One Hundred Years of Solitude

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia MarquezGuest Reviewer: David Stein

Author: Gabriel García Marquez
Publisher: Penguin Classics (2000) [Originally published 1967]
Number of Pages: 422
How long it took me to read: 3 weeks
Where I bought this book: I bought this book at my favourite local bookstore.
ISBN: 978-0141184999

Like a Moth to a Flame

As a student of English literature, it seemed that One Hundred Years of Solitude came up in every group discussion and literary journal. Marquez’s novel was referenced in other novels, and cited constantly as one of the greatest works of the 20th century. I’d heard so much about the infamous book “where every character has the same name” that I eventually decided it was time to read it. That was numerous reads ago.

Favorite Five

I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “Her heart of compressed ash, which had resisted the most telling blows of daily reality without strain, fell apart with the first waves of nostalgia. The need to feel sad was becoming a vice as the years eroded her. She became human in her solitude.” (p.370)

4. “A short time later, when the carpenter was taking measurements for the coffin, through the window they saw a light rain of tiny yellow flowers falling. They fell on the town all through the night in a silent storm, and they covered the roofs and blocked the door and smothered the animals who slept outdoors.” (p.144)

3. “…she announced without the least bit of dramatics that she was going to die at dusk. She not only told the family but the whole town, because Amaranta had conceived of the idea that she could make up for a life of meanness with one last favor to the world, and she thought that no one was in a better position to take letters to the dead.” (p.285)

2. “He says that he’s dying because of me, as if I were a bad case of colic.” (p.202)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “The house became full of love. Aureliano expressed it in poetry that had no beginning or end. He would write it on the harsh pieces of parchment that Melquiades gave him, on the bathroom walls, on the skin of his arms, and in all of it Remedios would appear transfigured: Remedios in the soporific air of two in the afternoon, Remedios in the soft breath of the roses, Remedios in the water-clock secrets of the moths, Remedios in the steaming morning bread, Remedios everywhere and Remedios forever.” (pp.67-8)

New Words

Words are wondrous creatures. Put them together and they paint a picture. Rearrange them and the scene changes. But to be able to see what they are saying, we must first know what they mean.

New Word: soporific (adjective)

Definition (Source: Collins English Dictionary): inducing sleep
Synonyms: drowsy, slumberous
Origins: from the French soporifique; with the Etymology Dictionary citing its first use in 1687
As in: see quote No.1 above

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

“It took about two paragraphs before I was absolutely hooked the first time I opened its cover. It was one of those can’t-put-it-down-and-go-to-sleep experiences. I would’ve finished reading it in one night, was I not slowed down by my tendency to stop after every second sentence and take a deep breath, because it’s just so good. Everything captivated me, from the language to the characters to the imagery. I have truly never read a more gripping, fascinating book.

“It wasn’t long before I started buying copies of the book for everyone I knew. And every time I bought it for someone else, I took the opportunity to re-read it myself. Each time I did, I found something new to appreciate. To date, I’ve probably read Solitude at least seven times, and I’m waiting for the chance to read it again. I have no doubt that I’ll be buying a birthday present or a farewell gift for someone soon. I already know exactly what to buy, and I can’t wait to hit the bookstore because it means I’ll soon be re-reading the saga of the Buendia family again.

“By the way, it’s not quite true that every character in the novel has the same name. Yes, there are a number of Aurelianos and Jose Arcadios, but each naming is significant and a piece of utter brilliance. It’s a little confusing at first, but it’s absolutely worth it.”

“Every time I read this book, it’s as if I’m reading it for the first time. I’m amazed at the way in which it works on so many levels. Each reading leads me to a new discovery.

“The first time I read it I was a student, and I was fascinated by the book’s compelling use of magic realism. I’d never read a book in which it rains flowers. The author doesn’t explain the phenomenon by telling his readers that the wind blew flowers off the trees, or birds dropped flowers down from the sky. He simply states that a man dies and it rains flowers, as matter-of-factly as he states any of the factual information in his novel. This juxtaposition amazed me. I was caught up in Marquez’s ability to place fact and fantasy side by side, and both are allowed to exist within this strange yet familiar world.”

“I’m constantly intrigued by the book’s setting. At first it bothered me that I didn’t know exactly where to find the village of Macondo on a map. But in time I learned to trust the author and stop seeking answers and rational explanations. By letting the words flow through me without questioning them, I’ve developed an appreciation for this book that has never left me.”

“When I read (and re-read) this novel later in my life, I was struck by different aspects I’d never thought about before. On my second read, I discovered that this story is charged with political commentary—something I’d missed on my first reading, when the power of magical realism occupied me completely. My third reading of the novel highlighted the theme of family and broken relationships, another theme I’d never picked up in earlier readings.

“It thrills me to think that a novel can take on a completely different reading, depending on the time in a reader’s life. Each time I pick up this book, I discover something new. As a result, I can’t wait to finish it so I can read it again.”

“I always feel conflicted when I read a translation of a foreign text. On one hand, I feel like something is lost and I’m not reading the novel as the author intended. On the other hand, if it weren’t for the translation I wouldn’t be able to read it at all.

“I’ve tried to read this novel in its original Spanish (not very successfully, probably because I don’t understand a word of Spanish). It worries me that a novel relies on a ‘good’ translator. I’ve never known exactly what that means. I’m guessing that a ‘good’ translator is able to capture the essence of the original text. But my Spanish skills being what they are, how will I ever know?

“Having come to know this novel as well as I do, I now feel that Marquez shines through, even though my copy is an English translation. I love the rhythm of his language and his vivid descriptions. I thoroughly enjoy the moments of quirky humour, and the power of his imagery. These aspects of the book shine through and I appreciate then immensely.

“So how do I know that the translator has captured the essence? I don’t. And unless my Spanish suddenly improves overnight, I don’t think I’ll ever know whether this translation adequately captures the original. All I know is that the novel speaks to me. Of course, this feeling isn’t something I can explain. But if Marquez doesn’t feel the need to explain how it can rain yellow flowers, I don’t feel the need to do any explaining either.”

“Maybe it’s because I’m part of the video generation, but when I read the book for the first time I was already looking forward to the movie. I was disappointed to discover that no film version exists, but as I continued to read I was filled with a sense of relief. I cringe to imagine how a Hollywood screenwriter would reduce the novel’s complex narrative into a film-friendly three-act structure. All sense of nuance and texture would be lost. As a huge fan of movies myself, even I am forced to admit that the greatest screenwriter and director in the business couldn’t do the job right.

“I’ve often thought about what academics have called the ‘unfilmability’ of this novel. (I love the way academics make up new words!) As I read, I am imagining how its sweeping scenes would play out on the big screen. I find myself wondering which actors would play the key roles. As a student, I settled on Jennifer Lopez, Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas. Yet every time I re-read this novel, I am struck once again by the impossibility of translating it into any other form. Marquez’s words would be lost, as would his turns of phrase, his metaphors and his evocation of a particular mood. As curious as I would be to see the film adaptation of this novel, I would probably be among the purists and academics picketing outside the movie theatre.

“And as if I needed an extra bit of proof, the film version of another Marquez novel put the matter to rest. Having read (and loved) his classic Love in the Time of Cholera, I knew no film could ever do it justice. But unlike Solitude, somebody tried anyway. The result speaks for itself, making a strong statement that certain novels should be left untouched by Hollywood. And as much as I have always admired and respected Marquez, I admire him even more for refusing to sell the film rights to his most timeless work.

“Read One Hundred Years of Solitude. Don’t wait for the movie, because there ain’t gonna be one. Not if Marquez and I have anything to do with it.”

Other Reviews of this Book

Bradley Allen Markle's Guest Review of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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