One Hundred Years of Solitude is a novel written by Gabriel García Márquez, published in the year 1967. It is one of the greatest progenitors of the modern magical realism, set in the fictional city of Macondo, tracing the lifeline of the generations of the Buendía family. The novel has received universal acclaim, and has remained a phenomenon ever since, in the memory of literary culture as the epitome of a ground breaking novel. It has been famously popular for being the favourite novel of the greatest living Indian novelist Salman Rushdie and, Bill Clinton. It also one of the most prominent and potent works to come out of the Spanish literary canon.
The novel follows the amputation and emancipation and founding of Macondo, by Jose Arcadio Buendía alongside his cohorts. The novel begins with a beautiful paragraph, illuminating Aureliano Buendía carried along by his father José Arcadio Buendía to see ice, and the colourful gypsies lighting up the streets with their ceremonial staid, and ensorcelling prestidigitations, attracting pots and pans, and all sorts of domestic materials to astonish and grab the attention of the residents of Macondo. The guru of the majestic gypsies, is the omnipresent, omnipotent, and erudite yet saintly Melquiades.
Melquiades is well versed in multiple languages, such as Sanskrit. He is also a man who has travelled all over the world with his band of gypsies, enchanting and enlightening the globe. When he arrives in Macondo, he settles in with the Buendía family and begins scribbling and writing on parchments, to impart an eternal message to the world.
Without revealing the plot further, the book is filled with unforgettable characters, most of them named José Arcadia Buendía, Aureliano Buendía, alongside Ursula, Amaranta Ursula, Remedios, and perhaps the greatest concubine in the literary cannon, Pilar Ternera, who knows everything that lies in the heart of a Buendía.
The novel is perhaps the most significant work in the magical realism literary canon, and is embellished with a simple and musical prose, wrought with striking images, metaphors, symbols and allegories. The narrative is glazed with perhaps hundreds of swiftly moving anecdotes, passing in small spasms through the fleeting air, inducing a dream-like quality. It is very clear from the first paragraph, that Gabriel Garcia Marquez, is an original, one of his own kind.
The landscape he portrays, as a sort of syncretic amalgamation of South American cities and a reflection and meditation on Aractaca, a municipality in the department of Magdalena in Columbia, where he was born. The novel, even though is construct of fictional and phantasmagorical epiphanies, stems out of a narrative of history. The Civil War and the banana republic massacre which occurred in Columbia, in 1928. Therefore, Gabriel Garcia Marquez fictionalises the reality of that epoch, and enhances, enlivens it to transform the novel as a visceral and transcendental experience.
The novel is a long symphony of imagination which gathers pace from its resonance and the voices of the past, affecting the future and conjuring up the images of the future. Characters, are sinuously connected and breathing on the same lines of life, as their ancestors, in different eras and suffering through different stances of political and historical turmoil inflicting rifts and unity in the Buendía family. Recurring nodes circulate around insomnia plague, incest, revolution, sexuality, and solitude, the sense of being solitary, sinking under the weight of pursuit of erudition, political upheaval and subversion, emotional trauma and heartbreak resulting in isolation from the world around.
One of the controversies, in the air about this novel during the years has been about its cruel view of women, painted in the shadow of bucolic incest, sex, and subversion as concubines and mistresses. I would, unfortunately, make a case against this claim. (1) In accordance with an article posted by The Guardian, written by Sam Jordison, who asks a question-let me paraphrase-, rather implying that the inherent cruel treatment of women and abuse of children in the novel, should or should not be overlooked in this frequently compassionate novel, which also creates strong female characters such as Ursula?
I would argue, that the recurring aspects of paedophilia, sex, bondage, incest, and subversion of women, shouldn’t be overlooked but on the other hand I would say, it should not cast a very tall shadow on this grand novel, which has a lot of heart and soul and compassion. The reader has to understand and accept the fact that the imagination of the writer conjured up these troubling images of abuse, but it is also the same thread of imagination and mystical prowess, gave birth to Ursula, which is a giant of feminine contemporary literary canon, in my view. Ursula is truly the most powerful, spectacular, and stoical character in the whole novel, the one who keeps things from falling apart, and the one who unites the home and the family together, she is the binding factor in the laws of the universe, which Gabriel Garcia Marquez has composed in his mind. In my view, she deserves to be called unarguably, the heroine of the novel, a heroine who acts as a protagonist more than any other male character. She is one of the most enduring literary characters every written, in my mind and vindicates the novel from being inherently misogynistic and oppressive towards women.
One last point before I conclude. I would like to thank and congratulate Gregory Rabassa for this excellent translation, the writing is invigorating, light, and swift, and captures the essence of the novel, beautifully. I would also like to express my contention with the poor craft and shabby editing skills of The Penguin. For a book which has achieved a high pedestal as this, and a book which sells copies worldwide in huge numbers, the translation is beautiful, but conspicuously, there are puerile grammatical errors, spelling errors, and improper syntax, and that too, at a number higher than any other novel I have perused recently. To be precise, I wish the matter should be taken seriously, because it spoils the satisfaction of reading a tangible physical copy of the acclaimed text. Once again I reiterate, it is the editor’s fault and not the translator’s (who has proved par excellence). The edition, which I am writing about is, published by Penguin India on 13 Nov 2007, One Hundred Years of Solitude, written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and translated by Gregory Rabassa.
In conclusion, I feel One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of the finest novels ever written, which between its covers, reflects and meditates upon the whole continent of human emotions that any heart has ever known. A landmark book.