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.