When, many years ago, I read this book for the first time – on a recommendation in Cosmopolitan*, of all things – I was awed. One Hundred Years of Solitude was my introduction to magical realism, to García Márquez, and South American literature as an entity in the world of books. The story covers the founding and falling of the fictional town of Macondo, established by the matriarch and patriarch of the Buendía family, José Arcadio Buendía and Úrsula Iguarán. The story tracks their lives and the lives of their children and grandchildren in a family tree – thoughtfully included at the front of my edition – that would be straightforward if not for the continuous repetition of names. Twenty-two Aurelianos! The Buendías go through all manner of trials in their lifetimes. Most of their suffering is self-inflicted. As a more mature reader, I can see the flaws I missed previously. Women are represented somewhat narrowly, with lives that revolve around childrearing, housework, or sex; even the ones who are independent and struggle against all the restrictions. Often, they are blamed for men’s poor behaviour, as if their very existence could control anothers’. Though this could have been more an extension of the time the book is set in than Márquez’s personal attitudes. Toxic masculinity is rampant. Other potentially cringe-inducing parts include the mention of infanticide, and instances violence; murders, sexism, sexual assault, rampant infidelity, and incest. Lots of incest. Márquez’s inimitable writing style flourishes in this book. Despite having regular punctuation, it seems to have been constructed almost entirely of run on sentences. Periods melt in the South American heat. The language is some of the most beautiful I’ve ever read; metaphors drip from the pages as if mere paper can’t possibly contain so much creativity. Every line is magic. While the characters are frequently terrible, One Hundred Years of Solitude is just so incredible, and so different from anything I had read until that point I can’t not recommend it. If you’re looking for a voyage through a surrealist pseudo-history, or to expand your literary horizons, definitely add One Hundred Years of Solitude to your list.
*This was way back when Cosmopolitan had a section with book suggestions in it. That issue had three books and I eventually read all three. The other two were Hula by Lisa Shea and The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon, of which I was fortunate enough to track down a wonderful edition that translated ALL of Shōnagon’s witty, fantastic book, and not the shrivelled, eviscerated cop-out translated by Arthur Waley and presented as a complete work. (Pro-tip: if your copy of The Pillow Book is less than two centimeters thick it’s missing something. Like the rest of the book.) I’m still surprised that a magazine like Cosmo had book recommendations pulled from the canon of classic literature and authors who weren’t all white male Europeans; instead of only books culled from contemporary pop culture.