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.


GretchenJoanna said...

Thank you for doing the work of slogging through the mud and slime, so you could let us know there are no treasures to be found in that pit.

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.

Georgia said...

I read it in both languages - English first. I loved the book. I would agree that the translation weakens the story - not the literal content so much as the cultural content. And not that the translation is poorly done, quite the opposite. I believe the shift takes place in the 'cultural tone' of the novel that is not easily translated. Their struggles are only a part of the larger tapestry, or essence of the story.

Jeannette said...

Hello Anon...I wrote you a response by writing another post.
there is a note to you at the beginning.

Hello Georgia, that is enviable to have read it in the original language and English. I did a little background reading hoping to put the novel in a larger context...and I realize that it might be magical realism itself that puts me off...but then when I returned to the book to revisit the man who is followed by butterflies, I again saw the bleakness...especially as the book ends.

Thank you both for sharing your thoughts. I have read very positive reviews of it, and there are many. After I read it I talked to and read some reviews of people who would not, could not finish the book. I did persist in reading to the end wrote about it in an effort to understand my response to the work.

I do appreciate others who have different experience to bring to the reading sharing their take.

Thank you.


Tania Pryputniewicz said...


I have a lifelong friend who has been known to put tarot cards back and reshuffle and lay out again when she doesn't agree with the spread. It took some getting used to (because I'd given the oracle so much weight) but I love her more for it and it always makes me laugh.

The other thing she taught me was to stop reading a book I wasn't enthralled by. As a lifelong student/writer/teacher, it was another odd thought to try out. But I feel she's right. So little time.

for me a work ends up feeling spiritually devoid, wanting, when there isn't some offering that furthers my understanding of survival or turning towards light; I share your concerns there. Who needs the malaise hangover...

Jeannette said...

Tania, you've caught me, I did indeed persist beyond my own better instincts. Thank you for your visit and responsiveness.

debbie bailey said...

Hi Jeannette! I can't believe I haven't visited your blog before. A fellow lover of books! I enjoyed your comment on this book on my own blog after I posted about it. I look forward to reading more of what you've written.

Haddock said...

I can never do that, I mean hop from one book to another midway. (I get confused)
It is like the day I watched three movies in a row in the theater (in my teens) Before going to sleep I was so confused as to who killed whom and why was this hero moving around with that heroine.......