Book review: One Hundred Years of Solitude

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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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Assignment: The Calcutta Chromosome as a Post-Colonial Novel

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Title: The Calcutta Chromosome
Author: Amitav Ghosh
Publisher: Penguin Group
SBN: 9780143066552
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 262
Rating: 2/5

Hmmm, I have to write an assignment on The Calcutta Chromosome as a post-colonial novel.. and i just can’t write! The book isn’t that great, really.. Ghosh has written better novels after this one.. But it still shows the post-colonial thinker’s or writer’s crisis. No, the overall post-colonial crisis. See! this is the reason why i can’t write it down..i don’t have clarity! Actually, it’s the same thing, isn’t it? Just the post-colonial crisis! hmm, so, i’ll try to make points here.. :
1. Post-Colonial theorists question the stereotypical notions about the ‘native’ and the colonizer:

Native                                                         Colonizer

– Religion.                                                  – Science.

– Superstition.                                            – Rationality.

– Supernatural.                                                    –

And Amitav Ghosh is no exception.
2. He includes an Egyptian, Antar. A character with a post-colonial heritage, just like the Indians in the book: Murugan, Sonali, Urmila, Mrs. Aratounian, Romen Haldar. By doing this, he suggests that all Colonialisms are same i.e., all experiences of Colonialism in all parts of the world are the same. (But they’re not). Why? Because, the Indian experience of colonialism is different from the Latin American experience of colonialism. How? In India, the British took away wealth and exploited the ‘natives’ economically. There was cultural exploitation as well but the British didn’t assimilate with the Indians and instead maintained a distance and a level of difference from the native. While in Latin America, there was mass killing of the population and almost all of the population was wiped out and the land was taken by the Europeans. The former culture of ‘Latin America’ has hardly survived.
3. The creation of the Indian Epistemological System (IES). Ghosh creates an Indian system of knowledge through Mangala Devi, Laakhan and their cult but..
a) This Indian Epistemological System is merely the opposite of what possibly the Western Epistemological Sytem (WES) is i.e., if the WES is logical, reasonable, scientific, linear; Ghosh’s IES is illogical, unreasonable, unscientific and non-linear.

Q: Why does the IES have to be something that is merely opposite of the WES and only then be Indian?
b) Ghosh spends more time on the WES than on the IES: The story of Ronald Ross’s discovery of the malaria vaccine is explained in fine detail. Mangala Devi and Laakhan’s practices have got nothing to do with the actual Indian practices: Mangala Devi’s system of transportation or immortality is transmuting her blood into another body that she chooses. This shows that Ghosh doesn’t really know what the actual ‘India’ or the ‘East’ is and ergo he fails to give them any value.

Mangala Devi’s practices are portrayed from an outsider’s point of view. We can see Mangala Devi and her followers doing something that looks like a havan and it doesn’t mean anything. I can almost see Ghosh the English-educated Indian observing these rituals from a distance and writing about them. So, although he wants to give these practices and their outcome some value, he fails to do so because of the way in which he portrays them. Also, all that Mangala Devi and Laakhan are given is Immortality. That is hardly giving any value to their cult.
A sort-of conclusion:

The novel, therefore shows the Post-Colonial Crises:

i) Merely answering back to the West.

ii) Not knowing what the actual ‘India’ or ‘East’ is.
And this happens because English-educated Indian writers do not have the language in which they would be able to talk positively about India and Indian practices. So it all comes down to discourse.
Hmmm.. this helped. 🙂

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