The opening line of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is as fresh in my mind today as when I first read it. Following Márquez’s death on April 17th, I thought it would be a good time to look back on what is widely considered his masterpiece, for which he won the Nobel Prize for literature.
I might never have read One Hundred Years if not for fortunate happenstance. There was an old TV on a stand in the corner of the one-room Japanese apartment I was living in, and one day something fell off the shelf of that stand behind the TV set. When I looked into the concealed space (for the first time ever) to retrieve it, I saw a dust covered copy of a book called One Hundred Years of Solitude sitting there, colorful and lonesome, as if waiting to be discovered. Call me culturally out of sync, but though the name sounded vaguely familiar, I didn’t know a single thing about it. The only sure thing, as it was an English-language version, was that it had been left behind by the previous tenant: an American woman who’d held the same job and lived in the apartment before me.
I was drawn in by that first line, diving head-first beneath the alternately turbulent and placid surface of the fictional town of Macondo. Though the novel was originally written in Spanish, the English translation by Gregory Rabassa is masterful. As I don’t speak Spanish I could only imagine the power of the prose in its original language, though—get this—Márquez himself said that he preferred Rabassa’s translation over his own work.
The flow of the writing and sheer power of the imagery sunk its hooks into me and wouldn’t let go. The river with its enormous white stones “like prehistoric eggs,” the unearthed suit of armor wearing a locket with a woman’s hair inside, the shipwrecked Spanish galleon found in the jungle, all these appeared in the early pages of the book, enthralling me. The genre is known as magical realism because of the blending of fantastical elements with otherwise realistic scenarios, but the magic of Márquez’s novel is not only in the events of the story, but how the nature of their telling can touch and kindle something deep in the soul. Here is an author that not only probes the depths of the human heart, but tells you, with a straight face, of the time it rained tiny yellow flowers throughout the night, and for a moment you suspend disbelief and stand there with the residents of Macondo, witnessing the mysterious “silent storm.”
From the first chapter, when gypsies bring new technologies from abroad into the fledgling, isolated village, sparking José Arcadio Buendía’s desire for knowledge and to make contact with the outside world, I knew I’d found something special. I came home from work each night and eagerly pried the book open to where I’d left off, immersed once again in the lives Márquez was weaving before my eyes. One Hundred Years explores many facets of the human experience, against the backdrop of a symbolized Latin American history. Love, family, war, colonialism, atrocity, government, liberty, death, hope—no stone is left unturned. There is very little I can write here that will do it justice.
For those who have never read this novel, I’m jealous: someday you’ll pick it up, I hope, and you will get to experience it all for the very first time. There’s no better time than now to catch up on the imagination of this magical author, whose final chapter has drawn to a close.