I had no idea what the literary style called “mystical realism” was until I read this book. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is brilliant, and his writing style completely blew me away. At its heart, this is a family saga, but that category doesn’t even begin to encompass what this story covers. Marquez hits every subject from family to history to the military and on to religion. It’s a pretty complex and detailed work, so this particular review won’t hit all the major points by a long shot.
Speaking of long shots, the book opens with a man thinking about his life as he’s about to be executed. Marquez jumps around a lot and won’t let a trifling thing such as a timeline interfere with a good story. So we bounce back and forth between several generations of a family, but unlike some authors who have clear beginnings and endings as far as generations are concerned, the generations of the Buendia family are all intermingled. Even the names are all jumbled together as there are only about four names, put in different combinations, throughout the entire novel. I never thought I’d see a book where I needed a picture of the family tree more than Wuthering Heights, but One Hundred Years of Solitude dwarfed anything Bronte could devise.
At one point there are twelve, TWELVE, brothers all running around, and they all have the same name – Aureliano. They are half brothers. Yikes!
One thing I really like about this book is that no character gets “comfortable” or “settled.” Even when the grand matriarch, Ursula, is so old you wonder why she didn’t croak three decades ago, she still has periods where she takes up something new and finds new life. It’s a cycle. The family is vibrate, and then something happens to throw it off beat, and it settles and gets dusty and tired, and then something else will come along to invigorate it all over again. I guess a better name for the family would have been the Phoenix family instead of the “Good Day” family. It’s exhausting, really, as the reader because you try to get comfortable in a character’s role in the book only to have it turn upside down. A quiet and withdrawn scholar in one chapter becomes a successful military man three chapters later. You have no comfort in this book.
The people who marry in to this family are equally as bizarre. And they are less able to adapt with each succeeding generation.
One of my favorite characters is Remedios the Beauty. Her story was so unexpectedly ended. She was so beautiful that everyone knew about her, and the men all sought her attention. She, however, wasn’t aware of the true power she possessed and went on through her existence completely oblivious to her appeal. What I find interesting is how her part of the story ends. I suppose she was just too much for this world because one day she simply ascended. That’s it. No other explanations. She just rose and went to the HeavenlyKingdom. End of story. That’s when I learned what mystic realism was, BTW.
But that’s what I find so fascinating about mystical realism. Just when you get used to the rules and laws of physics as we know them, something like this completely disrupts and unsettles you. It happens a lot within the story, and I love how the characters take everything in stride. When the grand patriarch, Jose Arcadio Buendia, gets old and refuses to come inside, the family obliges by simply tethering him to a tree. Is it a sign of disrespect? Not in this case. It was the best they could do to honor his wishes without leaving him to roam the jungle for eternity.
An odd part of the story was when the entire town had insomnia and was slowly forgetting everything as a result. The image of Jose Arcadio going around and placing labels on ordinary objects sounds drastic, but within the story it made complete sense. In fact, everything about this book makes sense until you try to explain it to someone else. It’s the ultimate “you had to be there” novel. And when he spontaneously begins speaking in Latin, well, you know that this family is officially not playing by the same rules as we are. But they take it in stride no matter what craziness come their way. You’ll surprise yourself by the end of the novel when you start rolling with the crazy just like they do.
The most interesting character by far is Melquiades the gypsy. At the beginning of the novel, he arrives periodically with his clan, bringing oddities and marvels to Macondo. He even brings the bizarre thing known as ice. And Jose Arcadio has a child-like fascination with ice for a good while after that. I guess I would, too, if I’d never seen it before. Anyhow, Melquiades returns after a while and retires unto the Buendia compound. His small room eventually hosts his ghost after he dies. And it remains untouched for years upon years, including all his work and writing. His writing isn’t understood until the very last pages of the book. But I’ll let you discover that one for yourself. Again with the mystical realism – Aureliano II walks into that room and sees the ghost. He doesn’t even blink as he shrugs and interacts with it.
The Buendia family truly exists within multiple realms, the small town of Macondo being just a minuscule portion of it. Their existence is tied to the town of Macondo, and the relationship between them echoes down throughout at least four generations, repeating and yet drastic all at the same time.
I’ll admit I’ve never read a book quite like this one, and I’m not sure I ever will. Even when I read Marquez’s other book, Love in the Time of Cholera, I didn’t get the same childlike absorption that One Hundred Years of Solitude brought with it. It is truly a one of the kind novel. Too complicated for a single blog entry and too profound to even try.
The author – just as I imagined he’d be.