One Hundred Years of Solitude: The Epic of the Buendías

Many of the previous books discussed here on Dusting Off the Classics are grounded in harsh, brutal realism, which lends all the more flavor to the superb writing on their pages. So prepare for some whiplash as we dust off and dive into Gabriel García Márquez’s 1967 epic novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, whose title hints at the scope this work takes. The novel employs a distinct literary style called magic realism, which at first glance seems like an oxymoron since magic cannot be real or vice-versa, that invites the reader to escape from the dull or worrying parts of the world.

The storyline of One Hundred Years of Solitude can’t be easily condensed without leaving out so many hidden highlights buried in its pages. Indeed, each paragraph seems to be detailing a new event or anecdote in the lives of the Buendía family, whose many generations living in Colomiba this novel loyally follows. A glimpse of the breadth of this work comes from just the first lines, in which one of the main characters, while facing a military firing squad, recalls discovering ice and thinking of how wonderful and mysterious this substance is. 

This shows some of the juxtaposition in One Hundred Years of Solitude, in which the seemingly ordinary is made spectacular and characters treat the fantastic as humdrum. For instance, a young woman in the Buendía’s village rises into the sky and disappears after causing the deaths of the men who have fallen in love with her. The two strongest characters are the leaders of the first generation: José Arcadio and Úrsula Buendía, a married couple that sees sweeping political and cultural changes roll through their village, which becomes a microcosm of Latin America as a whole during the 20th century. 

Image by USA-Reiseblogger from Pixabay

Of course, there are elements that will dissuade many from dusting off this work: my two biggest problems were so many of the characters, especially the men, have the same name–which makes the family tree the author provides all the more helpful–and the recurrence of incest among the Buendías, to the point where some of their children are afflicted with the extreme effects of long-term inbreeding.

But the magic realism, in which the fantastical blends in with the real, of One Hundred Years of Solitude is one major reason to dust this book off. The surrealism of García Márquez’s writing, which further expands on the magic realism, is another, as is the distortion of time and reality until by the end, the reader (or, at least, in my case as the reader) isn’t quite sure just how the adventure that is novel began, continued, or ended, but is nevertheless enthralled by the experience. On the whole, reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, for the modern reader, is like rediscovering imagination.

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