There’s really no need to add another review for this book to the 15,000+ on Goodreads or to attempt adding accolades to the Nobel Prize winner for Literature of 1982. Instead, consider this a response rather than a review.
I had never heard of Gabriel Marquez until news of his death earlier this year. Intrigued by his acclaim and his presence on a multitude of best novel lists online, I borrowed a copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude. According to Eduardo Castillo, “His stories made him literature’s best-known practitioner of magical realism.”
It is miraculous that any human mind could conceive of such a tale and convey it so illustriously, so efficiently. I don’t think I’ve ever read such dense, such imaginative, such intimidating fiction in my life. I won’t slip into lists of superlatives.
It’s a mad book, sweeping through one hundred years of the Buendia family in the South American jungle village of Macondo. So many characters cross Marquez’s stage, it is also a credit to a diligent reader to keep track and keep up – starting with Jose Arcadio Buendia and his wife Ursula Iguaran, who settle Macondo, followed by the subsequent solitary meanderings of their descendants as they encounter visiting gypsies, engage in civil war and incest, organise tragic union protests and finally are consumed, prophetically, by the jungle itself.
Famously, the book is populated with a daughter who eats dirt, a philandering colonel who loses all the battles he ever leads, a father who is tied to a chestnut tree, a lover who is trailed by butterflies and a baby born with a pig’s tail. There are hurricanes, assassinations, firing squads, brothels, even a bodily ascension into the clouds. And there is just so much more.
I know little about Marquez’s home country of Colombia. I know even less of the reasons for which he is celebrated politically, artistically and culturally. However, I was intoxicated by his bravado, his imagination and his portrayal of the “passions, superstition, violence and social inequality” of Latin America (Castillo).
This book may have ruined me. It may have ruined me in enjoying any other books for quite some time. I really can’t think of anything comparable as it inspires and intimidates me to aim higher as a novelist, knowing what can be done with the form.
Antony Millen is a Canadian living and writing in New Zealand and the author of Redeeming Brother Murrihy: The River to Hiruharama and Te Kauhanga: A Tale of Space(s).