Book Review: One Hundred Years of Solitude [MUSE]

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Grace Xu

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez follows the story of the Buendía family on the magical island of Macondo through, as you might expect, 100 years.

I must admit, I went into this book with exceedingly high expectations. My mom recommended it as the best book she has ever read, and upon further research, I discovered that this novel was the magnum opus of Márquez—a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

This novel then proceeded to exceed all of my expectations, though not in the way I expected. It’s easy to understand why this book essentially won Márquez the Nobel Prize. Not only did One Hundred Years of Solitude set the standard for the entire genre of magical realism, Márquez delves into practically all aspects of human life throughout the book, and it feels as if every page is filled with pearls of wisdom hidden under a heavy layer of dry humor and fantastical imagination. However, it is not exactly a compulsive read, despite its marvelous premise. (I had hoped it would be.)

To the contrary, reading it felt almost exactly like reading a history textbook. It was sometimes just interesting enough, often zooming into certain vignette-like stories, and almost always required an immense amount of focus to keep all the characters straight. (The Buendía family has the oh-so-very convenient habit of reusing the same names every generation. When the novel refers to Aureliano, I have to do mental gymnastics to think about exactly which Aureliano is being discussed—perhaps the colonel? Or his 17 sons, his grandson, or either of his two great-grandsons? Not to mention the sheer amount of characters in general.) Really, now that I’m describing it, I feel even more certain that reading One Hundred Years of Solitude was like reading a history textbook. It chronicles the changes of Macondo through time, from war to industrialization to the arrival of the colonizing banana companies (oftentimes mirroring the true history of Márquez’s mother country, Colombia). His writing is also a bit heavy-handed with the events, writing one after another, rather than having any overarching plots, making it sometimes dense to read.

However, I want to be clear: Márquez’s prose is in no way like the dry text of a history textbook. He is, though, quite fond of dry humor (my favorite), and utterly brilliant in his grasp of language as well. (Not to mention, I read the translated English version; I’m sure that the original Spanish has even better prose?!) He has a very distinct, matter-of-fact writing style that also includes refreshing yet easily comprehensible comparisons.

And while there is no clear overarching plot, there are many overarching themes, and Márquez is quite fond of foreshadowing and motifs (which both demonstrate that this book was well-planned and emphasize his theme of cyclical time). The entire book felt like a downwards spiral—and a spiral specifically, because the book seemed to be going in circles, generations named the same names, continuously repeating itself, yet never quite the same. The fact that the book mirrored real-life historical events made this theme ever more poignant—the reader feels trapped in the nihilistic inevitability of time, within and outside the novel.  

There is also the terrific imagination of Márquez which manages to make the book unpredictable even in the face of its cyclical nature. There are flying carpets and children with pigs’ tails and people floating into the ether, and then there are the details that are just possible enough, like living for over 100 years and having 17 children and staging but failing (but also surviving) 32 military uprisings and deluges of rain every single day for almost five years and making gold fishes just to melt them just to make them all over again—and again, and again. There is probably some point to be made here, like how surreal reality can be, and the fine line between fact and fiction, but it also just makes the book incredibly fun to read when these ridiculous occurrences are detailed in the most matter-of-fact tones.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is a book that will make you feel like you just read about, well, life—in all of its abstract, real nonsense. Forget about 42—it’s Márquez’s writing that has the meaning of life in it somewhere, I’m sure of it. In fact, this novel seemed to embody its very own Melquiades texts referenced throughout: a literary piece that was difficult to get through, a piece that made me feel as if I needed to pore over it some more, read a few more times, utterly compelled to give an attempt at deciphering up to the end.

On this blog, Shruthi Ravichandran and Grace Xu provide monthly curations of all types of arts and media, from TV shows to music to novels and even YouTubers. On top of mood-oriented playlists, there’s also the occasional rant-filled review. They hope readers will always leave with a new piece of media to muse over. Click here to read more from MUSE.  

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