It should come as no great surprise that Gabriel García Márquez wrote this fictionalization of Colombian history in epic form. Epics are timeless—they tell the human story of life from beginning to end. Colombia, to the author, was a place larger than life.One Hundred Years of Solitude is the living, breathing portrait of his sense of marvel about his homeland.
One Hundred Years of Solitude isn't only an epic literary work; it's the seminal work of the literary aesthetic that it popularized. Magical realism isn't a trend or a literary fluke; it has enjoyed a presence in world literature for hundreds of years. Though Latin American writers popularized it, magical realism's ongoing presence in world literature suggests its enduring cultural significance.
Magical Realism's Relevance
Western readers in the 21st century have much to gain by reading magical realism. It has a vision that offers some relief from the gritty and depressing realism of the last century. It's not that all readers need escape from the truth, but it may be that we've entered a cultural realm in our own collective history where it has become necessary to question what's real. What is the truth?
We are a nation in search of the truth. Most recently, how did the terrorist attacks on September 11 happen, after all? Before that date in 2001, no one in the Western world would've ever believed such an event was possible.
Our Common Humanity
We are also a culture of conspiracy theories and urban legends; we invent our own folklore in order to fill in facts that are otherwise left blank. We love reading murder mysteries and true crime and we are fascinated with crime scene investigations. This isn't because we have a collectively vulgar desire to see dead bodies but because we want to know what happened to the victims. It's their stories we crave. Their stories could be our stories.
This is why magical realism offers lasting appeal for readers. True, people like to be transported to places that are unusual or exotic, they like to read stories that blur the edges between what's real and what's unreal. But in the end, it's about finding new territory for telling our own stories. We need the pain, the honesty, the humor, the audacity, and the marvel of magical realism as a way to acknowledge, capture—indeed, to celebrate—our common humanity.
Published on January 20, 2004