Book review: One Hundred Years of Solitude


Title: One Hundred Years of Solitude
Author: Gabriel García Márquez
Translator: Gregory Rabassa
Publisher: Penguin Group
ISBN: 978-0-140-157512
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 422
Rating: 5/5

One Hundred Years of Solitude: the giant, the Classic, hyped, according to some. Well, as many people, as many opinions. I am sharing here my experience of reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, at last. It was difficult to read the book with the things I’d heard about it playing in my head: about how great it is, about it being Márquez’s masterpiece, and most importantly, about it being a literary masterpiece. So, at one point, tired of this distress in my head, I decided to shun all the hearsay and plunge into it head first. And I did.

I was struck by the peculiarity of the place, and the people and their behaviour. And I guess that was because the Colombians are different from the sort of people I know. My point is, Gabriel García Márquez’s description of the people is honest, straightforward. And don’t we all love a writer without an air of pretense about him? I do.

I was also struck by the freshness of Macondo. The novel is set in the fictional town of Macondo, which is founded by José Arcadio Buendía. The initial days after the founding of Macondo are like a dream. It is an ‘orderly, hardworking, and happy village’, and the reader will find himself hoping that nothing would happen to this romantic setting, where people are, most importantly, among other things, happy.

But of course, things happen, like they happened to Colombia. Slowly, Macondo gets exposed to the outside world: the gypsies, the progress (with the coming of the railway track), the war, and finally, the company. The dreaded company. With each such progression, I felt for Macondo and its people. A little research and I could relate Macondo and its people to Colombia and the Colombians; and though I learned at University that all colonialisms are not the same, I found myself associating the slow, ultimate decadence of Macondo’s people to India and her people as well.

All the historical events that happen in the novel: from Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s Civil War to the Treaty of Neerlandia, from the coming of the Banana Company to the massacre of the labourers, are depicted with much recklessness of feeling, and have an impact on the reader. And what helps Marquéz to convey his contempt and his helplessness is Magic Realism. The fantastical elements Marquéz uses are devices to show in his characters the effects of war, and of governments and of people in black coats. This is how truth gets a chance in fiction; the real effects and consequences of history on the psyche of a people get a chance. No amount of historical records, especially those found in school textbooks, can convey what Marquéz manages to convey through One Hundred Years of Solitude, which is why it is a classic and a masterpiece.

This passage is about the massacre that took place in Ciénaga, Colombia. (the number of casualties of this massacre has never been confirmed):

“‘One more minute and we’ll open fire.”

“‘You bastards!” he shouted. “Take the extra minute and stick it up your ass!”

After his shout something happened that did not bring on fright but a kind of hallucination. The captain gave the order to fire and fourteen machine guns answered at once. But it all seemed like a farce. It was as if the machine guns had been loaded with caps, because their panting rattle could be heard and their incandescent spitting could be seen, but not the slightest reaction was perceived, not a cry, not even a sigh among the compact crowd that seemed petrified by an instantaneous invulnerability. Suddenly, on one side of the station, a cry of death tore open the enchantment. “Aaaagh, Mother.” A seismic voice, a volcanic breath, the roar of cataclysm broke out in the center of the crowd with a great potential of expansion. José Arcadio Segundo barely had time to pick up the child while the mother with the other one was swallowed up by the crowd that swirled about in panic.”

Is it just me or does the passage resonate the Jallianwala Bagh massacre?

Moving on, many of the aspects One Hundred Years of Solitude reminded me of Midnight’s Children. Like Marquéz, Rushdie, too, deals with a history that has been concealed, twisted, and manipulated. It is ironic that these fantastical books are our best authentic source to experiencing historical reality.

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Book Excerpt: English, August

One of the most amazing books I’ve had the pleasure to borrow and read from my cousin’s library, English, August by Upamanyu Chatterjee. What matters most when it comes to such books is the time when you read it. But of course, there is no just one good time to read a book as great as English, August, is there? The book has had a major impact on me as a person, and it is one of those books I keep going back to again and again.

This is my favourite passage from the book. Enjoy!

They sat down. One whole side of the house was bordered by thirty-year-old eucalyptus tress. ‘I’m not very happy in Madna. I can’t settle down to the job -‘ He smiled shamefully. His uncle was a pale soft man, with a large nose and small brown eyes. He said nothing, but look at Agastya distastefully, prompting him to speak, to defend and justify himself. ‘Of course, nothing is fixed. I’m in a sort of state of flux, restless.’ He shuffled in his chair. ‘I don’t want challenges or responsibility or anything, all I want is to be happy -‘ He stopped, embarrassed. It seemed an awful thing to say. In that mild autumn sunlight Madna seemed light years away, yet he knew that it would return, perhaps after dark, or whenever he was alone. It seemed unreal, yet accessible, a sleepwalking eighteen hours away. He wanted to say much, but didn’t know where to begin, or how to express himself. He wanted to say, look, I don’t want heaven, or any of the other ephemerals, the power or the glory, I just want this, this moment, this sunlight, the car in the garage, that music system in my room. These gross material things, I could make these last for ever. If I have any grand desires, they are only grist for lazy fantasy – Vienna and Hong Kong and kink in Bangkok. This narrow placid world, here and now, is enough, where success means watching the rajnigandhas you planted bloom. I am not ambitious for ecstasy, you will ask me to think of the future, but the decade to come pales before this second, the span of my life is less important than its quality. I want to sit here in the mild sun and try not to think, try and escape the iniquity of the restlessness of my mind. Do you understand. Doesn’t anyone understand the absence of ambition, or the simplicity if it.

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