(Please forgive me for the condition of my book. There was an unfortunate accident on the train that involved a sudden stop and someone falling that resulted in the front being torn.)
Originally titled Cien Años de Soledad, Márquez's text gives an insight into post-colonialism in Colombia. It is known to be a difficult text to read, both in it's style and it's subject matter, but it highlights some important themes and is a pinnacle text that popularised the style of magical realism. It is a story that tells about the Buendia family in the fictional village of Macondo and details what happens from the founding of Macondo to 100 years after.
It is written with an omniscient narrator, which guides us to see the perspectives of all the Buendia family members. There are quite a number of Buendia's and there is a lot of repetition with the names they are given. This is used to emphasise the cyclical nature of life, with the younger family members thinking and acting the same as their parents or grandparents and their actions resulting in similar consequences. The story also parallels with some historical moments in Colombia, like the Banana Massacre. However, one obvious characteristic of the story is the way it is written, and this is where magical realism comes into play.
If you haven't heard about it before, magical realism is the middle-ground of the real and the fantastical. It is used to identify the 'us' and 'them' of the story, or as some analysts call it the 'first-world' and the 'third-world'. This can be seen in scenes where something as simple as ice is described as an extraordinary invention, but when someone floats off with the washing and disappears forever it's not seen as a big deal. It is through this that the reader can see the significance of colonialism, where the people of Macondo don't know any more than what they have experienced themselves, so what is introduced to them by foreigners seems magical to them whereas what is normal for the villagers is magical for the other. It is this separation from the familiar that can cause some difficulty in reading this text.
Another layer to magical realism in this book is the staggered timeline. The book starts from the perspective of the first Aureliano Buendia, the son of the founder of Macondo, and he looks back at his time as a child. It soon diverts to the perspective of Jose Arcadio Buendia, the founder of Macondo, and then later it goes back to when Macondo was first discovered. With these jumps through time and perspective, it becomes challenging to know what part of the timeline you are reading, which causes yet another difficulty in reading this text.
It is a complex book with a lot of depth, and a lot can be learned from it. It is powerful in portraying the destruction that can occur from colonialism. Just like other post-colonial texts, One Hundred Years of Solitude provides a perspective that might be missed or unrecognised in western societies, and the dislocated style of magical realism popularised it for other writers, making it a very influential text for different reasons.
What I thought
If I am asked what book has been the most difficult for me to read in my lifetime, this one will be the answer. I decided to read it for an English literature assignment and I should have heeded my tutors words in saying that it is very hard to get through it. It took me a very long time to read and analyse it, probably taking me two months to complete it. In saying that, I am glad (and a little bit proud) that I read it. It enlightened me to the style of magical realism, and once I got used to it I found I appreciated the story a little more.
It is a very dry text, and the staggered timeline and quick changes of perspectives made it very difficult for me to understand what was going on at times. The paragraphs are long, with some lasting two or more pages. Without the breaks in the text, it was a bit overwhelming, particularly with the amount of information in each. Combining the long paragraphs with Márquez's style of writing, it was challenging to get a grip on the story and what was happening.
Basically, it was hard.
Did I enjoy the story? No. Was it an effective story? Yes. I can appreciate the techniques used in the text as well as the themes, symbolism and what the whole book represents. I know that the repetitiveness of the first names was to emphasise how life repeats itself in different generations, but I did get a bit confused with so many characters with the same names. Nonetheless, I was impressed by the way colonialism was depicted, and I was in awe of the power of some scenes. The progress of change and destruction was subtle at first but then came in a consuming wave, which was really well done.
If you want to challenge yourself or you want to read a post-colonial text, then I would recommend this book. It does well in explaining to you what the story is about but it does take some getting used to the style. Also, I would recommend reading it if you want to learn a new technique in writing. This text is what popularised the technique of magical realism, so it's a good way to familiarise yourself with it. I don't know if I could ever write effectively using magical realism, but I'm glad I learned about it. If you have already read it, let me know what you thought about it. I'm very interested to hear if you found it challenging, or whether or not you liked it.
Charlotte is a reading and writing lover who has completed a creative writing intensive course at the University of Oxford and is a current university student studying a double degree in journalism and creative writing. If you are curious to learn more, check out the 'About' page.