Sunday, January 08, 2006

Book Review: One Hundred Years of Solitude

By Gabriel García Márquez, translated by Gregory Rabassa
Published by Harper Perennial
Trade paper: $18.95

Whenever I mention that I’ve just finished this book, people look at me expectantly and ask, “So, what did you think?”; not in a curious way, but rather in an iconoclastic-expose-the-canon manner.

I have to disappoint, I’m afraid, because I did like this Oprah pick.

Originally published in Spanish in 1967, Márquez is touted as being first to employ “magic realism.” (It could be argued that Lewis Carroll or Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels were be forerunners, but I digress.) “Magic realism” is a strange and wonderful device that weaves the fantastic (in the true sense of the word) into a real story (i.e.: not a whiff if dragon dung to be found). Hence the true reason for me to sign this book out of the library; I’m a big fan of Jeanette Winterson and other writers of her ilk.

To be fair, I’m still mulling over the story. And having returned the book (incurring $2.00 in overdue fines), I cannot provide quotes or exact details. Nevertheless, a synopsis is in order.

One Hundred Years of Solitude takes place in Macondo, an imaginary, isolated, South American town at an indeterminate time in history. Centering on the Buendía family, we follow the sorrows, merriment, tragedy, and frustrations of the clan over a century; from the town’s settlement to its demise. Informed by the politics that Márquez lived through as a journalist and writer, the author ably sweeps away moral judgments to paint flawed human characters.

To compose an adequate essay exploring the themes and nuances the author examines would take not only more time, but a second and third reading, pencil and notebook in hand. An comparative lit major I am not. But as a reader, I found I had to stick this out; I knew Márquez would deliver, resolve, and satisfy the time I invested.

Many who have read One Hundred Years of Solitude hated it. Admittedly, it’s quite lengthy and can be depressing (I think of one particular scene about three quarters of the way through that underscores my sentiment about politics) but the poetic execution and the need to chew the story over make the experience worthwhile. Definitely worth revisiting.

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