One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Updated - April 06, 2021 02:23 pm IST

Published - April 15, 2017 07:31 pm IST

The story goes, not apocryphal, that Gabriel Garcia Marquez sat down to write One Hundred Years of Solitude to express all the experiences that had influenced him as a child. “All I wanted to do was to leave a literary picture of the world of my childhood which... was spent in a large, very sad house with a sister who ate earth, a grandmother who prophesied the future, and countless relatives of the same name who never made much distinction between happiness and insanity,” the Colombian writer told his friend Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza in The Fragrance of Guava .

His Solitude , “an intricate stew of truth and mirages,” however, did many more things. Published in 1967, it marked Marquez’s arrival as a major voice of the 20th century with a literary genre called magic realism or el realismo magico , not his invention but made famous by him; the book sold millions of copies; and he inspired a host of writers including Salman Rushdie and Toni Morrison.

The story revolves around the rise and fall of the Buendia family through four generations, its twists and turns echoing that of Latin American history.

The first Buendia, Jose, arrives at a place called Macondo—a fictional town like William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha—in the 19th century. He is fascinated with science and experiments and takes up one project after another, astonishing his wife Ursula by telling her that the earth is not flat but round. Ursula is the one with good sense and keeps her family going.

The visual image Marquez used for Solitude was this: “An old man taking a child to see some ice which was on show as a circus curiosity,” a reference to Gabo, as his friends called him, and his grandfather Colonel Marquez. This translated onto the page as a memorable first line. “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

Real, surreal

Explaining what magic realism means to him, Marquez tells Mendoza: “Everyday life in Latin America proves that reality is full of the most extraordinary things.”

As it turns out, the yellow butterflies fluttering around Mauricio Babilonia in Solitude is based on fact. Marquez remembers his grandmother in Aracataca—where he spent his childhood and which is the basis for Macondo—telling him that whenever an electrician came to the house, a yellow butterfly followed him.

Strange things happen in Macondo, including the time when an insomnia plague descends on them, causing people to lose their memory, forcing villagers to label everything, including the cow. Ordinary things take on magical proportions.

When the gypsy magician Melquiades arrives with his magnets and everybody is amazed to see “pots, pans, tongs... tumble down from their places... dragging along in turbulent confusion behind... magical irons,” he proclaims loudly: “Things have a life of their own....It’s simply a matter of waking up their souls.” With One Hundred Years of Solitude , Marquez wakes up the soul of life.

The writer looks back at one classic each fortnight.

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