“One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”  With a first line like that, how can you help not reading more?  I found “One Hundred Years of Solitude” to be compulsively readable, partly thanks to it being peppered with hooks like that first line.  “Firing squad?  Ice?  Huh?  Gotta keep reading to find out!”  Furthermore, the tone of the author is that of a very good storyteller, holding his audience in silent thrall, seamlessly weaving fact and fiction such that you are never quite sure of reality.

This is the story of the Buendia family, founding members of the town of Macondo, Colombia, circa latter half of the nineteenth century or so (at least to begin with).  As promised by the book cover, one hundred years are duly delivered, which works out to six or seven generations of Buendias, all of whom seem to be named “Arcadio” or “Aureliano” (males) and, to a lesser extent, “Remedios” or “Amaranta” (females).  That does get kind of confusing, but thankfully there was a family tree printed near the front of the book, which I referred to quite often.  I suspect if I hadn’t been so engrossed in the book as to finish it in less than a week, I would have been even more lost with who’s who.

The Buendia family history is that of recurring tragedy, usually a kind of tragic comedy.  The book has a surprising amount of humor.  Everyone is just a little strange or so extreme in their personality that even somber events are somehow very funny.  The tragic flaw of these folks, generally, is letting themselves be governed too much by emotion or passion and the pressures of the moment.  Coupled with the general lack of a moral standard regarding marital fidelity and the like, you end up with something like half of the family tree being illegitimate, and sometimes the tree don’t fork neither, if you get my drift.  Along with all that, there’s just some bits of bad luck and being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  For a multitude of reasons, each of the Buendias ends up alone (see “solitude” in the title), physically or emotionally, either by choice or circumstance.  Somehow I think I see a kind of Buddhist “life = pain” meaning here, but maybe I’m wrong.

Good read, in any case.  In retrospect, I am greatly impressed by the quality of the wordsmithing in this book.  Excellent for a translation.

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