One Hundred Years of Solitude

I want to clarify something up about my little project here…

While I enjoy analyzing and theorizing and peanut gallery-ing my favorite reads, Re-read is not a project in literary criticism. Seriously, you’d get more depth from Sparknotes or one of those $20 book reports off the Internet.

What I am interested in is exploring how the experience of reading changes as you change. I’m not the same person I am as I was at 16 — so how does my subsequent interpretation of Gatsby or Catcher differ? What catches my attention now that didn’t before? It’s an interesting lens through which to view your own personal growth.

This brings me to One Hundred Years of Solitude.

The story follows the progeny of Jose Aracadio Buendía for one hundred years in the fictional town of Maconda, believed to be modeled after small villages in Colombia. The book is intentionally confusing — names and situations cycle over and over, stressing the lesson that history repeats itself.

I first read One Hundred Years during high school. It was different than anything I had encountered before. I had never heard the term “magical realism” before and was transfixed by passages like this:

Remedios the Beauty, who was clutching the sheet by the other end, gave a pitying smile. “Quite the opposite,” she said, “I never felt better.” She had just finished saying it when Fernanda felt a delicate wind of light pull the sheets out of her hands and open them up wide. Amaranta felt a mysterious trembling in the lace on her petticoats and she tried to grasp the sheet so that she would not fall down at the instant in which Remedios the Beauty began to rise. Úrsula, almost blind at the time, was the only person who was sufficiently calm to identify the nature of that determined wind and she left the sheets to the mercy of the light as she watched Remedios the Beauty waving goodbye in the midst of the flapping sheets that rose up with her, abandoning with her the environment of beetles and dahlias and passing through the air with her as four o’clock in the afternoon came to an end, and they were lost forever with her in the upper atmosphere where not even the highest-flying birds of memory could reach her.

I was equally enchanted reading the book again, now so many years later.

What had changed, however, was the knowledge of world history I brought to the text. As the Buendías fall into the same patterns of love, incest, adventure, war, jealousies and affairs, we witness the town evolve from its first discovery by Jose Arcadio through a path of colonialism, revolution, civil war, discovery by the railroad, banana boom, evolution into a company town, (literal) flood, (figurative) drought, and abandonment. Over 400 pages, we see the forces of modernization and war that shook much of Latin America over the 19th and 20th centuries.

“Tell me something, old friend: why are you fighting?”
“What other reason could there be?” Colonel Gerineldo Marquez answered. “For the great Liberal party.”
“You’re lucky because you know why,” he answered. “As far as I’m concerned, I’ve come to realize only just now that I’m fighting because of pride.”
“That’s bad,” Colonel Gerineldo Marquez said.
Colonel Aureliano Buendia was amused at his alarm. “Naturally,” he said. “But in any case, it’s better than not knowing why you’re fighting.” He looked him in the eyes and added with a smile: “Or fighting, like you, for something that doesn’t have any meaning for anyone.”

Reading it, then, is a tale of the familiar — a political and economic history that repeated across the region — and a fantastical Other featuring floating women, officious ghosts, a plague of forgetfulness, a swarm of yellow butterflies surrounding your love, and five years of unremitting torrential rains.

And with it, some pretty compelling gems on love, sex, and the human condition. Like this:

“Sit down,” she told her. “I don’t need cards to tell the future of a Buendía.” Meme did not know and never would that the centenarian witch was her great-grandmother. Nor would she have believed it after the aggressive realism with which she revealed to her that the anxiety of falling in love could not find repose except in bed.

Or this.

…he dug so deeply into her sentiments that in search of interest he found love, because by trying to make her love him he ended up falling in love with her…Both looked back then on the wild revelry, the gaudy wealth, and the unbridled fornication as an annoyance and they lamented that it had cost them so much of their lives to find the paradise of shared solitude. Finally in love after so many years of sterile complicity, they enjoyed the miracle of loving each other as much at the table as in bed, and they grew to be so happy that even when they were two worn-out old people they kept on blooming like little children and playing together like dogs.

Ok, last one…

Upset by two nostalgias facing each other like two mirrors, he lost his marvelous sense of unreality and ended up recommending to that they leave Macondo, that they forget everything he had taught them about the world and the human heart, that they shit on Horace, and that wherever they might be they always remember that the past was a lie, that memory has no return, that every spring gone by could never be recovered, and that the wildest and most tenacious love was an ephemeral truth in the end.

These passages move me in ways they couldn’t have as a (very very virginal) teen. I appreciated it all back then — especially as a gooey hormonal Romantic — but connected nothing of my personal experience. And while I’ve racked up a little life over the past decade or so, I’d be interested in picking this up again in 20 years and seeing what new things resonate.

Next time:

Join me for butlers, road trips, and unspeakable, soul-crushing regrets as we talk The Remains of the Day.