I finally read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s seminal novel One Hundred Years of Solicitude, after it lay in my TBR for a 100 years, metaphorically speaking! I have been planning on reading this work ever since I was 20 and I completely and utterly fell in love with Love in Time of Cholera! I was mesmerized by Marquez’s images and his sensitivity; despite that it took me 14 odd years to get to his most famous work! Anyhow, thanks to the 12 Month’s Classic Challenge, I was able to check this one off, this November!
One Hundred Years of Solicitude, traces the rise and fall of the Buendia family, in the township of Macando, which is founded by the patriarch of the family José Arcadio Buendía. José Arcadio marries his first cousin Ursula, defying the conventional norms of not marrying within the family and and sets off with her and some other fellow countrymen for a better life and one night after a long and arduous journey, dreams of a city called Macando. On waking up he decides to establish a city right there on the river back and calls it Macando. With the setting up of this township, the roots of Buendia family are laid and each generations, from Jose Arcadio, suffers through tragedies and loneliness, as they struggle with their inner geniuses and their need for solicitude. There is Colonel Aureliano Buendía, the second son of Ursual and José Arcadio, the poet, the craftsman and the warrior in the 20 year Civil war that saw Macando at the grip of violence between the liberals and conservatives. There is Amaranta, his youngest sister, whose life is marked out by tragedy after the suicide of Pietro Crespi, who had loved her and was rejected by her. The fourth generation twins, José Arcadio Segundo and Aureliano Segundo, whose lives are closely entangled with the changing dynamics of the economy of Macando. José Arcadio becomes involved in the banana worker strike, and is the only survivor when the company massacres the striking workers. Aureliano Segundo takes his first girlfriend Petra Cotes as his mistress during his marriage to the beautiful and bitter Fernanda del Carpio and makes a fortune with in livestock trading, only to die penniless, after the the four years storm destroys all his livestock.Finally, there is Aurelino, the illegitimate son of Reneta, daughter of Aureliano Segundo, who dies as the worst cyclone hits the town, destroying the very house built by José Arcadio.
The rise and fall of the Buendia family and Macando was naturally a metaphor for Columbia and traces some of the key events that define Colombian history, the Liberal political climate of the country, the arrival of the railways, the hegemony of the United Fruit Company and the military actions to suppress all labor movements. Marquez also employs Magical Realisim to create a myth like narrative, while blending the novel with the more real affairs of civil war and economic boom.The reader is expected to be prepared to accept the impossible along with realistic themes like war and marriage. The other two main themes that hold this novel together is the concept of solicitude and realism. From the very founding of Macando, at the very edge of a swamp at the end of civilization, kicks of this quest for solicitude by the Buendia family.The characters all seem to live in their own private world, distinct and isolated from what was actually happening and bringing in destruction after destruction, as they secluded themselves from the world. The theme of incest, also runs through the novel.The patriarch of the family, Jose Arcadio Buendía, is the first of numerous Buendías to intermarry when he marries his first cousin, Úrsula and this form of relationships continue with every generation, till the very end when Aurilino marries Ursuala Remidios, who technically is his aunt.
There is a otherworldly effect that one is left with after reading this novel. While, the narrative constantly touches on some very real themes, the myth like story telling techniques, leaves one feeling that one has just finished reading a fable. There are some lovely descriptions and lyricism that pervades through the novel and some hard truths, that make it a book of wisdom. However, while there was much to admire, I could not honestly say I loved the book. The convoluted story telling seemed to be a contrived effort not to sound, linear; though what is the problem is sounding linear in a multi-generational narrative is something i am yet to figure out. I could not emphasis with a singly character, except Urusla, who seemed remotely normal and is one of best portrayals of a grand matriarch ever! The other all seemed to be self obsessed without much kindness of any human touch and while I understand that Marquez was trying to portray the utter selfishness of the landed gentry of Latin America, I found the characters just down right irritating than actually villian like! Finally, I do not and I will not understand the need for incest as a theme. I am not sure what Marquez was attempting to say through the constant emphasis on incest and sex, but I cannot quite find the literary abandon and intellectual freedom in this. To me it was completely unnecessary, creating hype when none was required and not adding any real enrichment to the story telling.
I am glad I have read it. I am glad to know a whole different style of narrative and story telling. I think it is important to read this work once, at least to understand Latin America a little better; however, it is not a book that I will ever go back to again!