I first read this book about ten years ago, and for some reason it didn’t stick. I could only recall one thing about it in detail: a trail of blood winding its way through a rustic Latin American town. Re-reading it now, I’m surprised more of it didn’t stand out for me, as the story is bristling with rich, poetic images.
One Hundred Years of Solitude is the story of a family, but it’s also the story of a town, as the Beundias and Macondo are inextricably linked. From Macondo’s founding by the Beundia patriarch, José Arcadio, to its foretold destruction, the town holds the Beundia family at its turbulent center, and the fate of one feels reflected by the fate of the other.
The story is complex and roughly chronological, with regular lurches forward and backward in time. The structure creates a sense of disorientation, which increases with the introduction of each new generation, which inevitably takes the names of some or all of its predecessors. There’s some realism to this, as family names are common, but I can’t help but feel that it was also a deliberate choice by Marquez to underscore the cyclical, Sisyphean nature of the family’s struggle. In any case, the profusion of José Arcadios and Aurelianos can be a challenge at times, not least because the family’s prodigious longevity and propensity for becoming ghosts can mean that five or six generations are in the story at the same time.
As with all translated books, I hesitate to comment about the prose, since it comes to me filtered ,but in this case I can only say that it reads beautifully, with lush, loping sentences overflowing with imagery, reaching nearly half a page at times. Bursts of absurdist humour leaven the largely tragic story, which, alongside the vicissitudes of life and death in a hardscrabble rural village, covers such pivotal events as war, political upheaval, and the encroachment of colonialism.
All told, it’s a brilliant book, and one I’m surprised I didn’t connect with more strongly the last time.