I started reading One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez once before, but despite loving Love in the Time of Cholera, this time the author’s overblown, ornate style irritated me so much that I gave the book up. I think I struggled because this author’s books are such a big experience that they need some time in between reading them to fully appreciate the enormity of the stories. When I joined The Classics Club though, I added One Hundred Years of Solitude to my list of fifty classics to be read within five years of joining.
One Hundred Years of Solitude is the story of the multi-generational Beundia family. Confusingly, most of the men are named either Jose Arcadio or Aureliano or variations of these names. They also live for extraordinarily long times, meaning that at any one time, there is a multitude of characters getting around with the same or similar names. I struggled right up until the last page to work out which character the story was following at any particular time. Luckily the fantastical events in the story kept me wondering what on earth would happen next, regardless of who it was happening to. Magical events were mixed in to the everyday and since none of the characters questioned the outrageously ridiculous things that happened, after a few eyebrow-lifting events I decided to go with the flow too and from then on believed everything I read. If you are a reader who is unable to believe unbelievable things, then this story may not be for you.
The first Jose Arcadio founded the town of Maconda on the side of the river in a jungle. He and his wife Ursula Iguaran left their hometown to escape the ghost of a man Jose Arcadio killed after a cockfight, because the man insulted him by commenting on the rumour that Jose Arcadio and Ursula Iguaran had not consummated their marriage. (The man was right, they hadn’t. Jose Arcadio and his wife were cousins and she fought off his advances with the assistance of a pair of sailcloth drawers reinforced by leather belts which her mother made for her in the fear that any children they had would be born with the tail of a pig).
At first Maconda was so remote that the only visitors were gypsies, who introduced ice and magnets to the villagers. Jose Arcadio became obsessed by these seemingly magical items and withdrew from everyday life to study them, occasionally coming to scientific realisations that were already known in the world the reader knows. In later life, Jose Arcadio went mad and his family tied him to a chestnut tree for years.
As time went on, Maconda became less remote and Jose Arcadia and Ursula Iguaran’s son Aureliano went off to a civil war where he become a famous leader who survived multiple attempts on his life. When he got sick of war, Colonel Aureliano Beundia spent another year brokering peace (killing many more men in order to bring this about) then spent his old age making and re-making fish from gold.
Later, the railway and a banana plantation came to Maconda, exposing the younger generation to the American way of life, eventually leading to the massacre of thousands of plantation workers. The grandchild of the first Jose Arcadio, Jose Arcadio Segunda, was the only survivor and strangely, was also the only person who was aware of or who remembered the massacre. What this meant, I don’t know.
By the end of the story, Maconda was almost destroyed after years of rain. After generations of Beundias, there were only two left, another Aureliano and Amaranta who do not realise they are aunt and nephew. They fell in love and had a child, who was born with the tail of a pig.
There is so much happening in this story, with so many characters over seven generations that it often verges on being overwhelming. Every page has something different happening to what might have been expected and every sentence is so enormously descriptive that if anyone lesser than this author had written it, the story could have been buried. Because of this, the story must be read carefully. One Hundred Years of Solitude is probably a book which improves with a second or even a third read.
This is a book which would be a pleasure to read aloud, although who has time for that? From time to time, I read paragraphs aloud to myself (no, not on the train,) wishing I could roll my ‘Rrr’s.’
The sort of moral values and events which disturbed me in Love in the Time of Cholera are rampant throughout One Hundred Years of Solitude too. Incest, rape and relationships between older men and girls so young that in most cultures they would be thought children, are common. So many people are killed during everyday life, throughout the war and as a result of the massacre that I became unfeeling, much like the difference in the emotion felt when you hear about the death of 200 people in a country that you couldn’t pinpoint on a map compared to the death of someone you know and love. In addition, there are so many characters and the action changes so quickly that it is impossible to feel connected or to care about the characters.
However, the beauty and fullness of each sentence make this book worthwhile and thinking about the events of the story as if it is a fairy tale allowed me to read on without feeling upset about events which in real life would be abhorrent.
I preferred Love in the Time of Cholera (link below) to One Hundred Years of Solitude because it was a less convoluted story, following two people who were in love when they were young but unable to become a couple until their old age. I’ll give myself a break of a year or two from this author before reading whatever I can next find by him.
One Hundred Years of Solitude was book eight for my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of 26 August 2023.