The 1st Edition of Gabriel García Márquez’s 100 Years of Solitude.

One Hundred Years of Solitude  (Cien años de soledad)

  • Rank:  #9
  • Author:  Gabriel García Márquez  (b. 1927)
  • Published:  1967  /  1970  (tr.)
  • Publisher:  Editorial Sudamericana  /  Harper & Row  (tr.)
  • Pages:  383
  • First Line:  “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”
  • Last Line:  “. . . because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.”
  • ML Version:  none
  • Film:  none, thankfully
  • First Read:  Spring, 1995

The Novel:  This is the only novel I know where I know people who go back to learn more of the original language so they can read it in the original (ironic, since García Márquez himself says that Rabassa’s translation is better than the original).  And I have known more than one person who has done this for this novel.  This is the kind of novel that transports you to another universe entirely, that is the vital focal point for an entire literary genre (magical realism), one of the best-selling books of the last half century, a book that helped its author win the Nobel Prize.  An absolutely magical book.

From the very first sentence, we find ourselves in the magical world of Macondo, even though it has not yet been inhabited.  There is some appropriateness to this, for this is how the style works, moving deftly among different times, giving hints of what is to come, but often not quite giving things away in the way you would think from reading those sentences.  We know, reading that first sentence, that Aureliano will grow up to be a colonel before he has even been born, that he will face that firing squad (and, as it so happens, live long past it).

For, Aureliano is a child of Macondo, founded by his parents: “In his youth, José Arcadio Buendía and his men, with wives and children, animals and all kinds of domestic implements, had crossed the mountains in search of an outlet to the sea, and after twenty-six months they gave up the expedition and founded Macondo, so they would not have to go back.  It was, therefore, a route that did not interest him, for it could lead only to the past.”  It is to escape the ghost of a man he has killed, run him through with a spear.  The spear was in response to a comment about José Arcadio’s relations with his wife (she is still a virgin, wearing chastity pants because they are also cousins and she is desperately worried that if they have children the children will have tails – something that does not happen now, and amazingly, given all the sexual relations between cousins, will not happen until the final generation before Macondo is wiped by the wind).  So, to escape the ghost, he escapes into the wilderness (“He sent it to the government, accompanied by numerous descriptions of his experiments and several pages of explanatory sketches, by a messenger who crossed the mountains, got lost in measureless swamps, forded stormy rivers, and was on the point of perishing under the lash of despair, plague, and wild beasts until he found a route that joined the one used by the mules that carried the mail.”) and they found the town that will last a hundred years (when José Arcadio stands there with his spear before his wife and demands that she remove her things, it is not too sharp a contrast to when his son will return and deflower the girl Rebecca who has been living in his house as a sister: “She had to make a supernatural effort not to die when a startlingly regulated cyclonic power lifted her up by the waist and despoiled her of her intimacy with three slashes of its claws and quartered her like a little bird.  She managed to thank God for having been born before she lost herself in the inconceivable pleasure of that unbearable pain, splashing in the steaming marsh of the hammock which absorbed the explosion of blood like a blotter.”)

We follow the Buendía family through several generations (we are handily provided with a family tree at the start of the book, but since the names are all repeated numerous numerous times, including the 17 Aurelianos, sons of the colonel who are all slaughtered on the same night, it is not as handy a guide to the family as you would think.  I wonder if Isabel Allende, when she was writing The House of the Spirits, which is clearly based on her country and her family history, but also clearly bears the influence of this book, decided to have Clara insist that no names shall be repeated as a direct response to this).  We watch their fortunes rise as Macondo thrives, as the Colonel, the son of the founders, becomes one of the most famous men in the country, as the banana company comes on, before the union revolt, before the slaughter of 3000 workers that is so handily cleaned up that no one believes that it ever happened, before the company declares that the company will meet the new union requests “when the rain stops.  As long as the rain lasts we’re suspending all activities.”  Four pages later, we learn “It rained for four years, eleven months and two days.”  But through it all, there is a sense of history, in the town, in the family, of the things that linger long after memory: “It was also José Arcadio Buendía who decided during those years that they should plant almond trees instead of acacias on the streets, and who discovered, without ever revealing it, a way to make them live forever.  Many years later, when Macondo was a field of wooden houses with zinc roofs the broken  and dusty almond trees still stood on the oldest streets, although no one knew who had planted them.”

But then we come to the end.  Not just the end of the book, but the end of the family and the end of Macondo (“In that Macondo forgotten even by the birds, where the dust and the heat had become so strong that it was difficult to breathe, secluded by solitude and love and by the solitude of love in a house where it was almost impossible to sleep because of the noise of the red ants, Aureliano and Amaranta Ürsula were the only happy beings, and the most happy on the face of the earth.”), with the fate of one swept up in the destiny of the other.  For all of this has been written out, in code, long before the end, by a man who was part of the family without being of it.  The man who would write that horrifying epigraph for the family: “The first of the line is tied to a tree and the last is being eaten by the ants.”  The last adult of the family, who finally had that baby with the tail, and who has lost everyone around him, even the brief happiness he had with his cousin, is alone there as the winds are sweeping everything away.  And it is him who is there for that final moment, that tremendous last line, only shown in truncated form above, one of the most magnificent last sentences in all of literature:

Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.

all quotes from the Gregory Rabassa translation