When I read One Hundred Years of Solitude (by Gabriel García Márquez, published 1967) half a decade ago, I didn’t understand it, but I loved every bit of it. As I struggled for months through the saga (part of which I read in the original Spanish, part in translation by Gregory Rabassa), I found myself absorbed in a magical world as a family’s sweeping story unfolded on a complicated and satisfying stage. It was a rewarding immersion, and I’ve looked forward to my next García Márquez novel.
However, the short novella Chronicle of a Death Foretold (published 1981, and read in translation from Spanish by Gregory Rabassa) did nothing for me. I was incredibly disappointed. At less than 120 pages, I didn’t feel swept up in anything, and I was disappointed that it didn’t have any magical realism, which is part of why I loved the other novel so much.
That said, I liked the language, which was reminiscent of One Hundred Years, and I still consider García Márquez highly deserving of the Nobel Prize in Literature (awarded in 1982) for his talent with words. Besides, reading the novella prompted me to reread One Hundred Years, and while I still failed to understand that epic saga, it was still a very satisfying read.
Beyond my disappointments, the plot of Chronicle was also not engaging for me. Twenty-seven years previously, a man was killed. The entire community knew ahead of time that the murder was going to happen, and no one stopped it. The unnamed narrator from the village reports on the facts of what happened and supposes the reasons behind everyone’s actions. But in the end, the murder remains unjustifiable to the reader; the entire community seems at fault.
From my perspective, the tragedy’s reasons were disgusting, and I do think this was part of the point. We learn early on that the bride, Angela Vicario, has been returned to her family just hours after the wedding because she is found to not be a virgin; Santiago Nasar is labeled as her previous lover and the Vicario twins go out to seek revenge on Angela’s honor. Santiago Nasar’s supposed “dishonoring” of Angela Vicario is the reason the entire village remains silent on the murder that they know will happen. Despite the fact that the village seems to accept the murder, I think that in his novella García Márquez is criticizing the traditions of such a community. This novella illustrates the tragedy of tradition.
Because I was disappointed, I decided to revisit my first García Márquez novel: One Hundred Years of Solitude (again read in the Gregory Rabassa translation). As was mentioned on Twitter, one can read it one hundred times, get a different insight each time, and yet still not understand it. This reread was no exception.
On this reread, I was impressed with all the references to time, to memory, and to solitude. Everyone was ultimately alone with their memories. There is truth in the basic witticisms García Márquez writes:
Time was not passing, as she had just admitted, but … it was turning in a circle. (page 335)
Time also stumbled and had accidents and could therefore splinter and leave an eternalized fragment in a room. (page 348)
One Hundred Years is full of “eternalized fragments” haunting rooms, memories, and even items. This is a novel that I don’t believe can be “spoiled” because, as Úrsula comments, everything comes full circle and everything makes sense to the main characters by the end. I’d forgotten the end of the novel, but when I got there it pulled everything that had happened in the previous 400 pages into a cohesive purpose.
Everything written on [the parchments] was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth. (page 416-417).
It’s so satisfying to get to that last line, and even though I can’t explain what it means, it does make inexplicable sense in the context of the unfolding saga.
I would describe magical realism (García Márquez style, at least) as “exaggerated.” Using folkloric stories as a base, he multiplies the facts a few times to create an impossible story, such as purchasing 72 chamber pots in order to keep the 70+ visitors from lining up at the bathroom door, or Úrsula herself living to be 150 or 160, or the millions of ants that reappear every morning, despite the thorough cleaning of the previous day. (Come to think of it, that is one I can relate to!) By exaggerating, García Márquez in turn captures the wonder that is the world, from the simple majesty of ice to the miracles of the heavens. My favorite character was the first José Arcadio Buendía, because he would spend weeks in his work room and then come forth with the solemn declaration, “The earth is round, like an orange,” (page 4), only to be mocked as crazy by his village. He was just so perfectly described and so creative.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, there is a lot of sex in One Hundred Years, even incestuous (Úrusula’s main worry is that some of the offspring will have a pig’s tale because of incestuous relations). But all of this, too, is an exaggeration of the circle of life. (And are not we all, essentially, “brothers” and “sisters” if you go back far enough?). The sensuality of One Hundred Years adds to the “magic” that is life for these characters, who grow from infancy to death. It’s ironic that even with so many sexual relationships in the novel, everyone is ultimately alone. This is a novel about solitude with memories, and the ways that time tricks us: everything and everyone seem to come full circle in the end.
As I mentioned, I didn’t like the novella Chronicle of a Death Foretold. But there is value in reading García Márquez, and I’m glad I gave him another try. I think in the future, however, I’ll keep returning to One Hundred Years when I want to be caught up in a complicated and rewarding saga. I’m afraid the other novels won’t quite stack up to my first experience with García Márquez.
Have you read other Gabriel García Márquez novels? What other magical realism sagas can you recommend to me?