Review: One Hundred Years of Solitude

Authors intro: Please don't read this review if you are concerned with spoilers, as this review is more of a recounting of the story and contains plently of information about the book that could ruin it for you. Having said that, please do read the review if you are curious about reading the book or have already read it. At risk of defeating myself from the very beginning, I will also add that this is not my best writing. The review in its idea and original state is over ten years old and it's painfully obvious to me that my writing was pretty poor back then, not that it's any better now - but I'd like to think so. What I did do is go through the text and edit many parts of the original, to come down to what we have here. I haven't read the book in a few years and I always wanted to come back to this review and make it something wonderful after re-reading the book again, however I don't imagine that happening anytime soon. It's one of my all time favorite books and deserves the justice of a proper review, although it is also so popular and read around the world that there have been thousands before. I wanted to put down something meaningful about the book that perhaps hasn't been said (much) before and for the moment, this is it. Perhaps some day I will turn into one of those authors who deletes and burns all their old work, until then cheers.

The book One Hundred Years of Solitude written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a story of success and failure, dreams and reality, traditions and change, enemies and friends, love and revolution. It is the story of the Buendia family and its evolution over decades of time; frozen and shifting. From the creation to the destruction, to destiny vs. free will, the family traverses solitude exploring the limits of human knowledge. This brief incomplete review relates to how the novel references critical moments in the history of what has come to be known as América Latina.

Marquez was born in the small town of Aracataca, Columbia in 1928-2014. It was rumored that he grew up forever retaining the ability of viewing and describing life through the eyes of a child. In time he became a journalist publishing some short stories in the 1950s. In 1967, One Hundred Years of Solitude was published and popular hysteria began to grow around Marquez and the book, eventually earning him the Noble Prize for Literature in 1982. He's credited with inventing the style of “magic realism” in the novel and also went on to be a large figure in what has been called the “Latin Boom” - an increase in the popularity of writing from Latin America during the 1960s – 70s.

The events that took place in Marquez’s life are mirrored in his writings, often referencing situations experienced as a young child while at the same time expressing the possibilities of love, sadness and the isolation of solitude that can only be achieved through the passage of time (desolation / hope).

Shortly after the story beings you meet Melquiades or a traveling gypsy. Melquiades and his group of fellow traveling gypsies are the harbingers of knowledge and the fortunetellers of the future. Meglquiades dress was described as a “large black hat that looked like a raven with widespread wings, and a velvet vest across which the patina of the centuries had skated.” They bring with them magnificent devices, which eventually help expand the scientific knowledge of the Buendia family.

Through these exposures the Buendia family and town of Macondo are first exposed to modernization, technology and the globalization that would soon ravage their small town. Melquiades brought with him magnets, telescopes, magnifying glasses, ancient texts, Portuguese maps, instruments of navigation (astrolabe, compass, sextant) and an alchemists laboratory, which was later used for many purposes including the production of photos and little gold fishes. Melquiades tells the Buendia family, “Science has eliminated distance… In a short time, man will be able to see what is happening in any place in the world without leaving his own house.” Just as Jorge Luis Borges alluded to in the The Aleph Marquez also foreshadows the creation of networks such as the Internet, the development of cell phones, radios, and television that all aid in the increasingly intertwined proximity of the world.

After his encounter with Melquiades, Jose Arcadio Buendia one of the founders of the town of Macondo begins to spend vast amounts of time in the constant quest for knowledge. In many ways, this is the creation of their destruction, as great desires go astray. For instance, his “will to power” brought him to contemplate for hours on end formulating ideas on how to create the perfect weapon. Later on, he creates a notion of space and is able to travel across oceans and vast uninhabited territories without ever leaving his study a la the Internet. It is his idea of non-existent time, by the formation of self-awareness through the passage of time. Jose Arcadio Buendia also finds that the earth is not flat, like the one dimensional lifestyles everyone had thought, but rather round like an orange, which everyone in Macondo deems as insanity until Melquiades returns to Macondo to inform its inhabitants that it is true, the earth is round. Melquiades the eternal traveler and technological innovator, soon succumbs to a number of rare diseases that he contracted from the sickness of the world to eventually pass on the dunes of Singapore.

In the beginning, the town of Macondo is an example of people living in an anarchistic state with one another, without the rules or knowledge of government and the constraints of the church. However with time these institutions of power and authority all encroach on Macondo’s blissful state. At first, Jose Arcadio Buendia sets up the houses in a way that allowed everyone to walk an equal distance when fetching water from the river and positioned the roads in a certain way that no house received more sun than other houses during the hottest hours of the day. The community provided for itself and had an egalitarian approach to daily activities, without any assistance from outside institutions like the government. With time, the government in the town strengthens due to choices made by certain inhabitants and soon everyone becomes more dependent interdependent on the government, reverting and causing chaos to many of the alternatives they had once practiced.

Jumping back a bit, when the “founders” of Macondo where traversing the earth looking for a place to call their own, they came across a Spanish galleon that had been abandoned and was covered with moss that was nowhere near the ocean. Growing next to the galleon was a field of poppies, alluding to the colonization of the land and the cultural influence that came with it. During this exploration, Aureliano Buendia (yeah, it's difficult to keep track of all the names, I know) was born with his eyes open and a stern intensity that drew upon seemingly unlimited amounts of inner strength. His inner dynamism makes his parents believe that he was born a revolutionary, yet as another infamous figurehead once said, “Revolutionaries are not born, they are made.”

One of the most important items that the gypsies bring to Macondo is that of ice. The ice greatly aided in the ability to chill foods and other related tasks, however it also hastened the downfall and eventual end of the Buendia family. As the business of ice grew in Macondo, the need to expand and continue profiting brought fourth the construction of a railroad that in turn would eventually lead to the development of other areas. One such company was the United Fruit Company, which went on to exploit Macondo for everything it had. After viewing the ice, Jose Arcadio Buendia foresees a future where Macondo is colder and the houses are built of ice blocks, foreshadowing the climate change brought about by industry and civilization.

In another aspect, and with the passage of time, as everything related to in this book – the Melquiades tribe disappears and a new tribe of gypsies appear. This new tribe doesn't bring with it knowledge as Melquiades tribe had, but instead travels only to bring entertainment. Upon questioning where Melquiades tribe has disappeared to the Buendia family is told that his tribe became extinct because they exceed the limits of human knowledge. In a similar twist, this quest for knowledge and the limits of humanity soon lead to the end of the Buendia family - destroyed by their will to learn and experiment.

After the disappearance of Melquiades tribe Jose Arcadio Buendia decides to look for the philosophers stone in his eternal quest for knowledge and to appease his desire to understand; while his two sons Aureliano and Jose Arcadio constantly take refuge in solitude, in order to escape the outside world. Jose Arcadio Buendia states that “If you don’t fear God, fear him through the metals,” yet in the end of his search for the philosophers stone and knowledge, he comes to the conclusion that all he really needs and desires is the love of his wife, Ursula.

Progressing through the book, the town of Macondo is soon striken with a plague of insomnia. With the insomia comes the loss of memory and all things blur together with the past, present, and future all becoming the same. This leads Jose Arcadio Buendia and Aureliano to start writing inscriptions on all the objects in their house and over town. Soon a sign appears on the street that says “God Exists”. During this time of forgetfulness Jose Arcadio Buendia decides to invent a memory machine, which in many ways allude to the future of computers, calculators, and other devices used to aid in recalling information. He conceives this apparatus to be a spinning dictionary that rotates on an axis, which teach the things deemed to be the most important aspects of life, perhaps even similar to the machine used in the movie The Matrix.

As the story develops, Melquiades returns from death, because according to him he was not prepared for the solitude, which engulfed him. Melquiades tells Jose Arcadio Buendia that in the future their family will not exist and that Macondo will be a place of glass houses. In yet other turn of events, Jose Arcadio Buendia begins his search for God using the camera, only to later conclude that God doesn’t exist or at least that he couldn’t capture it on film. His quest for knowledge and often the blasphemy that comes with it, eventually causes the town to believe that his antics are a sign of lunacy. Soon they tie him to the great oak tree outside of town for the rest of his life, where he continues speaking in the language of Latin instead of his native tongue.

In the end, the story recounts the struggles and experiences of Buendia family through their marriages, children, wars, revolutions, and a plethora of other events. The story is one of sadness, with the departure of the family and the seemingly lack of hope for the town of Macondo after one devastating tragedy after another. On the other hand, one can view many of the experiences with a glimmer of hope for a different future by learning from the past. Yet for Jose Arcadio Bandai and Aureliano; they find out later in their lives that all time is the same: the past, present, and future all revolve around each other and in the end time makes no difference to them.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is a novel in regards to love and the desire to constantly seek knowledge through many different outlets. It recounts the story of civilization and it represents the struggle of humankind within the area of love and solitude and the clashes that one family experiences in living as we know it.

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