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An Unparalleled Modern Epic
on January 18, 2002
I don't know what an average reader like me can say about this marvelous epic, but I love this book so much I feel compelled, as far as I am able, to give my thoughts about it.
One Hundred Years of Solitude is, without a doubt, the greatest of all Latin American novels. It is also the most captivating and masterful modern epic ever told. And it is an epic; it details the history of a people, in this case, the Buendias, the most important and influential family in Macondo. In fact, the Buendias serve as a metaphor for the development of Latin America since its independence. The book follows the Buendias through the founding, development and decay of their settlement in the jungle. Readers with some knowledge of Latin American history will easily recognize the development of Colombia in the book. The civil wars in the novel parallel the civil wars in Colombia from 1885-1902, and Colonel Aureliano can be seen as modeled after General Rafael Uribe Uribe. In fact, Gabriel Garcia Marquez' grandfather, himself, fought under Uribe. A knowledge of Latin American politics, however, is not necessary to enjoy and love this wonderful book. In fact, many readers see no political implications in the book.
There is a wonderful mix of the comic and the melancholy in this story. We meet characters who do the most delightful, or the most absurd things, and yet there is an undeniable strain of futility and sadness that runs throughout the entire book. Macondo is definitely a magical place and early in the book we come to expect the unexpected, to expect to be surprised, to accept the unbelievable. In fact, we have to ask ourselves if Macondo is real or if it is just a state of mind. Perhaps it is both. It is this intermingling of the factual and the fantastic that, to me, makes this book so special and marks Garcia Marquez' genius. The Buendia men, especially, are in possession of truly fecund imaginations and they use them in the most disconcerting ways.
For all the wonder and beauty and fantasy in this story, this is ultimately a sad and tragic book. It deals, after all, with the failure of a town and its people, people who despite their amazing vitality and wit, are each immersed in a solitude from which they find it impossible to extricate themselves.
If one looks closely at the Buendias, he can see that most symbolize a particular historical period. The founder of Macondo and patriarch of the family, Jose Arcadio, is a true Renaissance man. His son, Aureliano is a legendary military leader. Aureliano Segundo becomes a sort-of farmer while his twin brother, Jose Arcadio Segundo becomes a radical labor leader.
The Buendias, however, seem to live their lives in a circular fashion. Their personalities constantly repeat the personalities of earlier generations and this repetition often has much to do with the name a child is given. The Aurelianos are all quiet and withdrawn, but prone to success, while the Jose Arcadios are energetic and enterprising but seemingly doomed to failure.
One Hundred Years of Solitude, however, is not a psychological novel. All of the characters are rather two-dimensional and serve to carry out thematic points. The men are obsessive, intelligent and energetic. The Aurelianos are involved with ambition, while the Jose Arcadios are filled with earthy passion. Among the women, the Ursulas are stern while the Remedios are eternally immature. But, while the men are dreamers, the women remain anchored in reality. This may be a small part of Garcia Marquez' view of life in Latin America.
The Buendia men have everything needed to be happy and successful and yet each ultimately fails, withdrawing into a frustrated loneliness or solitude, but not just any solitude. The Buendia men choose to be solitary, rather than having solitariness imposed upon them, they choose to accept the ultimate futility of their lives, and they know this solitude will be repeated in future generations.
Some readers have said they cannot keep all the characters straight and the Buendia family tree is a twisted one, indeed. In fact, the final generation of Buendias really can't figure out where they stand in relation to each other and to their ancestors. This alone should tell us that Macondo is fated to end.
On the surface, Macondo is fated to die when someone deciphers Melquiades' (the gypsy's) manuscript and learns the full history of Macondo. In reality, Macondo dies because its inhabitants simply don't choose to continue. Instead, they choose fantasy, solitude and a withdrawal from life. A piece of Macondo, and thus a shred of hope, does survive however, when the author, himself, takes the advice of the Catalan bookseller and leaves the town before its destruction. Thus, there does exist an ongoing testimony of the life that had been lived there. And what book does Garcia Marquez escape with? A volume of Rabelais, one the world's greatest comic geniuses. Perhaps, in this enigmatic ending, Garcia Marquez is telling all Latin Americans to be different from the Buendias, to learn to laugh at themselves, to learn from their mistakes, to be amenable to change and to stop repeating destructive patterns.