Friday 17 April 2020

One Hundred Years of Solitude | Gabriel Garcia Márquez #NobelPrize


What a read. Or more accurately, a reread. I bought my Penguin edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude on the 3rd April 1996 in Sydney. At a guess, it must have been the Easter school holidays and I was visiting my sister, who lived in Coogee, for a few days. I cannot remember if I read it straight away, or waited until I went home. Either way, I have very little memory of reading this book, except that I found it challenging and often confusing. It was also funny and disturbing and completely different to anything I had ever read before. 

It was my very first magical realism and I wasn't sure if I liked it or not.

The huge cast of characters confused me the most. I couldn't remember who was who, with so many of the six generations sharing exactly the same names. The family tree in the front of the book only added to my confusion.

Since 1996, I've read a lot more magic realism and many more books set in South America. I've learnt that I enjoy magic realism when it is firmly embedded in the real or natural world. Ghosts, in particular, are something I can accept in a story. For me, it's simply taking the idea of being haunted by a memory to the next level. 

Dreams are another element that can carry over into the real world. We've all had those dreams that blur the lines between waking and sleeping, conscious and subconscious. But it's the mixing of the ordinary with the extraordinary that I find really exciting in magic realism. It can become a way of describing something difficult or traumatic in a palatable way - turning our troubles into a fairytale or conflict into a something beautiful and strange. It can become a way of telling our story, especially the really tough stories, by turning them into a story, that makes it possible to get out of bed every day and face another day.

Magic realism can give us hope when despair is everywhere. It mythologises our daily lives and turns us into heroes and demons. It can make sense of the chaos and it can challenge the status quo.

One Hundred Years of Solitude does all of this and more, I simply didn't appreciate that the first time around.

I underlined and asterisked so many sections that it will be impossible to pull out a favourite, but the one the sums up the book the best is,
...always remember that the past was a lie, that memory has no return, that every spring gone by could never be recovered, and that the wildest and most tenacious love was an ephemeral truth in the end

One Hundred Years of Solitude is not an easy read or a comfortable read. At times it's overwhelming and so dense that you feel like you're brain might explode. But it is also subversive, humorous and utterly beguiling. Now, more than ever, it's important to be reminded that the world is bigger and more diverse than our Western minds and Western beliefs often take into account. There are other ways of seeing and experiencing this world we all share.

  • In Spanish - Cien Años de Soledad - 1967
  • Translation by Gregory Rabassa published in 1970
  • Translated into 37 languages
  • Márquez was awarded the 1982 Nobel Prize "for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent's life and conflicts."
  • The chapters are not numbered on purpose.
  • Márquez was friends with Fidel Castro.
    • What actually strengthened our friendship were books. I discovered he was such a great reader that before publishing a book, I would send him the original. He could spot contradictions, anachronisms, and inconsistencies that even publishing professionals fail to notice. He is a very careful and voracious reader. The books he chooses to read reflect quite well the breadth of his tastes."
  • Latin American Boom - 
    • A common criticism of the Boom is that it is too experimental and has a "tendency toward elitism" - García Márquez who, in Benedetti's view, "represent a privileged class that had access to universal culture and were thus utterly unrepresentative of average people in Latin -America." Donald L. Shaw (1998), The Post-Boom in Spanish American Fiction.
    • "It is no exaggeration to state that if the Southern continent was known for two things above all others in the 1960s, these were, first and foremost, the Cuban Revolution (although Cuba is not in South America) and its impact both on Latin America and the Third World generally, and secondly, the Boom in Latin American fiction, whose rise and fall coincided with the rise and fall of liberal perceptions of Cuba between 1959 and 1971." Gerald Martin (2008), Gabriel García Márquez: A Life.

First sentence:
  • Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
    • What a first sentence! It tells us all the main things we need to know about this story - the passing of time, the acceptance of craziness and unexpected occurrences, the guarantee of death, pathos and memory, and the promise of an entire life from beginning to end.

Gabriel García Márquez:
  • Born: 6th March 1927, Aracataca, Colombia.
  • Died: 17th April 2014, Mexico City, Mexico.
  • Moved to Paris in 1957 -
    • What was important to me in Paris was the perspective that the city gave me on Latin America. There, I never ceased being a Caribbean, but rather I became a Caribbean conscious of his culture.
  • In 1958 he married a friend from his uni days, Mercedes Barcha.
  • Nickname - Gabo.
  • "The most frightful, the most unusual things are told with the deadpan expression" - McMurray, George R. (1987), Critical Essays on Gabriel García Márquez
  • “Fiction was invented the day Jonah arrived home and told his wife that he was three days late because he had been swallowed by a whale..”
  • "To oppression, plundering and abandonment, we respond with life." Gabriel Garcia Márquez (1982) Nobel Lecture: The Solitude of Latin America.
  • "What matters in life is not what happens to you, but what you remember and how you remember it."
  • [Critics], in general, have a scripted right to pontificate, but they fail to realize that a novel like One Hundred Years of Solitude is devoid of seriousness and full of nods to my most intimate friends, winks that these friends alone discover. Still, the critics claim responsibility of decoding the book, thereby covering themselves in ridicule.”
  • "The world of One Hundred Years of Solitude is a place where beliefs and metaphors become forms of fact, and where more ordinary facts become uncertain." Michael Wood (1990) Gabriel García Márquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude. Cambridge University Press.
  • "There is always something left to love."
  • "If I knew that today would be the last time I’d see you, I would hug you tight and pray the Lord be the keeper of your soul. If I knew that this would be the last time you pass through this door, I’d embrace you, kiss you, and call you back for one more. If I knew that this would be the last time I would hear your voice, I’d take hold of each word to be able to hear it over and over again. If I knew this is the last time I see you, I’d tell you I love you, and would not just assume foolishly you know it already." Love in the Time of Cholera 

A huge thank you to Silvia and Ruth for hosting The One Hundred Years of Solitude readalong. It was the excuse I needed to tackle this rather unwieldy book again. I'm glad I did and now I'm ready for Love in the Tome of Cholera!


  1. Hey, thanks Brona for reading with us. I'm excited that you enjoyed it, too. It was an amazing ending that blew me away. Really complex, but this time in a comprehensible way. The characters were the most difficult to keep straight, and at one time Silvia told me that she didn't bother with it, but instead focused more on the story and not so much who was who. One thing I did not do this time was pull out themes to explore, like time, memory, and love. Readers can definitely pick them out easily and study them. Maybe next time.

    I am curious about South American history now...maybe I will start looking at SA authors in the future.

  2. Magical realism is not my thing but I did enjoy reading this review. I just like to know what is out there even if I don't actually read the book!

  3. I've read several of Gabriel García Márquez' books and enjoyed them all a lot, they are intriguing. I really should have joined you but I had too many really big books going at the time. I love how you changed the title from time to tome (in Love in the Time of Cholera. I read that with my book club years ago and it realy is a tome.

    Here's my review about One Hundred Years of Solitude which I read decades ago and reviewed years after, so your review is so much better. Thanks for that, made me want to reread the book.

  4. I bet most books would read quite differently when read at different ages.


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