100 Years of Solitude tells the story of Macondo, a fictional South American town, through the eyes of the Buendía family. Over the course of seven generations, the Buendías experience just about every conceivable problem a family can face—war, famine, industrialization, incest, immigration, emigration, poverty, wealth, alchemy—and discover interesting things about life and themselves along the way. As much as the content of the book is incredibly creative and original, there are several aspects of the writing itself that make 100 Years of Solitude truly unique.
Magical Realism—A term that I was until recently unaware of, magical realism essentially refers to a style of writing in which extraordinary events are perceived as mundane, and often vice versa as well. Márquez himself has said, "My most important problem was destroying the line of demarcation that separates what seems real from what seems fantastic." This is one of the most exciting aspects of the novel. Almost constantly the reader is bombarded with remarkable events in the lives of the Buendías that range from undeniably absurd to borderline unbelievable to mildly quirky. Things like ghosts, fortune-telling, and bicentennial lifespans are accepted as everyday occurrences in Macondo. It's difficult to go into specifics without ruining any of the many, many interweaving plotlines in the novel, so instead I'll illustrate with a relatively ambiguous quote:
A trickle of blood came out under the door, crossed the living room, went out into the street, continued on in a straight line across the uneven terraces, went down steps and climbed over curbs, passed along the Street of the Turks, turned a corner to the right and another to the left, made a right angle at the Buendía house, went in under the closed door, crossed through the parlor, hugging the walls so as not to stain the rugs, went on to the other living room, made a wide curve to avoid the dining-room table, went along the porch with the begonias, and passed without being seen under Amaranta's chair as she gave an arithmetic lesson to Aureliano José, and went through the pantry and came out in the kitchen, where Úrsula was getting ready to crack thirty-six eggs to make bread.
"Holy Mother of God!" Úrsula shouted.
Here you can see how something completely ridiculous is presented matter-of-factly, a trait of magical realism that leads into the second writing aspect that makes this a wonderful read...
Humor—The book is hilarious. There are times when I was reading that I would come across an amazing phrase or sentence and run out of my room to show the first person I came across how funny it was. All of the characters have their own absurd quirks that distinguish them from everyone else (which is helpful, since half of the characters have the same two names, a recurring theme that the matriarch of the family, Úrsula, points out as a possible explanation as to why all of her male heirs have disappointed her). These quirks and the accompanying circumstances that cause or come out of them really drive the story forward. Everything in this book is connected, usually by a ridiculous event, and all of these events are alluded to frequently throughout the novel. Which brings me to the third aspect...
Time—100 Years of Solitude uses the concept of time like no other novel I have ever encountered. Even though much of the actual history of Buendías is presented linearly, time itself is fluid. Events are often repeated; intervals of time change or move freely between the events; one year often takes entire chapters, while one sentence might encompass half a generation; allusions are made to other temporal events. Much of the novel deals with themes on the cyclical nature of history, while simultaneously presenting ideas towards the idea of the eternal within a person's own lifetime.
I would really like to go further into this book, but am afraid that, in my enthusiasm, would reveal too much, so I highly implore you to read 100 Years of Solitude (then maybe we can talk about it).
If my review encourages you to pick it up, let me know what you think. If you've read it already, feel free to email me or comment on what you like or didn't like about it.
100 Years of Solitude
by Gabriel García Márquez
Plot Concept: 8.5
Plot Execution: 10
Thematic Intent: 9
Thematic Execution: 9.5
*—I am very much interested in constructive feedback regarding the rating system. If you have any thoughts or comments, let me know!
**—Readability refers to the difficulty of the reading, but since a book that is too easy would be as hard to read as one that is too difficult, "Readability" refers to the overall challenge of the read. A high number indicates that the word choice, sentence length, and overall read are seamless, never tripping the reader for reasons of either simplicity or difficulty.