Wednesday, February 3, 2010
“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.”
This began the dream that I didn’t want to wake up from, ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE by Gabriel García Márquez. I found it ironic that I read this story in Big Sur, in solitude. Turns out irony was used to great effect in the book. This story follows the Buendía family as they found the fictional town of Macondo and chronicles the family’s joys, loves, eccentricities, and tragedies until the town’s and family’s demise. The tale is a one hundred year story with some nineteen characters, if you don’t count the seventeen children of one of them. And a lot of the male characters have similar names: José Arcadio Buendía, José Arcadio, José Arcadio Segundo, Col. Aureliano Buendía, Aureliano José. You get the picture. The chart of the family in the front of the book was one I referenced quite a bit as I read. But, they all have unique compelling stories. On the plus side, the women all had very different names and that made them easier to keep track of. Having said all that it didn’t really read like an epic to me. It was so personal. Felt like someone was sitting across the table and telling me the story over coffee, or something a bit stronger.
The name of the family Buendía [good day] is a comment on solitude itself. For as much as solitude gripped the family there were decidedly more bad days than good but this led to a greater self-awareness of many characters in the end, and if not the character than the reader got a window into the many forms solitude can manifest and the price paid for its indulgence. Despair and madness could be found there but so could consolation and enlightenment. Irony plays a big role in the book and is hilarious and tragic at times. I’m not a big message person but, perhaps, the message of solitude is that once it is sought to tame the pain of the world it can quickly become a prison with unique costs no one can ever anticipate.
I learned so many things as a writer when I read this book. One of the main things that I learned is that the most captivating details for the reader are the most personal details for the writer. I know that sounds obvious, but for some reason I got more clarity on what this means for my own writing. I came later to find out in the afterward that Márquez grandfather introduced him to the miracle of ice. Márquez modeled the narrative of the story to simulate how his grandmother told her tales.
I also saw how irony was used for great effect in ramping up tension. It was also very enlightening to see how certain images were revisited throughout the book to ground the reader both in time and emotion. The use of this technique helped to tie the many varied stories together.
Here is one of my favorite quotes of the book:
“Gaston was not only a fierce lover, with endless wisdom and imagination, but he was also, perhaps, the first man in the history of the species who had made an emergency landing and had come close to killing himself and his sweetheart simply to make love in a field of violets.”