Daily Recco, March 23: One Hundred Years of Solitude and the birth of magical realism
Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote the story of the Buendias in 1967. It has defied time in every sense and stands as a 20th-century work that was almost immediately elevated to the rank of a classic.
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It is probably the most read translated work since the Bible or the Quran. Colombian master Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude is a novel that defies time in every sense and is a 20th-century work that was almost immediately elevated to the rank of a classic. And it is safe to say that a majority of those who have read the book have done so in a language that it was not written in.
Cover of the first edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude, originally in Spanish — Cien años de soledad, published by Editorial Sudamericana, Buenos Aires in 1967 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Garcia Marquez wrote this book in 1967, and it has since been translated into at least 46 languages, selling more than 50 million copies. The wide respect that the book commands in the global imagination is perhaps what has made it part of the uniform of someone who may want to give the impression of smartness, irrespective of whether they have read it or not.
The almost impossible beauty of the storytelling is clearly apparent even in translated versions, blurring all distinctions between poetry and prose, realism and fantasy, and the general understanding of time as a linear concept.
The book covers the story of the rich Buendia family (fictional) in Colombia through multiple generations. The story is set in the town of Macondo, which the Buendias helped found. But though over a hundred years of storylines, little is revealed about the physical characteristics of the place, leaving its visualisation in the minds of individual readers and fixing it as a state of mind through which the story is be understood.
For Indian readers, Macondo in this sense would compare to Malgudi, both places having given rise to ongoing debates over whether it was based on a real-world place or whether that question does even matter. All that seems to matter is that both of those places were familiar settings to readers that allowed them to visualise the story within their own personal cultural standpoints.
As with the story of any family through generations, more so with a prominent one, the story of the Buendias is filled with delicate expositions of the human condition. At times elevating, disturbing and mundane, the reader is likely to lose the sense of time and space while reading One Hundred Years of Solitude. It is this quality that has made this book one of the most immersive reads available to humans.
One Hundred Years of Solitude has been termed a work of magical realism, with the scholar who termed it so having to invent a whole new genre to encompass all the things that Gabriel Garcia Marquez managed to put in its pages.
There is a good reason it is a part of many literature courses. Even if not for the epic nature of the story, read it for the sublime nature of its storytelling. One Hundred Years of Solitude is a book worth reading and must be read. Period.