After completing a cull of my personal library several months ago, I had a laugh over the results of the reorganization as highly regarded literature sat beside beach-read romance (see my post and photo here).
As a result I’ve decided to start a new reading series called Why Haven’t I Read This Yet? and finally read all those books that I’ve meant to read but just never found the time (some of those books may or may not be from courses I’ve already completed, cough cough).
So welcome to my inaugural post in the series!
As this book inspired the series idea, I decided to start with One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez.
In the small world of coincidences, Márquez passed away this April, at the age of 87, just as I finished reading his widely adored novel.
One Hundred Years of Solitude, first published in 1967 in Spanish, tells the story of seven generations of the Buendía family. This novel has been in my to-read pile for years as one of those novels I thought I should read in order to consider myself well read. I had started reading it a couple of times before but never finished it.
I felt a pressure to read (and enjoy) this book. I could never get a good rhythm when reading it, which I chalked up to bad timing and not a bad book. A lot of people list One Hundred Years of Solitude as their favourite book or an influential or important book in their lives (Bill Clinton, Oprah, Emma Thompson). It is credited as one of the reasons Márquez won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982. And I can not think of higher praise than that from William Kennedy of the New York Times Book Review, who said One Hundred Years of Solitude should be “required reading for the entire human race.” With so much acclaim, I figured I just needed to make the time to really take in the voice of the novel and I, too, would be swept away.
Having finally finished it, I think I now know why I never made it through before: I don’t like magical realism, which is my polite way of saying, I didn’t like this book.
Magical realism is a genre of literature in which magical experiences occur in a natural or realistic setting. For example, in One Hundred Years, considered one of the seminal examples of the genre, the characters live impossibly long lives. Which doesn’t sound so bad, but it is one of a thousand tiny and large instances in which the everyday becomes imbued with the fantastic throughout the novel, which makes the pace of the story is as long as the lives of the protagonists – For. Ever.
Admittedly, I do not have any detailed understanding of the history of Latin America, which largely informs the novel’s plot. Perhaps if I did I would have anticipated more and felt the narrative pull more strongly.
The blips of interest for me came with the truly inexplicable moments, such as the blood of a Buendía winding its way through the town and the family home so that the matriarch, Úrsula, could discover his death. Or the ascension of Remedios the Beauty in to the sky instead of meeting a natural death.
One point I did appreciate relates to the massacre of thousands of striking workers that is covered up by the company that enacted the violence. Only José Arcadio Segundo, who witnesses the removal of the bodies and is subsequently driven mad by the knowledge of their deaths, believes the massacre occurred. The rest of the town accepts the official story of the strikers returning to their families but accuse José Arcadio Segundo of dreaming or misunderstanding the experience. In the midst of other fantastical events, the terrible truth is the one thing that is unbelievable for the characters, which makes the event all the more terrifying.
Despite my feelings about this novel, I will try another book from this genre just to see if I need to develop a reading palette for magical realism. But I will say this: while Márquez was writing One Hundred Years he had to sell his car and get food and rent on credit in order to finish it.
I don’t plan on selling items off while I write my novel, but the belief in his own work is something I envy. There is no room for self-doubt if you’re putting yourself in debt to get it done.
I could use some of that magic.