A question often directed towards me had always perplexed me. That question being, “of all that I have read, what is my favorite book?” Through the years I’ve had many favorite books, favorite authors, but none has stood the test of time to reach the coveted spot of all time favorite of favorites. The spot remained vacant until six years ago when I began my first reading of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s masterpiece, 100 Years of Solitude. From the first page to the last I was spellbound. Upon reaching the mythical ending when Aureliano deciphers the predicted downfall of his family’s cyclical history amidst the destructive hurricane that wipes Macondo off the map, I closed the cover with thoughtful wonder and amazement towards the beautifully crafted piece of art that had captured my attention and renewed my respect for the enchanting power of the written word. From that point I knew that I had a favorite book and that book was 100 Years of Solitude.
Sometime last year a close friend of mine asked for a recommendation from my shelves to accompany her during a planned expedition of world travels. I had proudly handed her my copy of 100 Years with anticipation towards discussing it upon her return. However, when she returned after a month I was disenchanted to learn that she hated the book and couldn’t even get through the first fifty pages. What is worse, a travel companion of hers had the same experience years ago with a friend of his having recommended it only to find that he had hated it too.
I was shocked. The experience opened my eyes to the stark reality that my favorite book was one of those love-it or hate-it experiences. This troubled me, so upon finishing my year long quest to finish all my unread books I decided to revisit 100 Years to see if I still felt the same way about it as I did after my first reading.
What I discovered upon my rereading is that my first impression didn’t falter and that I absolutely love this book. Much can be said about the use of magical realism to blend mythical events and occurrences into everyday life, but what makes this book a success is not the clever use of the bizarre, but the straightforward never-wavering tone of the narration. The narrator can speak of the transfiguration of Remedios the Beauty up into the heavens while doing the laundry with the same factual tone as is given in the sad and defeated description of the government plot to hunt down and assassinate Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s 17 sons. Things happen because they happen, there is no greater meaning. Every occurrence that moves the story along, be it as mundane as the birds dying from the heat to the fantastical 4 years of ceaseless rains, all are narrated with the same sensibility that these events and occurrences are all part of the cyclical wheel that binds the Buendía family together.
The movement through time is also a notable characteristic of the narrator’s power. From the first page there is foreshadowing to when Colonel Aureliano Buendía will be facing the firing squad as the narrator reflects upon the Colonel’s memories of seeing ice for the first time as a boy. However rather than taking the reader directly to the incident of ice or the incident of the firing squad, the narrator takes a quick step back in time towards the founding of the town of Macondo by Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s father, Jose Arcadio Buendía. It isn’t until after a full chapter provides the back story for Jose Arcadio and his wife, Úrsula Iguarán’s intentions for founding the town do we come upon the incident of the young Aureliano Buendía seeing ice for the first time. The entire book is filled with such nuances of time in which the narrator insinuates events that will be explicated in greater detail later. It is done so craftily that it feels as though this novel is an oral history, known to listener and the speaker but told for the sake of telling. It doesn’t matter that you the reader know that certain things will happen, for as both Colonel Aureliano Buendía and his mother Úrsula each state at separate times that, “everything is known.”
There isn’t really a central character in 100 Years and it could be argued that the Buendía family is the central character. This highlights another notable characteristic of the narration – the fluid movement from character to character. As the story focuses on one character’s exploits and how it affects another family member there is a smooth transition towards the affected character’s current state of life. Throughout the greater than 100 years that the novel spans children are born, age, have children, and eventually die through a continuous cycle that spans 7 generations. Much can be said about the family’s troubles that include incest, manic exploits, drunkenness, frivolous partying, rebelliousness, inventiveness, but most of all solitude. Despite all that the family experiences, they fail to know each other, they fail to love each other and for this they damn themselves to their individual solitude.
I can recognize how this narrative style that includes magical realism, inconsistent chronology, and changing central characters can be frustrating to some readers and detract them from this book. I am not one of those readers. I wholeheartedly enjoy Marquez’s skillful use of language to express this story and I recognize that it is a masterful work of art that should be read by anyone who appreciates the written craft. It is a book that could never be made into a movie because its magic is in the way it is told. It is a book that I know I will read again and again throughout my life.