Steven Godin's Reviews > One Hundred Years of Solitude

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
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really liked it
bookshelves: classic-fiction, brazil-colombia

Many years ago I was told this is one of those books you have to read before you die. I didn't get far on that occasion, but returned recently with steely determination to have a second bite at the cherry (or should that be banana), to see if it really lives up to all the hype. Well, I certainly don't think I would take this as one of my few novels after being dumped on a desert island, nor would I have a special place on my bookshelf, and take it out every now and then to scrape moss from the cover and shoo away any unwanted lizards from within the pages, but yes, I am glad to have read it.

My fifth Marquez book had what I would come to expect in terms of magical realism, but through all the death, violence, and weird happenings, I found many of the characters still attached to real life situations, dealing with love, loss and war that had real consequences. I also found it darker in places than what I expected, but then again, what did I expect?. This is Marquez after all, and he sprung many a surprise on me. Mostly all good.

The names though, Ggggrrrrr!!!!! where was my copy of the family tree?, I bloody well could have done with one. Took much wrangling with the old grey matter to figure out just who is who's son/daughter etc...but just about got there. The narrative is a magician's trick in which memory and prophecy, illusion and reality are mixed and often made to look the same. How does one describe the techniques and themes of the book without making it sound absurdly complicated, labored and almost impossible to read. Though concocted of quirks, ancient mysteries, family secrets and peculiar contradictions, it makes sense that it doesn't always make sense but that's what gives the pleasure in dozens of little and immediate ways. The book is a prognostic history, not of governments or of formal institutions of the sort which keeps public records, but of a people who, like the earliest descendants of mankind are best understood in terms of their relationship to a single family. In a sense, José and Ursula are the only two characters in the story, and all their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are variations on their strengths and weaknesses. José, forever fascinated by the unknown, takes up project after project, invention after invention, in order among other things, to make gold, discover the ocean and photograph God. He eventually goes mad, smashes things, refuses to speak except in Latin and is tied to a giant chestnut tree in the middle of the family garden. A mixture of obsessive idealism and durable practicality informs the lives of the Buendía descendants. The males, all named Arcadio or Aureliano, go off to sea, lead revolutions, follow gypsies, fall disastrously in love with their sisters and aunts (except one who develops a passion for a 12-year-old-girl) but most of them add to the family's stature and wealth and all contribute generously to its number. The women are not overshadowed by the men, one feature I found most welcome, and the bizarre events including eating dirt through depression, burning hands in the wake of suicide, and sending an innocent beauty to heaven with the family sheets left for never a dull moment.

Márquez creates a continuum, a web of connections and relationships. However bizarre or grotesque some particulars may be, the larger effect is one of great gusto and good humor and, even more, of sanity and compassion. The author seems to be letting his people half-dream and half-remember their own story and what is best, he is wise enough not to offer excuses for the way they do it. No excuse is really necessary. For Macondo is no never-never land. Its inhabitants do suffer, grow old and die, but in their own way. It is a South American Genesis, an earthy piece of enchantment and so much more. It might have been just another phase in the incestuous life of Macondo, like the 32 revolutions or the insomnia plague, but enchantment and solitude cannot survive the gringos any more than they can avoid the 20th century.

The novel is packed full of political commentary on real-life events and there are several reminders of the tangible material world, we can say that the misogyny and violence don’t matter because none of it is real? depends how you interpret Márquez, the one thing I found to be the novels strongest assets were that he offers plenty of reflections on loneliness and the passing of time, the caustic commentary on the evils of war, and a warm appreciation for familial bonds. Through all the magical and strange tidings García Márquez has urgent things to say, about the world, about us.

It didn't all work for me structurally, and I still prefer the shorter writings of 'Innocent Erendira and Other Stories' as my favourite Márquez to date, but it's easy to see why for so many this remains such a cherished novel throughout the world.
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Reading Progress

April 12, 2018 – Started Reading
April 12, 2018 – Shelved
April 12, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
April 14, 2018 –
page 105
24.88% "Colonel Aureliano Buendía organized thirty-two armed uprisings and he lost them all. He had seventeen male children by seventeen different women and they were exterminated one after the other on a single night before the oldest one had reached the age of thirty-five. He survived fourteen attempts on his life, seventy-three ambushes, and a firing squad."
April 17, 2018 –
page 213
50.47% "With the fierce temerity with which José Arcadio Buendía had crossed the mountains to found Macondo, with the blind pride with which Colonel Aureliano Buendía had undertaken his fruitless wars, with the mad tenacity
with which Úrsula watched over the survival of the line, Aureliano Segundo
looked for Fernanda, without a single moment of respite."
April 19, 2018 –
page 311
73.7% "It rained for four years, eleven months, and two days. The sky crumbled into a set of destructive storms and out of the north came hurricanes that scattered roofs and uprooted banana groves. Just as during the insomnia plague, the calamity itself inspired defenses against boredom."
April 20, 2018 – Finished Reading
May 1, 2019 – Shelved as: classic-fiction
May 14, 2019 – Shelved as: brazil-colombia

Comments Showing 1-22 of 22 (22 new)

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Julie Steven,
I love this line from your review: The author seems to be letting his people half-dream and half-remember their own story and what is best, he is wise enough not to offer excuses for the way they do it.
You've summed up this story well, and I agree with you. It's a great book, but it wouldn't be coming with me on the deserted island, either.


Laura Noggle Agree with both of you, Julie and Steven!


Steven Godin Julie wrote: "Steven,
I love this line from your review: The author seems to be letting his people half-dream and half-remember their own story and what is best, he is wise enough not to offer excuses for the wa..."


Thanks Julie, I have been told by a few on GR that 'Love in the Time of Cholera' is even better. So I guess that's my next Márquez.


Steven Godin Laura wrote: "Agree with both of you, Julie and Steven!"

Thanks, Laura.


Julie Steven,
Did you ever happen to read Chronicle of a Death Foretold? It's basically a novella, it's so short, and it happens to be my favorite Marquez story. I did like Cholera, too.


Elie F I can relate to your feeling a lot. I have forgotten most of the novel except the stunning ending. Magical realism is perhaps too intangible for me. Thanks for the excellent review.


Steven Godin Julie wrote: "Steven,
Did you ever happen to read Chronicle of a Death Foretold? It's basically a novella, it's so short, and it happens to be my favorite Marquez story. I did like Cholera, too."


Yep, I have read that a couple of times now. Really good.


message 8: by Fede (new)

Fede Your review got me interested in a book I've basically forgotten to read, Steven. As for the names, good to know - I'll take notes before I start reading.


Henry Martin Very nice review. This is the one and only Marquez I managed to read without giving up, and while I would not consider it a must, second and third reading brought about a different experience.


Steven Godin Fede wrote: "Your review got me interested in a book I've basically forgotten to read, Steven. As for the names, good to know - I'll take notes before I start reading."

Thanks Fede, that's definitely something to be wary of before reading.


Steven Godin Elie wrote: "I can relate to your feeling a lot. I have forgotten most of the novel except the stunning ending. Magical realism is perhaps too intangible for me. Thanks for the excellent review."

Especially those last few lines Elie, I would say almost perfection on how to close the novel.


Steven Godin Henry wrote: "Very nice review. This is the one and only Marquez I managed to read without giving up, and while I would not consider it a must, second and third reading brought about a different experience."

Thanks Henry, I can see why for some multiple readings would be wise. Whether that's me, only time will tell.


message 13: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa I would take it to a desert island, I believe. Great review, Steven!


Steven Godin Lisa wrote: "I would take it to a desert island, I believe. Great review, Steven!"

Thanks, Lisa.


Caterina Wonderful, review, Steven.


Steven Godin Caterina wrote: "Wonderful, review, Steven."

Thanks, Caterina.


Jakob Excellent review.
I have been meaning to reread this one for some time now. Curious to see how the reaction will have changed.


message 18: by Steven (last edited Apr 22, 2018 10:46AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Steven Godin Jakob wrote: "Excellent review.
I have been meaning to reread this one for some time now. Curious to see how the reaction will have changed."


I am sure it's a book that may seem better the second time around. Or at least making more sense anyway.


message 19: by Lars (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lars Jerlach Great review Steven. I do agree that it's a book that gets better the second or even third time around....!


Steven Godin Lars wrote: "Great review Steven. I do agree that it's a book that gets better the second or even third time around....!"

Good to know!, thanks Lars.


message 21: by Joe (new)

Joe Valdez The author seems to be letting his people half-dream and half-remember their own story and what is best, he is wise enough not to offer excuses for the way they do it. No excuse is really necessary.

Terrific review, Steven. This novel is growing moss on my bookshelf as well. "Magical" always scares me. Thank you for this superlative review on the book's treasures.


Dominika Hello Steven,
I really like how you pointed out that José and Ursula are the only two characters in the story and their children are variations of their strenght and weaknesses. The book forced me to think about my own family and connections between family members. I think that from now on I will forever compare characteristics of my relatives. It's also frustrating to remind oneself that its existence is just one piece of chain in DNA evolution of family tree.


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