One Hundred Years of Solitude-Gabriel Garcia Marquez

So, I’m pretty sure with this book, Dave and I have wrapped up Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s contributions to  The Top Ten.   And, I have to say that I am _extremely_ happy that I had the opportunity to read this book for our experiment/project.

The following authors listed this book in their top ten:

Lee K. Abbott, Russell Banks, Pearl Cleage, Edwidge Danticat (and I’ve never heard of them before but LOVE the name!), Chitra Divrakuni, Karen Joy Foyler, Michael Griffith, Alice Hoffman, Jim Harrison, John Irving, Wally Lamb, Ann Patchett, Francine Prose, Jim Shepard and Alexander McCall Smith.

I remember once, years ago, picking up One Hundred Years of Solitude and attempting to read it.  I made it maybe ten pages in and gave up.  I’m not sure why, though most likely I was in the midst of reading Dean Koontz novels or something and the writing style is definitely different from that.   So, when I picked it up again, I did so without fully knowing what to expect.  I had a little trepidation, one might say.  Halfway through the first chapter, my trepidation disappeared and the story consumed me.  The language is beautiful.  I liked this one better than Love in the Time of Cholera, this one had a bit more magic to it than Cholera did.

The story follows a family and intertwined with the family, a town, Macondo.  In fact, the state of the town usually reflects the state of the family and vice versa.  The founders of the family, Ursula and Jose Arcadio Buendia are the first characters we meet.  Marquez is genius at painting characters in a few strokes.  He then spends the rest of the story coloring them in, but even if he didn’t, you would feel that you knew the character completely from the beginning.  The following is one of the beginning things said about Ursula.  Her and Jose are arguing, he wants to explore and abandon the city that he founded.  She doesn’t want to leave.  He tells her that no one has died yet in the city, so you know it’s not a real city until someone does.

“Ursula replied with soft firmness ‘If I have to die for the rest of you to stay here, I will die'”.

The story follows the Buendia family from this time until a hundred years later.  Jose & Ursula’s two sons are Jose Arcadio and Aureliano.  Jose ends up having a child who is named Jose Arcadio, but called Arcadio, and then Jose runs off to not be seen for a few more years of narrative.  Aureliano stays and becomes a Colonel in a Liberal revolution.  Jose is…very well endowed.

“…the willful first-born who had always been too big for his age, had become a monumental adolescent.  One night, as Ursula went into the room where he was undressing to go to bed, she felt a mingled sense of shame and pity:  he was the first man she had seen naked after her husband and he was so well equipped for life that he seemed abnormal”.  Ursula speaks to a woman who knows how to read the future in cards and Ursula confides in her that she thinks it’s unnatural and the woman responds it doesn’t mean that at all, just that he’ll be very lucky.

Aureliano is a bit…psychic.  When he is born, he is born with his eyes wide open, and then examined everything with a “fearless curiousity”, then concentrated on the palm roof.

“Ursula did not remember the intensity of that look again until one day when little Aureliano, at the age of three, went into the kitchen at the moment she was taking a pot of boiling soup from the stove and putting it on the table.  The child, preplexed, said from the doorway, “It’s going to spill.”.  The pot was firmly placed in the center of the table, but just as soon as the child made his announcement, it began an unmistakable movement toward the edge, as if impelled by some innter dynamism and it fell and broke on the floor”.

I highlighted both sons’ traits here, because throughout the following generations, their names are used numerous times and a lot of their descendants carry either the huge genital size or the psychic intensity.

However, the trait that ties all of the generations together, is the solitude in which they live.  I’m not talking about the family as a unit living in reclusive solitude as a family.  I’m also not talking about someone who walls themselves in a room in solitude and never comes out (though some of the Buendias do just that either for parts of their lives or their whole lives).  I’m talking about each of them having distance from everyone else.  Marquez begins referencing it (that I noticed) in the second half of the book when he would talk about this descendant or that and would talk about them as solitary.  That they experienced this even in the midst of being solitary.  That they were able to not do this because of being in the midst of being solitary.

One Hundred Years of Solitude has a more fantastical feel to it than Love in The Time of Cholera.  Time doesn’t pass the same sometimes.  One of Jose Sr’s mentors, an old gypsy, dies and comes back.  Another character lives to be beyond 150 years old.  One character ascends to heaven just in the middle of a normal afternoon.  Things will happen that others say never existed.

There is so much more to this book than I have explained above, and it would take ten blog entries to go into detail into every nuance of Marquez’s story.

I loved it.  That sums up pretty much how I feel about this book.  When I started writing this blog entry, and was flipping through for the parts I quoted above, I had the temptation to begin reading it again.  Within 24 hours of finishing it.  I felt like I had gotten so sucked into it that I was missing major portions of the language and the descriptions etc.

I was really excited to see John Irving had picked it.  One of my favorite books of all time is Widow For One Year by him.  He had a new one come out this year, In One Person, that I finished reading the day before I picked up this book.  I thought it was beautiful, it sucked me in and when it spit me back out, it lingered for a couple of days, and still tugs at my conscience sometimes.

If you read no other book that I’ve talked about in here since May, read this one.  It’s a different pace than a lot of novels, but it’s a translation.  Find that pace, get into the book, and enjoy.

 

 

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“Chronicle of a Death Foretold” by Gabriel García Márquez

I’m not usually much for murder mysteries. They are cool and all, and I’m sure I’d have fun reading one, but the standard ones just don’t pull me very much. Introduce a murder, find some clues, figure out who did it, and wrap things up. Case closed. However, those who would call Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold a murder mystery (and they validly might) would have to throw all that out the window.

(Note, for those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 7th for T.C. Boyle.)

How to begin? Well, the story centers on the murder of Santiago Nasar. Pedro and Pablo Vicario stab Santiago to death for supposedly dishonoring their sister, causing her to be returned to her home by her groom on her wedding night.

Am I giving out spoilers? No, this is all pretty much known right from the beginning, if not from the summary on the back of the book. Consider the opening passage:

            On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five-thirty in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming on. He’d dreamed he was going through a grove of timber trees where a gentle drizzle was falling, and for an instant he was happy in his dream, but when he awoke he felt completely spattered with bird shit. “He was always dreaming about trees,” Plácida Linero, his mother, told me twenty-seven years later, recalling the details of that distressing Monday. “The week before, he’d dreamed that he was alone in a tinfoil airplane and flying through the almond trees without bumping into anything,” she said to me. She had a well-earned reputation as an accurate interpreter of other people’s dreams, provided they were told to her before eating, but she hadn’t noticed any ominous augury in those two dreams of her son’s, or in the other dreams of trees he’d described to her on the mornings preceding his death.

So, if the reader knows right away who kills Santiago Nasar as well as the how and why, where’s the mystery? Well, the mystery is in how everyone in the town behaves and why they do so.

After all, everyone in the town knows that Santiago is going to be killed. Some do a little to try to stop it, but no one does very much…certainly nothing that actually stops it from happening. Some think he should be (though it is far from clear that he actually slept with the young miss Vicario), some are too afraid to get involved, some don’t think it is going to happen, and some just think it’s fate:

            Victoria Guzmán, for her part, had been categorical with her answer that neither she nor her daughter knew that the men were waiting for Santiago Nasar to kill him. But in the course of her years she admitted that both knew it when he came into the kitchen to have his coffee. They had been told it by a woman who passed by after five o’clock to beg a bit of milk, and who in addition had revealed the motives and the place where they were waiting. “I didn’t warn him because I thought it was drunkards’ talk,” she told me. Nevertheless, Divina Flor confessed to me on a later visit, after her mother had died, that the latter hadn’t said anything to Santiago Nasar because in the depths of her heart she wanted them to kill him. She, on the other hand, didn’t warn him because she was nothing but a frightened child at the time, incapable of a decision of her own[.]

Stranger, Pedro and Pablo Vicario don’t even appear to really want to kill Santiago Nasar, though they go through with it. They keep going where Santiago is not and telling everyone what they are going to do, creating as many chances as possible for someone to stop them. Really, no one does. Eventually, after the mayor takes away their knives and sends them home, the brothers get new knives and go out again.  Pablo tells his brother: “There’s no way out of this…It’s as if it had already happened.”

Thus, there is the mystery of Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Was it fate? Did the people of the town want this murder to happen? Was it a combination of all different kinds of things? Why did everyone know and no one stop it?

Man, hell if I know. You’ll have to read and try to figure it out yourself.

Having finished reading, I have to say that Chronicle of a Death Foretold is one of the strangest works of Márquez I’ve read yet, and that is really saying something. It’s definitely his shortest work I’ve looked at, if not his most perplexing. I really have to hand it to him. I mean, how can you make something so baffling when you provide all the answers? I’ll be thinking about this one for a while. Anyone else who reads Chronicle of a Death Foretold will probably end up thinking about it for a while afterward as well.