Category Archives: One Hundred Years of Solitude

One Hundred Years of Solitude: Read from June 18 to July 05, 2013

Earlier this year there was a paper published explaining that scientists found ‘a bubble of’ bacteria surrounding the earth at around 30,000 feet up. Another paper from about a year ago described the Halicephalobus mephisto, the demon worm, a tiny multicellular worm that lives about 3km beneath the Earth’s crust. To me these two discoveries seemed relevant to this novel in that the whole world is, in a way, Macondo. Maconodo is a microcosm of and a fun-house mirror of the real world where life teems in every possible corner but because the world is only so big it will eventually begin mating with and end when it finally starts eating itself.

This is not an ‘easy’ novel and it most certainly was not what I was expecting. I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting – maybe something more like a realistic Latin American fairy tale with a singular cast of characters – however, this far exceeded my expectations and my imagination. In fact were I had taken notes as I read this novel on every thought that popped into my mind that Marquez seemed to inspire or dredge up from some ancient, reptilian depth, I would still only be about 10% and probably would have resorted to writing everything down in Sanskrit inside a sealed off room while kind neighbors brought me plates of rice and meat as my beard grew, my eyes dimmed, and my heart ever more nostalgic for a simpler time.

What this novel is, at least to me, is as if some fevered mural artist were given a canvas the size of an entire country and spent his every waking moment interpreting the bible through brightly colored iconic Latin American, green-brown-gold imagery. The whole biblical history of the world is here from warm dewey Eden, to the endless flood, to Christ the Liberal’s Generalissimo, to Revelations and the whole ending of the world. But it’s not just the physical, but also the supernatural too that the works share. Here ghosts walk among the living, the entire history of Maconodo is written down in an ancient language 100 years prior by gypsies, events that did happen are then forgotten and people fight just as hard to keep forgetting them. And the novel is both epic in scope while also being intensely personal.

There are, of course, some rather obvious references to Latin and South America’s history – the banana plantations, the endless wars, government corruption, fierce religious conviction – but it’s as if this one section of the world is the breeding ground, the test-tube, the microcosm for the whole of the world. It’s life speed up to 11. Anywhere else in the world and life moves slower, but in the jungle everything is hot, life teems on every surface, passions are fierce (both love and hatred). It’s a candle burning at both ends.

A lot is said of the novel’s circular structure, however, I found it to be more of an arc or a wave. The novel begins idyllic, grows to a fever pitch and then everything comes crashing down and it’s all swept back out to sea – a sea with no memory (as the Indians called the Pacific Ocean). A lot less seems to be said about the humor of the novel. The idea of constantly struggling against some inevitable force or another or the notion that a good education will somehow make a difference is poked fun at. Ursula can get by totally blind and nobody is none the wiser, men spend years locked up in the same room deciphering texts or making little gold fish that eventually leads to nothing. Yes, in a way it’s all very tragic and sad, but it’s also comic too.

And this is where the novel diverges from the Bible. The Bible is deadly serious and always has a god hanging over everyone in final judgment. Here, there really is no god, it’s just the jungle taking back what belongs to it – the creeping of life, meaningless of anything beyond its desire to continue living. There is no judgment, everything just ‘is’. ANd through that lens the whole of existence seems rather funny and comical and makes you believe that maybe it would be best just to destroy your home all day long in the passionate act of having great sex and coating the walls with a wallpaper of real money and bathing in pools of champagne because, well, why not? Nobody is going to remember it all anyway, right?

Well, except for all the ghosts. And therein lies a small niggling issue I have with the novel and that is in the idea that in time everything will be forgotten, both good and bad. The massacre of the 3000 is eventually forgotten by the town and the bodies are all dumped into the sea (the only memory is perhaps all those rotting shoes in the pool), and so the novel, in a way, is giving permission to also be as cruel as you want too because in the end of the world it won’t really matter. The only consequences are that eventually all your children will bear the mark of incest (a pig’s tail), but even that is sort of funny too.

Someday I will revisit this novel because it demands a second, a third, a nineteenth reading. I’m sure I will see something different every time, feel different each time, and take away something different each time. However, I’m sure I’ll always put it down knowing I’ve read an incredibly unique, challenging, dense, and unexpected novel.

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Remember those PBS and BBC nature documentaries where they would take time-lapse photos of decaying fauna and flora then speed it up so strawberries would be enveloped by a gray-blue mold and cavity under their bloated weight or dead rodents would twitch and vibrate with a thousand hungry maggots until only the bones were left among green sprouting vines? That’s kinda what is happening as the book winds down.

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It’s as if the narrator of the novel got all their information from the half-lucid ghost of Ursula and assumed everything she said was true and it all happened just like she remembered it.

I wonder if it’s ever possible to be present at the exact moment when a story, say like the telling of an actual Theseus, turns into legend and supernatural myth? There’s probably no one moment, of course, only the path it took.

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‘It rained for four years. eleven months, and two days.’ What a great sentence!

So the flood has finally come to Macondo but unlike the bible where we never find out what happens to the more interesting people who god drowns away, we find the people here digging for gold coins under the house, picking leeches off of Ursula, making up what’s in the encyclopedia, and breaking all the fine china.

Starting over.

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The way the government in the novel treats the murder of the 3000 by claiming it never happened until everyone starts to believe the lie is a trick that extends well beyond Latin America and is a 20th century horror.

By denying a person the right to martyrdom, by just making them disappear, it saps the courage from someone because they know they will be forgotten. It’s the most treacherous tool of fascists.

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This most recent chapter, where Meme meets Mauricio and Amaranta predicts her own death, though the is still an air of the magical, this was a very ‘normal’ book chapter.

Girl meets boy, girl is secretly impressed with boy, girl has lots of sex with boy, boy is shot in the spine and spends his life in bed paralyzed and as an accused chicken thief.

Yellow was predominant again; mustard and the butterflies.

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It never occurred to me before that this novel and the bible share a common trait in regards to how time passes.

When we’re kids time passes real slow, and the bible and this novel begin with time passing slow. As we age time slips past quicker, just like both books do too.

The image of Remedios floating up to heaven along with the bed sheets is such a beautiful image and really conveys that sense of floating

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I can’t believe how slowly I’m needing to take this incredible novel (I’m going half pace), but it is a lot of fun going back and re-reading every chapter to pick up on the details and the texture of the story.

From a cultural point of view: any culture that views the world in terms of the miraculous would actually find the miraculous to be quite ordinary and what we consider mundane they would be in awe of.

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Marquez is saying something rather funny about the raising of children. In the case of Fernanda, she was raised always being told she would be queen, pissed in a gold pot, and was separated from the kids at school. And she married a man who kept a concubine and everyone laughed behind her back.

Meanwhile all of Ursula’s children were well loved and modestly raised, but all turned deranged and even murderous.

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Calvino wrote in ‘If On A Winter’s Night’ about a series of stories that all have beginnings and no endings and that are all connected through some complicated outside force.

This novel is similar except the stories are people and though their lives have more than beginnings, the family keeps circling a sort of psychic plughole that never drains but rather sort of bubbles everything back up into the tub.

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The insomnia (and following amnesia) the town suffers introduces an interesting paradox. With the loss of memory comes the loss of emotion and any nostalgia for the past and that turns men hard and cruel. However, we see sentimentality and nostalgia as being fake and unearned emotions that are ‘the mask of cruelty’.

That center cannot hold because either all feeling are fake but at least felt, or they don’t exist

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I think the thing that surprises me most about the novel is its violence and also its sadness. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but this is far more real than I anticipated.

And that’s ironic, that reality, since the book is filled with ghosts, men tied to chestnut trees, magic carpets, streams of blood flowing up curbs and through the neighborhood back to its owner’s mother.

It’s dizzy fascinating.

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I like how fluid the narrative is; a paragraph begins with one person and ends with another. In fact it’s sort of dream like where it all makes sense in the reality of the dream. It’s also as if the story has been told by so many people that the facts of gone over-ripe, like a game of telephone.

There is a lot of tragedy too, be it death, insanity, or revolution. Saddest of all is the loss of the town’s innocence.

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I’ve always wanted to read this book but I was waiting for the right time to start

I’m already in love with the book and am having a hard time putting it down.

I’m not going to pretend to have some great insight into the allusions or symbolism within because I’m not culturally literate enough to catch them all, however, the magical oddness is so beautiful, the characters so alive that it’s enough just to enjoy