Denver Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club

100 Years of Solitude - trade edition

One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967, 1970)
translated from Spanish by Gregory Rabassa

cover art by Cathleen Toelke
HarperPerennial trade paperback - 448 pages (left)

Avon Bard paperback edition - 383 pages (right)

100 Years of Solitude - paperback

From the back cover of the trade paperback:
Probably García Márquez's finest and most famous work, One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of the rise and fall, birth and death of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendía family. Inventive, amusing, magnetic, sad, alive with unforgettable men and women, and with a truth and understanding that strike the soul...

Read for group discussion on June 14, 2000

Amy's short summary :  Gabriel García Márquez - One Hundred Years of Solitude

This book tells of six generations of the Buendía family.  The family tree diagram in beginning of the book is a helpful reference since many names are similar.

It's also the story of the South American town called Macondo, from its founding, through the banana company years, to its eventual abandonment.

There are numerous eccentric characters and sequences. Various lovers and untimely deaths.  Patriarch José Arcadio Buendía is a would be inventor who is later tied to a chestnut tree in the courtyard.  Matriarch Úrsula tries to keep order in the household.  Their son Colonel Aureliano Buendía organized thirty-two armed uprisings and he lost them all.  In his old age he makes little gold fish in the workshop. José Arcadio leaves town with the gypsies. Amaranta, the Colonel's bitter sister, takes to wearing a black bandage on her hand.  Aureliano Segundo travels between his overly proper wife Fernanda and his mistress Petra Cotes.  Remedios the Beauty rises to the heavens with the sheets. Meme (Renata Remedios) her secret lover embrace amid the yellow butterflies.

summary written by

How we each rated this book
Dan 4 Amy 7 stack of books 10   Wow! Don't miss it
8-9  Highly recommended
7    Recommended
5-6  Mild recommendation
3-4  Take your chances
1-2  Below average; skip it
0    Get out the flamethrower!
U    Unfinishable or unreadable
-    Skipped or no rating given
Cheri - Barb 4
Aaron 3 Cynthia u
Kerry - Jackie 9

Aaron's Commentary  Gabriel Garcia Marquez - One Hundred Years of Solitude

I don't get it.

I'm tempted to stop there; that one sentence pretty fully summarizes my reaction to this book.  But I'll elaborate in the hopes that some day someone will read this and will explain to me exactly what I'm missing.  I mean that sincerely.  I'm not such a smartass that I assume without question that the Nobel Prize committee and all the professional reviewers and academics who have lauded this novel - the New York Times Book Review called it "the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race" - are simply dead wrong.  But I don't get it.

I've actually read and asked around to try to find out why so many people were so impressed with this.  The answers I've gotten generally break down into three categories: the writing, especially the use of magical realism, is clever; there's lots of great symbolism; and the story is absorbing.  I find these answers somewhat understandable, very irritating, and completely unfathomable, respectively.

Garcia Marquez is clever at times.  I chuckled at little things like Colonel Aureliano's assistants constantly drawing chalk circles around him to maintain a buffer for his protection.  The ending was also quite nice.  For me, however, there were many more times Garcia Marquez was straining to be witty without much success.  I liked the magical realism technique, but it didn't knock my socks off.  Maybe I'm not giving Garcia Marquez enough credit for writing a founding work in the subgenre of magical realism.  (Dan makes the analogy to Neuromancer, which not everyone is amazed by today, but you have to give it credit for putting cyberpunk on the map.) But it has long been a convention that characters in fantasies take the things happening around them in stride.  Frodo Baggins doesn't do a double-take every time he sees an elf or a wizard.  This convention had been employed in a real-world setting before One Hundred Years of Solitude - think of Franz Kafka.  All Garcia Marquez did was to use that convention in a Latin American setting.  I find it nice, but not terribly remarkable.  It's certainly not enough to carry this long, rambling book with weak characterization and no coherent story, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

The issue of symbolism is one where I frequently part ways with the intelligentsia.  I believe authors should use fiction as a metaphor, but to me that means creating a setting or a story that illuminates something about the human condition, making a point by analogy.  Academics believe authors should use fiction as a metaphor, but to them that means throwing in lots of symbolism and veiled references to John Bunyan.  They seem to think reading fiction should be like doing a goddam anagram in a Dell puzzle book.  The goal is to be able to pat yourself on the back for being smart enough to crack the code, regardless of whether you learn anything new.  This kind of symbolism does nothing for me.  The whale in Moby Dick represents God.  So? The fear in One Hundred Years of Solitude that children will be born with pig tails represents original sin.  So? Events in One Hundred Years of Solitude parallel actual events in Latin American history.  So?

The fact that some people say they are swept away by this novel and absorbed by the story is simply incredible to me.  I found it extremely tedious.  The meandering paragraphs that consistently go on for three pages (no exaggeration) set the tone.  I really had to force myself to finish the book.

There is no depth at all to the characterization.  I never got to know any of the characters well enough to care what happened to them.  The fact that so many of the characters have the same names greatly exacerbates the problem.  The book follows six generations of a family cursed by a lack of imagination when it comes to naming their children.  The worst offender is the name Aureliano.  By my count there are twenty-three characters, including six major characters, with that name.  By the last third of the book, I completely gave up trying to tell which Aureliano or which Jose Arcadio was doing what.  I think the recurring names support Garcia Marquez's theme that time moves in a circle.  So he made the book extremely confusing and tedious to read to help bolster his idea that history repeats itself.  Wow.

Largely because I had no attachment to any of the characters, I found the story all but incoherent.  Lots of events occur.  One fellow marries a prepubescent girl, one woman eats dirt, one guy gets tied to a tree for several years, etc.  But it all seems so random to me.  I couldn't tell what the point of anything was.  One of the Aureliano's death by firing squad is foreshadowed dozens of times, and then the firing squad doesn't kill him at all.  I don't understand the point of that, and I certainly didn't care whether he really ended up getting killed or not (I wasn't particularly sure which Aureliano it was, anyway).

The whole book reminds me of a long, boring conversation with someone who rattles on and on about what's happened in the lives of acquaintances of theirs whom you don't know and never expect to meet.  Someone please explain to me why this should mean anything to me!

What do you think? Your comments are welcome. Please send them to
(In addition, Aaron has reviewed Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez -- and he liked it)

Gabriel García Márquez (1928-     ) is a native of Colombia. He has often lived in Mexico and Europe. He writes in Spanish. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.

Some books by García Márquez:
-- One Hundred Years of Solitude (1970) (as Cien años de soledad (1967))
-- Love in the Time of Cholera (1988) (as El amor en los tiempos del cólera (1985))
-- Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1983) (as Crónica de una muerte anunciada (1981))
-- Of Love and Other Demons (1995) (as Del amor y otros demonios (1994))
-- The Autumn of the Patriarch (1999) (as El otoño del patriarca (1975))
-- The General in His Labyrinth (1990) (as El general en su laberinto (1989)) - fictional study of Simon Bolivar
-- In Evil Hour (1991) (as La mala hora (1962))
-- News of a Kidnapping (1997) (as Noticia de un secuestro (1996))
-- Clandestine in Chile: The Adventures of  Miguel Littin (1999) (as La aventuros de Miguel Littin en Chile (1986))
-- La Hojarasca (1955, his first novella) (Leaf Storm)
-- The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor (1986) (as Relato de un naufrago (1976))

Some books of collected stories by García Márquez:
-- Los funerales de la mamá grande (1962) (Big Mama's Funeral)
-- Ojos de perro azul (Eyes of a Blue Dog)
-- No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories (1968) (El coronel no tiene quien le escriba (1961))
-- Leaf Storm and Other Stories (1972)
-- Innocent Eréndira and Other Stories (1978)
-- Strange Pilgrims : Twelve Stories (1994) (as Doce cuentos peregrinos (1992))
-- Collected Stories (1999) - contains stories contained in collections Los funerales de la mamá grande and Ojos de perro azul; and La increíble y triste historia de la Cándida Eréndira y su abuela desalmada
-- Collected Novellas (1999) - contains Leaf Storm, No One Writes to the Colonel, and Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Living to Tell the Tale (2003) (Vivir para contarla (2002))

Aaron's book review of Chronicle of a Death Foretold on Fantastic Reviews
Gabriel Garcia Marquez : Macondo - Author homepage
The Magic Realism Page - discussion and links - review of One Hundred Years of Solitude
Gabriel Garcia Marquez at Mostly
BBC - h2g2 - 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' by Gabriel Garcia
SparkNotes: One Hundred Years of Solitude

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