Something for Everyone
To approach One Hundred Years of Solitude is not just to read a novel, but to stumble onto a vast cultural territory and glimpse a dizzying array of people and patterns, horizons and meanings. Its world comprises the commonplace and everyday along with the extraordinary and the impossible. Its literary heritage includes ancient scripture, exploratory and family chronicle, Rabelaisian spoofery, and colonial romance. And its appeal is to all ideologies: leftist in its dealings with social struggles and its portrait of imperialism; conservatives are heartened by the sustaining role of the family; quietists find their pessimism reconfirmed and hedonists find solace in all the swashbuckling. This is a book that in a very real sense has "something for everyone."
One Hundred Years of Solitude is unique even among Latin American novels for the degree to which it successfully integrates private and public concerns. The former is a focus on such things as family life, sexual desire, and romantic love; the latter a series of migration, rebellions, wars, ceremonies, strikes and repressions. As might be expected, women figure more prominently in the first than the second. But for all its fantastical exaggerations, the narrative center of the book is its faithful and convincing account of the domestic routines and vicissitudes of the Buendía clan. We read of such expected matters as daily housekeeping, matrimonial tensions, the raising of offspring, children at play, and sibling differences, all scrupulously reported by a wise, omniscient narrator. Even in a "magical" Macondo, the everyday meals come from somewhere.
...in the Details
Behind García Márquez's scrupulousness in rendering the history and folklore of his region is a larger fidelity to reality itself. He never lets even the humblest of particulars escape him, be it the clothes a character is wearing or the contents of a meal someone might be eating (often fried bananas, a typical Caribbean snack.) Because he is telling the story of a family he does not neglect to mention how each successive brood of children is raised, and by whom. This care in the use of detail is exemplified in an unusually frank recollection made in an early interview, held in the first heat of the book's success. The author talked of consulting books on alchemy, navigation, poisons, disease, cookery, home medicines and having to find out, "how you can tell the sex of a shrimp, how a man is executed by firing squad, and how you determine the quality in bananas."
Macondo: The World
Though centered on a limited geography—a small town in the Colombian north country—One Hundred Years of Solitude goes beyond its Hispanic orbit and can be read as an instance of "the great American novel" in the widest possible sense. The spaces evoked have a New World vastness. And we can go still further and, despite the author's own disavowal of such a reading, see his book as a metaphor for the rise and decline of all human civilizations. From modest and rugged beginnings, the inhabitants of Macondo become wealthy and wise, but also lose sight of their original roots and better traditions, eventually reaching a state of decadence. The world readership for One Hundred Years of Solitude strongly suggests the potential for global, trans-Macondian applications to what starts as a Colombian writer's locally based narrative.
Excerpted from Gene Bell-Villada's examination of the author's life and novels Garcia Marquez: The Man and His Work..
Published on January 20, 2004