Monday, May 31, 2010

Sunday, May 16, 2010

One Hundred Years of Solitude ~ Part Two: The Butterflies for Anonymous

In response to my review of One Hundred Years of Solitude on May 16, 2010 Anonymous said...
I could not disagree more.
Cien AƱos de Soledad is a beautiful, magical work, a mosaic of good and evil of humanity and life. In tropical rain season, yes there will be mud, but also beautiful plant life. Living in the tropics is a different life experience, and a different culture with its own beauties. Why not comment on the young man who is followed by a flock of butterflies wherever he goes?

I have not read Gabo's work in English translation, but I fear he has been much misunderstood here.
Dear Anonymous,
Thank you for responding with concern for a book, an author, and a sense of culture that is important to you.

You suggest that I write about the man who had butterflies follow him. That is actually a very good idea. He is very important to the story as a whole.  As that man, Mauricio Babilonia, is sneaking through the Buendia family garden where he has nightly been lifting up wall tiles to gain entrance into a scorpion-ridden bathroom where he trysts with a young girl of the family, he is shot.
"A bullet lodged in his spinal column reduced him to his bed for the rest of his life. He died of old age in solitude, without a moan, without a protest, without a single moment of betrayal, tormented by memories and by the yellow butterflies, who did not give him a moment's peace, and ostracized as a chicken thief. " p. 297

In fact, it was the butterflies that alerted Fernanda, Meme's mother, as to why her daughter was bathing every night.
"Fernanda went into her bedroom by chance and there were so many butterflies that she could scarcely breath."
So she takes action and gets a guard stationed in the garden and tells him to watch for a chicken thief...knowing that it is Meme’s lover who will be shot. In this context, butterflies are not a symbol of hope, of metamorphosis; of transformation...they are in fact described as suffocating.

I suppose the one character that I liked was Ursula. It was Ursula that drug me through the book...the mother who took her money from making candy and enlarged her house to be sure there was room for all the family. Sadly though, in those rooms, the sisters cursed each other, the father abandoned his faith and went crazy pondering pseudoscience and all manner of incest and torment ensued.

The butterflies do figure prominently to the very end...for it is the man who was born of the couple in the bathroom who is the last member of the family.

As he did not know who he was, who his parents were, he unknowingly beds his sister who then dies in childbirth. He is distraught and winds up in a prostitute's bed that night, leaving his baby unattended. When he returns he sees his child is
“a dry bloated bag of skin that all the ants in the world were dragging toward their holes along the stone path of the garden..."
The last page of the book is devoted to him learning about his family from the gypsy's parchments. He recognizes his own story
"…he found the instant of his own conception among the scorpions and the yellow butterflies in a sunset bathroom where a mechanic satisfied his lust on a woman who was giving herself out of rebellion.”
He starts skipping ahead in the parchemnts, looking for the predictions of his death.
“Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room…”
Then but for a few more sentences, that’s the end of the book, end of the family, end of the village…. and hence my response to this tale…four hundred pages to argue life is meaningless.

It is with that that I disagree.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Book Review : One Hundred Years of Solitude

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez translated from the Spanish by Gregory Rabassa

Last year I was sent the BBC list of 100 famous books and asked how many of them I had read. BBC estimates that the majority of people will not have read more than 6 of them. While I had read 64 of them, I’d never read either of the Marquez’s titles so I put them on my list of books to read.

A blurb on the back of the Harper Perennial paperback edition quotes William Kennedy’s New York Times Book Review “…this novel is the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race.” With that stratospheric launching of expectations I began to read.

By the time a grandmother was introduced on page 54 as she pimped a granddaughter for 20 cents, I was already thinking about not finishing the book. I know horrors happen but what will the author do with them? Why I wondered, is this book so lauded? I pressed on, searching for significance. I set Marquez down and went on to other books. I was never tempted to take this book to comfortable reading nooks. I never read it propped up in bed. I left it in the bathroom and that is how I read the entire book, in starts and fits. Deep mixed feelings stayed with me all the way to the end.

It is true that lovely language drew me in but it was I who supplied the hope that somehow this tale would turn, that some character would wake or escape from the world of insomniacs and lost memory of Marquez’s Macondo, the village where to remember the actual “demanded so much vigilance and moral strength that many succumbed to the spell of an imaginary reality, one invented by themselves, which was less practical for them but more comforting.” (Page 49)

I read hoping for some catalytic cascade of events that would be transformational and address the nagging need I was feeling, the need to purge myself of the experience of the book. But in the end, despite Marquez’s stunning language, inside the spider web of reiterations, story within story, ultimately all that happens, the plot if you will, is that this terrible incestuous gorging snake of a family, ever growing in lust and lunacy devours its own as the last man learns they were all condemned in a mystical circularity to do. There is no path in or out of Macondo. It is not a simple tale, yet is simply a tale where incest, waste, and cruelty dominate

It isn't enough to use glorious language, or ably describe despair. Without vision, without dimension for one human being to grow, for despair to be vanquished even occasionally… if it is all insanity,mud,dust and cruelty, then there is no point in even having a shelf on which to keep this book let alone suggest it as required reading or compare it to Genesis where man is indeed driven out of the Garden of Paradise to encounter thorns and mud and dust and death, but even Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, is told that while sin crouches at the door he may overcome it. In one hundred years in Macondo, it is never so.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Tee Shirt Vendor Hero in New York

Truly he is a a good model...for how often do people see things and figure it isn't their business to attend to or rationalize that someone else will take care of it, or maybe it isn't really a big deal anyway.  Just walk on by...

I hope New York finds a way to thank the man who the news reports that I have read currently only identify as a Viet Nam Vet who is a Tee Shirt Vendor in Times Square.  

I'd be glad to buy a tee shirt from this man.