One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez has often been imitated but never been duplicated. It began a new literary genre called “magical realism” which basically means “fact and fantasy mixed in order to tell a really good story.” Although originally published in 1967, One Hundred Years of Solitude got a resurge of interest in 2004 after being named as one of Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club selections.
This is a hard book for North Americans to wrap their head around, partially because of the similarly named characters. It can be very hard to determine who is who. But if you’ve ever read any Russian novel (even a short one like Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky) then you should be able to handle One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Vague Enough to Be Familiar
The novel spans the entire existence of the fictional town of Macondo. The country that Mocando is located is never revealed, although there are hints that it is located in Central America. The constant civil wars, unrest among workers being cheated by their employers and weather problems look like they could have been taken from today’s news.
Late in the novel, Marquez explains why most of the characters have similar names. He does this through the thoughts of the only character named Ursusla (although there is an Amaranta Ursula later on, which did act a bit like the two characters she was named after.) Ursula muses on the names of twin boys in that they had been given the wrong names. She decides that all family members named Aureliano acted one way and all Arcadios act in another way.
The Nature of Fiction
One Hundred Years of Solitude is a book within a book. Ursula’s husband meets a magician gypsy that writes in Sanskrit. He would come back from the dead and visit the family on several occasions. One of her descendants would spend most of his life deciphering the strange manuscript. He discovers that the manuscript is the story of his own family and of Moncondo. Everything has happened the way the magician had predicted. When the last line of the manuscript is read by the last decedent of Ursula, the town falls into dust and the book ends.
This is a novel deep enough and complex enough that it is like a good minestrone soup. There are different ingredients in every bite. But the main broth is great storytelling. You wind up caring about this bizarre family and this town and keep on turning the pages. The end of the town, of the manuscript and the novel in your hands takes place simultaneously. Perhaps reality is all in our heads or at least, in our stories.