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The International Writers Magazine Review

One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel García Márquez
Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0-141-03243-6
Sam Richards

From the first line to the last, Gabriel García Márquez’s magical realist tale takes the reader on an epic journey, not only through the bizarre and sorrowful events in the lives of José Arcadio Buendía’s family, but also through the history and culture of South America.

The first thing you will notice when reading Márquez’s novel is the sheer quantity of events that it covers, making it difficult to give a brief synopsis of the plot. Although the novel centres on an indecipherable manuscript given to a family by a mysterious gypsy, there are many tangents and twists as we observe the dealings of the Buendía’s in their home town of Macondo. This can make the novel difficult to follow, with civil war, industrialisation, family feuds and incestuous relationships throwing the plot in a myriad of directions.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is not a novel for the faint-hearted. Márquez plays with all the established aspects of the novel, switching the protagonist on nearly every page and jumping back and forth from past to future to present. The concept of time being circular rather than progressive is a theme that Márquez constantly returns to. José Arcadio’s wife Ursula and his son Aureliano are both used to display this point, the opening line of story simultaneously showing us Aureliano’s past and future. Márquez writes, "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," a good indication of how the plot will throw you onwards in time, then whip you back.

Although Márquez’s novel is a fictional tale, the true history of South America and Colombia in particular seep into the story, giving us a window into life and culture in Latin America. The political squabbles and wars in the novel mirror the relationship between the Liberals and Conservatives throughout Colombian history, where struggles for power have always left the general populace feeling the cost. The vicious murders and assassinations in the novel ring true in South American history, where people ‘disappearing’ after challenging the government is not unusual. One particular event in the novel that can be seen as real incident is the massacre of the banana workers, gunned down by soldiers because they are on strike. This is seen to be a record of the 1928 massacre in Colombia, an event that the government denied ever happened and was never officially recorded. In the same way in One Hundred Years of Solitude, a soldier proclaims, "nothing has happened in Macondo, nothing has happened and nothing ever will happen."

Márquez’s use of magical realism can be as a mixed blessing. Salman Rushdie describes the genre as "the commingling of the improbable and the mundane," which can be seen as the best way to display the bizarre but also day-to-day events that occur in Latin American culture. One Hundred Years of Solitude shows the ‘pueblo culture’ that Márquez himself grew up in, where superstition and spiritualism play a key part in life, an aspect that magical realism takes within its stride. Ghosts, magical powers and strange creatures mix with the normal happenings of life, which can be disconcerting for a Western reader. At first I found myself confused as to whether the magical aspects of the book were real, or just hallucinations and symbols. But as I read on I had to leave aside my desire to have clear-cut boundaries so I could really understand and enjoy the novel.

Although not easy to read, One Hundred Years of Solitude is very rewarding if you stick to it. Márquez will enchant and shock you in equal measures, providing an interesting and insightful vision into Latin American culture and history.
© Sam Richards November 08

I’ve Never Seen Star Wars - BBC Radio 4
Sam Richards
You might not expect hearing about Esther Rantzen’s opinions on ironing a shirt to be entertaining in the slightest.

Sam is studying Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth

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