One Hundred Years of Solitude

I have just finished reading for the fourth time this novel by Gabriel García Márquez, 1982 Nobel Prize winner.  This is a dense book spanning the five generations of the Buendía family that reveals more and more upon each reading–the mark of a great literary work. Many Nobel Prize winners not writing in English go unread by Americans. But not this one, which leads me to think about why this book has had such success in English translation.

Because Márquez brings humor to social, economic, and political matters in his story; he is able to broaden its appeal to a world audience, who identify with the absurdities of the human condition across time using the backdrop of an unidentified Latin American country and the fictional founding, growth, and decline of the town Macondo. The comedy turns black in the account of the massacre of the banana workers and the ultimate disintegration and extinction of the  Buendía line. Through humor Márquez makes his point more effectively on how history repeats itself in a way high seriousness could not. His satirical barbs always hit the bullseye. He gets the American Mr. Brown exactly right.

Despite the plethora of characters, each one is consumed by solitude even in the throes of love affairs. Solitude, not only of Macondo as an isolated town, is the flaw that eats away at their individual hearts and that of the community.  Ursula’s obsession with incest is well-founded and the motif of inbreeding that does occur in the saga of the family serves as a metaphor of the insularity of the community that feeds upon itself and cannot reach out in love, tragically seeking solace for loneliness in carnality. In one instance, Aurelio Segundo and Petra Cotes demonstrate authentic love in caring for Fernanda del Carpio. The men are given over to violence or searching after knowledge in solitude. The women see through the weaknesses of the men, supplying their need for sexual intimacy or withholding it. Fernanda del Carpio is hilarious as a woman steeped in tradition, religion, and illusions of her noble Spanish ancestry.  I found her characterization one of the funniest in the novel.

There is much to be said about this novel, requiring more than one essay or book. Just a discussion of the names that Márquez assigns his characters would suggest many meanings and interpretations. It is not my intent even to summarize the novel only to offer that humor is the source of Márquez’ genius. He implies that the ability to laugh at ourselves is healthy, essential to communal well-being.  Pride, arrogance and pomposity afflict a people who cannot laugh at the ludicrous in their lives. Yet in the final analysis, is the vision a dark one, considering that the novel ends with the words: “. . . races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth”?

I don’t think so. Márquez implies the reverse in the hopeful prospect that Columbia where he was born and the world at large can discover a new world of love, where communities reach out in love not only to their members but to other nations.  Therein lies the opportunity to end the cycle of solitude and destruction.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by alice on June 3, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    You’re so smart! I love how you think, the fact that you actually take time to think! I marveled at that piece of literary achievement, even having only read it once! What I remember most from my reading is the colors, the vibrant colors of that culture. I still have the book on my shelf, which is a marvel in itself, considering the many moves and books lost.


    • I was impressed too with the vivid descriptions of the culture, which came across so richly even in translation. Each encounter with the book is as exciting as the first read. Maybe watching an online documentary I found that you can watch on your computer will kindle your interest sufficiently to take the book down from your shelf. The link is (Gabriel Garcia Marquez: La Magia de lo Real). I’m surprised One Hundred Years of Solitude has not been made into a movie yet, but Marquez’ Love in the Time of Cholera has, starring Javier Bardem (one of my favorite actors nowadays).


  2. Good post 🙂

    I’ve read One Hundred Years’ twice now and will probably read it once every year. I agree that the book is essentially satirical. From a personal standpoint, though, the novel hits pretty close to home (pun intended): like the Buendia family, mine has grown up in a house built three generations ago by my grandfather, a house that has been, to quote Shakespeare, a stage for people’s entrances and exits. Large houses with large families can be become microcosms of social change, but also a metaphor for cosmic realities. Time is circular, history does repeat itself, the old woman Ursala believed.

    On a slightly different note, I’ve written about Marquez and the art of fiction here: Would love to know your thoughts.


    • Thanks Theena for your comment and leading me to The Paris Review interview with Marquez. Your view that the Buendia house is the central metaphor of the novel is borne out by this interview in which Marquez states the original title for the novel was The House. In reading the interview, I found out why the novel has never been made into a film–because Marquez prefers it that way. He says: “But I have no interest in a film, and as long as I can prevent it from happening, it won’t. I prefer that it remain a private relationship between the reader and the book.” This makes so much sense. The novel and the film are distinct art forms. I agree with his statement: “I can’t think of any one film that improved on a good novel, but I can think of many good films that came from very bad novels.” This is from a man who was once involved in making films. Yet Love in the Time of Cholera was made into a movie. I don’t like a film director tampering with my imaginings of the characters’ appearances and my visualizations of the story’s events. The film is the director’s conception–not mine, and certainly not my experience in reading the book. I watch film adaptations to see the new artistic entity the film has created from a book. I am glad Marquez followed his instincts. His long paragraphs and style that feels like a historical account are currently out-of-favor in American fiction. His novel is relatively sparse on the dialogue and sometimes that is given as indirect dialogue lumped into the flow of the narrative paragraph that could go on for several pages. All of this I received as “no-no’s” in any writing workshop or conference I attended. But it works marvelously for Marquez.
      Could it be that short, punchy paragraphs, and plentiful dialogue make for easier transformation into a script, and consequently, the style adopted by many authors who dream of selling the movie rights to their books?


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