Want to read with me? Follow this link to view the list and pick a book (or a few!) to read along with me. I'd love for this project to be collaborative, and will post anyone's thoughts beside my own.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The yellow butterflies would invade the house at dusk.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
This tale of magical realism takes place in the town of Macondo. Macondo is founded by Ursula Iguaran and Jose Arcadio Buendia. They leave their original town because Jose Arcadio kills a man (Prudencio Aguilar) and they are haunted by his spirit. So they set off into the wilderness, followed by a few of Jose's friends, and they found Macondo. Jose Arcadio and Ursula have three children: Colonel Aureliano Buendia, Jose Arcadio (confusing, right?) and Amaranta. The novel follows each of these characters and their eventual descendants as well as the town itself, over the course of one hundred years. (Thus the title.) The story is full of too many twists and turns to name them all, but common themes over the generations include attraction to inappropriate family relations (aka incest), war, procreation, sex with whores, fortune telling, moments of magic, both seemingly real and seemingly fantastical, love, hate, happiness, sorrow, and solitude. The story takes us through the lives of three more levels of Arcadios and an extreme amount of Aurelianos (20, to be precise) and ends up with the last 2 family members, Aureliano and Amaranta Ursula, having a torrid love affair (they are aunt and nephew, in case you were wondering) and giving birth to a child, who they decide to name, CAN YOU GUESS? Aureliano. Yes. Amaranta dies in childbirth and Aureliano finally deciphers the code the gypsy/wizard Melquiades has left (which was written in Sanskrit, of course) and reads his family's history as well as the future, which foretells that Macondo will cease to exist and that his child, Aureliano, will be dragged away by ants. Which happens. Um, yeah. Everyone else dies in the book some way or another, like I said, too many generations to give you all the specifics. If you have to answer a quiz on it, I'd guess (a) Aureliano (b) Jose Arcadio (c) incest or (d) all the above.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

This was an interesting read, though I must admit that I greatly enjoyed the first 150 pages or so and then was both bored and annoyed that the story continued on through so many generations. I understand that some cultures reuse names with great frequency, not just reusing a family name over generations, but having 4 or 5 or 20 Aurelianos and Jose Arcadios just got REALLY frustrating. And it didn't help that Marquez would claim that because they shared a name, they all had these shared traits, which only further made all of them blend together.


- The descriptions in this book are truly exquisite. Definitely reminded me of Steinbeck's sentences in East of Eden. Here's one for you to enjoy:

"They got into a small carriage that looked like an enormous bat, drawn by an asthmatic horse, and they went through the desolate city in the endless streets of which, split by saltiness, there was the sound of a piano lesson just like the one that Fernanda heard during the siestas of her adolescence."

- Magical realism. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, in this novel it plays out as sort of extended willing suspension of disbelief. The events of the novel take place in a grounded village, with human beings, and amidst very "real" events like wars and births and deaths, but some things are stretched, or merely exist, without explanation or question. For instance, some people in the novel live to be 150 years old, flying carpets are featured in one part of the story, and the dead frequently resurface as important characters in the novel. This leads to a sort of stylized reality, which gives Marquez the freedom to discuss nitty gritty events that I'm sure actually happened in Colombia, but to intermingle them with fantasy and place them in a land that exists ostensibly out of time and outside of a natural, known geographical location.

- Sort of in the same vein as magical realism, Marquez included several characters who suffered from manias of sorts. They were described in a sort of comical way, or in a sort of frantically amusing way, but they were symptomatic of real problems, which I thought was interesting. For example, one character, Rebeca, when she is first adopted by the Buendias, eats dirt and the whitewash paint off the walls of the house. She won't eat real food, and the family has to try several tactics before they are able to rid her of the habit. But as time goes on and stressors play a role in her life, Rebeca returns to eating dirt and whitewash. This reminds me of real-life manias like people who compulsively eat toilet paper, or their own hair. Each moment of "magical reality" made me wonder where Marquez's inspiration derived from and whether the origin was real or imaginary.

- Some of the interactions between family members reminded me of a Wes Anderson movie (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited). I enjoyed the comic simplicity and the sort of loaded balance between extremely heavy emotions and events and trivial conversation.

- The totally bizarre occurrences, as well as the eloquently miserable ones, like the banana plague, the insomnia plague, Rebeca rotting in her house but being surrounded by yellow flowers, the yellow butterflies that follow Mauricio Babilonia, Pietro Crespi, a pianola man, and his love for Rebeca, then Amaranta, and his tragic demise, and many more.


- Some of the relationships are sort of gross. When Aureliano falls for a girl in town named Remedios, who is 9 (he's somewhere in his 30s at this point, I think), it felt a little too Humbert Humbert for me. She marries him when she's 13, and dies at fourteen with a baby in her belly. Gives me the heeby jeebies to think about being married, let alone pregnant, at that age. Also, several (and I mean, SEVERAL) family members engage in relationships with cousins, adopted siblings, and aunts/nephews.

- By the time we got to the later generations, I literally couldn't keep the characters straight. Aureliano Buendia goes off to war and has 17 sons named Aureliano, all of whom are systematically murdered by the government. Each character, however, gets developed, but then simultaneously sort of detaches from everyone else. Ursula, the matriarch, is my favorite character, and keeps whipping everyone into shape well into her early 100s, even though she goes blind and manages to hide it from everyone. But so many of the other characters pull away from life, or pursue love with an intensity that leads to death (either their own or their lover's) that it becomes hard to remember who you actually cared about or felt an affinity for in the story. Macondo goes from being a town that has not seen death in its early days, to a town that sees the death of all 35 of the Buendias.

- There was very little dialogue in this book. I don't feel that books have to have dialogue to intrigue me, but the lack of dialogue meant that I was quite literally told the story by the author, which means I don't really have a chance to create my own feelings or understandings about characters based on their words and interactions, and I have to trust what the author is dictating to me. Not my favorite style of writing or reading.

I didn't really understand the way solitude featured in the novel. Marquez referred more and more often to solitude as the book progressed, but the characters who were feeling this solitude were constantly surrounded by the rest of the Buendia family. I understand that one can feel completely alone even when surrounded by others, but I guess I sort of expected someone to actually be alone when they were feeling the solitude. I also didn't really understand how it was relevant to the story.

Ultimately, this was a book I really enjoyed the first half of, and which I'm pretty sure I only understood half as well as Marquez would have liked. If you've read it and feel you have thoughts or opinions to share, please feel free - I'm certainly open to anyone else's interpretations and ideas.

I'm off to the deep south, slave days, and unusual friendships.

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