At random moments there are books that appear, so powerfully unique, they seem to occupy a stratus unto themselves. Dante’s Inferno, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, and a variety of others have all made permanent marks on the history of literature. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 1967 One Hundred Years of Solitude is another such book. The language engrossingly brilliant, images strikingly exotic, and cultural backdrop pertinent to both the author’s native land and humanity as a whole, nothing could make a novel greater. Some may balk at the magic-realist aura that not only infuses the story but buoys the language, but for those willing to give in to its spell, the power and beauty are overwhelming.
One Hundred Years of Solitude is both literature and art. A direct result of Marquez’s refined talent, the imagery of the novel is surreal in appearance and dreamlike in movement. A pioneer of magic-realism, events of the novel seem bizarre on the surface but drive with a deeper purpose the closer one examines the symbolism in the tropes. Marquez’s manner of expression may have free rein, but always theme remains the focus. (As a side note, I can only imagine that Spanish, with its inherent lyrical quality, must be a more pleasurable medium in which to read the novel.)
A mix of the tragic and comedic (in Greek terms), One Hundred Years of Solitude faithfully adheres to a historical cycle of triumph and failure. In short, the plot does not follow the standard story arc. A critical account, Marquez parallels Columbian history with seven generations of the Buendia family in semi-linear fashion, the exploits of the characters involved stories unto themselves. The vision of a glass city appearing, the book opens with Jose Arcadia Buendia founding the town of Macondo and starting a family in accordance with the sign. Things go well at first; his wife Ursula gives birth to a handful of children and the town develops healthily around them. But after a time, the joyful expansion hits some rough patches. Periodic misfortunes begin striking the town and its inhabitants, the Buendia family itself seemingly hit hardest. But survive they do, and five additional generations of the family evolve throughout the novel, each more strange and different from the last in telling the allegorical tale of Columbia’s evolution.
A sure mark of a writer’s quality is their ability to infuse language and theme, as well as stamp the material in their own personal style. Marquez does all of this. Language already discussed, the extra-ordinary imagery and fantastical happenings of the Buendia family are related in a tone that is the author’s own—the voice of a natural storyteller. Time moving in zig-zag fashion, pace never slows from beginning to end. Marquez shows himself in complete control of the narrative, the virtues and vice of the Buendia—family sad, amusing, touching, and anything but typical as he leads the reader on a journey through the meaning of time, cultural isolation, and cycles of history.
In the end, there are many books which contain brilliant language. Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has been passed through 200 years of history thanks to the superb quality of its writing. But appearances can be deceiving. The jeweled dialogue of Liza and Mr. Darcy blinds readers to the book’s aristocratic values and fairy tale structure. One Hundred Years of Solitude has all the beauty of language and more. There is a strong sense of purpose—of substance—innate to the story that strikes at something deeper in the human soul. No other political and social history of a country has been presented in such rich, magical, and haunting form. The view through the kaleidoscope mesmerizing, Columbia has never before been viewed in such colors, and perhaps never will, rendering the book a masterpiece for the ages.