Friday, February 24, 2023

One Hundred Years of Solitude of Living

While definitions tend to be hazy on what exactly magical realism is, the general idea of it has fascinated me for a long time. That idea of having non-real-world elements take place within a story as if there were nothing odd about them--often of having emotions become concrete, physical parts of the story. So, of course, I was long overdue to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. The very ways in which this book defies definition are the ways in which it acts as a definition of magical realism.

I knew this book would be . . . different. But I don't think I knew how different until I actually got started in it. It definitely has some odd content, like some close relatives lusting after each other. But even content like that that's usually a turn-off I didn't mind so much because I was just really enjoying the writing style. And this is reading the book translated into English. It has to have such a powerful original way that it was written in order for that uniqueness to come across in translation (and it's also praise to the translator, Gregory Rabassa). 

I realize that not everyone will enjoy this writing style of which I speak. It's long-winded and colorful and rambling. Long sentences stack up into paragraphs that are pages long. One side note becomes a whole extended side story with vivid details. One character's emotion literally blossoms into flora and fauna. Butterflies start flying around the house when one character falls for a certain guy. Ants start to take over the house as the family is deteriorating. The livestock are extra productive when the one guy keeps a relationship with his mistress. One character lives off of eating dirt. Another preserves dead bodies by keeping mercury in the room. It's all past random--and yet it's cohesive at the same time. The "non-real-world elements" make sense within the emotional context. They're not just random; they go along with the story (which I believe is the difference between magical realism and surrealism, after all). So as long as you as the reader can go along with it all, it's a fascinating read.

Notice that I say that a certain character does this or that--instead of naming the character. If you thought it was difficult to keep characters straight in Wuthering Heights where there are only a couple generations and only a few characters who share the same name, this is a whole other level. One hundred years from the title is literal: we see generations pass for the Buendia family. And they all keep naming their children the same three names. The best advice truly is to not even try to keep track of who is who. Just keep reading. As long as you follow along with each side story, that's enough. I only referred to the genealogical chart a couple times. You only need to keep more detailed clarity if you're doing an analysis of the book. Just for a casual first read, you can just take it all as it comes.

There are plenty of specific themes that you could get into if you were studying this book. There's plenty of content about the political situations in the country. There are musing about life and death. About industrialization. About age. About family. But the most basic concept that you will find within it all is the passage of time and life. People are born, they grow up, they have life-changing experiences, they die, they are remembered for a time, and then they are forgotten. Life becomes a swirling wheel of repetition. It repeats because what came before is no longer remembered. It's a fascinating portrayal. And I so appreciate that writing style of vivid, emotional, metaphorical detail. It's refreshing to read something so unique. What's the fun of reading a million books that are all the same?

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