Book – One Hundred Years of Solitude

Art © 2014 – Blackstone Audio

In the continuing saga of reading a whole bunch of books every year, and trying to make sure that I’m getting a broad swath of the different types of books in the world (though to be honest: mostly fiction) by reading male and female authors, authors of different races, authors from different countries and time periods.  You can only grow as a person when you’re exposed to new and different ideas that you wouldn’t have seen before.  So when I finished my last book, I didn’t have one waiting in the queue, and went digging through my wishlist on Overdrive to find that I had “One Hundred Years of Solitude” available and waiting that fit into a few different categories of my diverse reading goal.  It’s one I’ve heard about for a long time, and I think I even started reading it when I was a teenager, only to abandon it.

Not every book is for every person.  This is the lesson.  It was an interesting book.  The plot is the history of the Buendía family from their arrival in the town of Macondo, to some ambiguous point beyond there.  There are seven generations that are discussed, and somehow the family tree is narrow on the ends and bulbous in the middle, meaning lots of people die without issue, or there are cousins who intermarry, or something.  The point being, lots of family.  And unfortunately, it’s super confusing.

Image by Frank Ballesteros, used under CC BY-SA 3.0

I had a hard time keeping track of the characters – something that happens to me with audiobooks in general, but was not helped in this case by the fact that so many of the characters have the same names.  I get that the idea was that the family faults and troubles followed through the generations, but ARGH it does not make things easy at all on the reader.  It would have helped me tremendously to have a family tree handy for consultation as I went along, but with that you risk spoilers because you can see who married, who had children, where the bastards really come from – that kind of thing.

And I get that magical realism is a genre that doesn’t appeal to everyone.  The idea that fantastical things can happen in our natural world is something that doesn’t sit quite right with me.  I suppose my brain likes the clear delineation that a magical world is a separate idea, and things that happen in our world have to obey the laws of nature and science the way that they do for us.  I get that some people don’t need that level of realism.  But for me, it wasn’t as appealing.

I will say that it is beautifully written.  The dialogue is so crisp and elegant, so powerful.  The descriptions of the world that the characters live in is so vivid that you feel like you’re there.  It’s a very immersive book – when you’re in it, you feel like you are part of the family, for better or for worse, and that you know what’s going on.  You may not be able to believe how you got there, or the fantastic-ness of it all, but you will look around yourself and go, “Wow.”  You will likely find yourself thinking about the characters and their situations long after you’ve stopped reading and going, “How could that possibly happen?  How are these people even real?”  And you’ll have to remind yourself that a) it’s a novel and b) it’s not supposed to be reality in the way that we know it.

Was it interesting?  Definitely.  Would I recommend this book to others?  Yes, with the caveat that if you’re easily confused, to keep this family tree nearby, and if you like your “real world” and “magical world” separated…this is probably not the book for you.  But it never hurts to stretch and expose yourself to something different and new.

Details: One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, translated by Gregory Rabassa, first published 1967.

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