I was intensely interested in English and world literature throughout high school and college. I devoured every classic and newly published novel that I could get my hands on—from Chaucer to Chabon, Rumi to Rushdie. And during that entire time—what I now consider to be my peak reading period—I somehow managed to forgo reading Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s infamous novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. Sure, I knew that it existed, but there were always other books to conquer. I kept sidelining the tome for other works, until I forgot about it entirely.
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Years passed before a close friend of mine called me up to tell me of a great book he just read, one that he insisted that I read immediately. Of course the book was One Hundred Years of Solitude; the classic had finally caught up with me. I finished the novel only a few days ago, and I have more than a few things to say about it.
Brass tacks plot overview
For those of you who haven’t read One Hundred Years of Solitude, here’s a (spoiler free) summary. The entirety of the novel takes place in a town called Macondo in Columbia, a city established by Jose ArcadioBuendia, his wife Ursula, and the dozens of followers who traveled with them away from their native homeland. The novel follows the history of Jose Arcadio Buendia, Ursula, and their progeny over the course of about a hundred years. The novel begins when Macondo is little more than a collection of mud huts by a river; the founders are idealists led by Jose ArcadioBeundia’s grand visions for the town.
The book essentially reads like a comprehensive history of Macondo and the Buendia family that sticks around til the end. The novel follows the major events of seven generations of the Buendia family in a little under 500 pages (at least in my version). That’s less than a hundred pages per generation on average to cover the entire lives and complex relationships between fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, lovers, and any other relation you can think of. Márquez wastes no time as he details the happenings of each generation; he describes one event after another with almost clinical precision. There are no erroneous events here: he follows the life and death of every character almost as if he was giving each their own mini biography.
Márquez tells the story with a combined style of magical realism and bleak pragmatism. Some characters die at the hands of rebel soldiers in the midst of a revolutionary war, others ascend into heaven like out of a religious story. Some family members die tragically soon after their birth, others live to be nearly 150 years old. It’s this blending of genres, paired with Márquez’s fast paced and encyclopedic storytelling, can make for quite the challenging read.
Can a novel be overwhelmingly complex and straightforward at the same time?
When I started this novel, I became immediately engaged with its fast paced plot development. It was exhilarating to read how a young Buendia grew up to become an adult and how their life choices influenced the next generation of children, all within a few dozen pages. One child might grow up to become a war hero, while their brother becomes a skilled toy designer. The way that Márquez crafts such distinct personalities in a few pages before developing an entirely new character is completely mesmerizing, especially when you’re accustomed to reading fiction dominated by a handful of characters.
For me, the endlessly shifting cast of characters and constant procession of strange events that befell Macondo was at times overwhelming. Márquez writes in a lean and spare style similar to that of Hemingway, but the sheer size of his plot soon negated any comfort that I took in his simple writing. I found myself repeated thinking that this novel was simultaneously dense and breezy. It reads exactly like the comprehensive family history that Márquez intended to write, and all too often—especially towards the end—I found it to be exhausting. I tried to remember which character was from which generation, whose child was whose, on and on.
In a nutshell: One Hundred Years of Solitude is undeniably brilliant, and shows Márquez at the height of his ability, but you should prepare for enduring a literary marathon before reading it.
Angelita Williams is a blogger who loves to share her passion for education with her readers. You can see her write about the benefits of online learning, distance learning, and college education in general on many prominent education blogs. You can reach Angelita at email@example.com.