled with the bystanders who were watching the parade. He saw a woman dressed in gold sitting on the head of an elephant. He saw a sad dromedary. He saw a bear dressed like a Dutch girl keeping time to the music with a soup spoon and a pan. He saw the clowns doing cartwheels at the end of the parade and once more he saw the face of his miserable solitude when everything had passed by and there was nothing but the bright expanse of the street and the air full of flying ants with a few onlookers peering into the precipice of uncertainty. Then he went to the chestnut tree, thinking about the circus, and while he urinated he tried to keep on thinking about the circus, but he could no longer find the memory. He pulled his head in between his shoulders like a baby chick and remained motionless with his forehead against the trunk of the chestnut tree” (267).
Originally written in Spanish,One Hundred Years of Solitude is a difficult read. The sentences are long and the narrative does not follow a singular arc. However, the book brings harsh questions into focus. Are we free to choose the direction of our lives or have they been set in motion long before we were conscious of our choices? No matter how many friends and loved ones orbit our lives, are we actually alone? I encourage you to pick up Marquez’s masterpiece and struggle your way to your own answers.