Gabriel García Márquez’s Cien Años de Soledad, or One Hundred Years of Solitude, reads more like a history than a novel. Chronicling seven generations of the Buendía family, the narrative acts as a wandering guide, often retracing its steps to breathe new life into past memories before moving forward. This writing style could almost be mistaken as discursive if not for the vibrant cast of characters– explorers, scientists, soldiers, artists– whose variegated trials and errors, loves and losses distract us from the rapid shifts through time, and revitalize the glories and pains of humanity.
In the very first chapter, we are carried from the present as Colonel Aureliano Buendía faces the firing squad, to the past where the colonel and his father José Arcadio first touch ice, and then even further back to the founding of Macondo, the Colombian village-home of the Buendías. These bursts of “time-travel” permeate nearly every page and can be as confusing as the repetitious Buendía family names: two Amarantas, four José Arcadios, and over twenty Aurelianos. But the mind-bending effects of these elements are purposeful, forwarding the themes of cyclical fate and the inseparability of past, present, and future. Whether by divine will or by virtue of human nature, each and every generation of the Buendías suffers from Solitude. Family members bearing the same name even share identical causes, which can take the forms of spurned love, violent death, or decrepitude. And with this infallible condition of Solitude comes slow decay, as the once invincible Buendía family descends into ignominy, unable to break free from the inheritance and conditionings of its predecessors.
While One Hundred Years of Solitude can be read solely as a compelling family drama, Márquez’s 448-page book serves as a political commentary on the Latin American elite and the cycles of violence and instability plaguing the continent. Intertwining with the Buendía narrative are military campaigns, political executions, and short-lived dictatorships. In doing so, Márquez retells his own experience as a Colombian living in the crossfire of the banana republics. His unflinching narrative of destruction and decay, therefore, is less of a pessimistic criticism and more of a solemn reflection on humankind. The paradise of Macondo, removed from society and technology, cannot last, Márquez seems to say, because human nature and history deem it so.
And yet One Hundred Years of Solitude reads as uplifting, celebrating the brevity of joy and peace in the midst of war and turmoil. This strange and seemingly irreconcilable dichotomy only cements the nuance of Márquez’s voice and of his belief in our capacity for redemption. As he states in his Nobel Prize Lecture, an echo of the story’s ending:
“It is not yet too late to engage in the creation of the opposite utopia. A new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.”
A high school student from the Atlanta suburbs, Christine Baek enjoys writing for The Muse and reading up on history, philosophy, and paleontology.