Although I remembered One Hundred Years of Solitude as one of my all-time favorite novels, when I reread it for The Selfish Book Club I found it very frustrating. If you’ve kept up with this blog, you’ll remember that I’m a survivor of Donald Trump’s election in 2016. I climbed out of that black pit of depression only to confront horrendous wildfires in 2017 and 2018. The pandemic, of course, struck in 2020 along with another huge wildfire that got within a quarter mile of my house. Now, in 2022, Russia has invaded Ukraine and all my childhood Cold War fears are coming up (although not as strongly as you’d think, since I’m so used to bad news by now that I’m not taking as hard as I might be). Considering all of that, the magical realism and Circle Game of Jose Arcadio’s, Aureliano’s, Remedio’s, Ursula’s and Amaranta’s didn’t delight me as they once had. My reality was too hyper-real and bleak to allow stories about flying carpets, alchemy and women who smell like smoke to hold my attention. My fearful and impatient mood made it feel a little like going from an in-depth seminar on black and white Bergman films to watching an episode of Friends.
I kept at it though, and gradually Garcia Marquez won me back. I started looking forward to reading in bed before sleep and first thing on awakening. The book is like a beautiful dream. The characters and the history of the fictional Latin American town of Macando circle like Fortune’s Wheel or a widening gyre; rolling like the ball in Prufrock toward inevitable questions about time, identity and reality.
There are so many examples of original, evocative word choices and descriptions. Once of my favorites is Garcia Marquez’ description of the train sounding like, “a kitchen being dragged by a village.”
Incest, both obvious and ambiguous, is a theme in the book. The Buendia family tree is more like a jungle vine, snaking and circling back on to itself. Matriarch Ursula fears that one of the children will be born with the sign of incest, a pig’s tail, but although she lives a very long time, she doesn’t live to see the child, the last in the long Buendia line, who is finally born with the pig’s tail.
Even if she had lived, she wouldn’t have lived to actually see it because in her older age Ursula is blind. She hides her disability so well through memorization of the family’s habits and careful observance of dates, time of day and seasons that no one figures out that she has lost her vision. They chalk up the fact that she holds her arm aloft like the statue of a saint, which she actually does so that she doesn’t bump into things like a white cane, to eccentricity.
What’s with the smell of smoke? Pilar Tenera, the sexy fortune teller prostitute that beds both Aureliano and his brother Jose Arcadio II and is the mother of sons of each, is irresistible to Jose Arcadio II because of her smoky odor.
When Jose Arcadio II is killed, the smell of gunpowder cannot be removed from the corpse and even burial doesn’t quell it. The banana company pours cement over the grave to reduce the smell. Does the smoke smell connect Use Arcado to his lover after death?
Pilar Tenera and the woman who is rival to Fernanda, Petra Cotes, are similar to me and continue the circles back and forth between generations of Buendias, making it difficult and lending a dreaminess to tracing their sexual exploits and resulting offspring. The union of Petra Cotes and Fernanda’s husband, Aureliano, seems to cause incredible, practically grotesque and unmanageable, fecundity. It is even described as a sort of plague, but they become so wealthy they can hardly spend their money fast enough and Aureliano uses it for wall paper. Considering the many year deluge that comes later in the book, it’s all very Noah’s ark-Biblical.
The women in the book seem more differentiated to me, and the men who are not Buendias, like Pietro Crespi, have some original traits, but the Buendia men could almost all be facets of the same character. They are all variations on the theme of maleness.
The “17 Aurelianos,” the sons Colonel Aureliano Buendia has during his travels fighting battles, are almost carbon copies of each other. They are each marked with a permanent cross of ashes on their foreheads, and each is killed with a bullet through the cross “target.” Although a few of the 17 Aurelianos are given individuality, none were very memorable to me and all of them ended up being killed.
There is so much Christian symbolism in the book that if there were 12 Aurelianos it would make more sense to me, but I’m not sure what 17 signifies.
In one online university outline of the book’s themes, it breaks the book down into four parts: the founding of Macondo, the war years, the American intervention with the arrival of the railroad, and the introspective “meta” years, which end with finding out that the Sanskrit parchments have been the family history all along.
This was interesting to me because I love the beginning and the end of the book but found myself drifting a lot during the war years and the banana company years. It was as if too much destructiveness wrecks the magic for me. I found myself really hooked back in when the story returned to basically a single home again with someone staying in Melquiades’ room and an illicit romance once again brewing.
Of course, the magic ends with the horrific image of the dead baby being devoured by ants and carried away, probably one of the most shocking and memorable ending images in literature. The dream becomes a nightmare and the final image is like a scream to, “Wake Up!”