Review #43: One Hundred Years of Solitude

More like one hundred years of confusion

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One Hundred Years of Solitude

You think your family has problems? To get some perspective, try a visit with the descendants of José Arcadio Buendía. The focus of Nobel prize-winning Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez’s book One Hundred Years of Solitude, the Buendía family line defines the word “accursed,” destroying pretty much every virtue in the process of its short 100-year existence.

The story takes place Macondo, Columbia, founded by the family’s patriarch. José is a sometimes eccentric but relatively stable, hard-working man until he comes in contact with a band of traveling gypsies. Filled with a lust for gold, José delves into alchemy, eventually losing his mind in a mixture of toxic fumes and his craze for riches. But before he goes insane, he manages to father three children, each with their own forms of insanity.

From then on, it’s the normal story of a small family-oriented town, if you consider murder, incest, military rebellion on a national scale, drunkenness, selling lottery tickets based on the color of farm animals, evil banana plantations, navigating boats without a viable water source, fathering seventeen kids all with the same name, and hundred-year-old prophecies normal. If the Seven Deadly Sins had a poster family, this would be it.

The family, to put it mildly, is complex. It’s so complex, in fact, that the book begins with a chart of the family tree, without which the book would be indecipherable. Not willing to limit this complexity to the overall story, the author is sure to inject every paragraph and nearly every sentence with a meandering resolve, moving from character to character, from scene to scene, and from thought to thought, all within the span of a dozen or so words.

As with Salman Rushdie’s book Midnight’s Children, One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of a nation by linking it to specific individuals. And as with Rushdie’s book, the story is nearly impossible to relate to unless you are already familiar with the minutiae of the nation exemplified by the book. At least in Midnight’s Children, Rushdie peppered every chapter with references to news headlines paralleling the protagonist’s life. Except for some minor links to political turmoil, Márquez assumes you can figure out the relationship between the family and Columbia’s history on your own. You can’t. Unfortunately, this means that the rich undercurrent of meaning in the novel is lost on the typical reader. And that’s really too bad, because if Columbia has a history that is as complex and intricate and prophetical as the story itself, it must be a tremendous place.

The Well-Read Man Project

For more information about this book, visit its Well-Read Man Project page.

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