I mentioned my gratitude for the Bibliofillies a couple of weeks ago. Today, I’m grateful for our February book selection, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Several of us had read it before, but I chose it anyway, after our grueling January read put me off of my original selection, Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, another “gripping” dystopian novel about a woman fleeing Los Angeles as America spirals into chaos” (The New York Times Book Review).
Well, 100 Years also involves some spirals into chaos, but isn’t that what life is ultimately all about? Everything changes all the time, and the inevitable result of something being born, created or arising is that it will die, dissolve, or fall apart. This is the ultimate truth. So while the trajectories of those two novels might be similar, I chose the one I’ve already read at least twice, maybe three times, and which a hundred years ago in my own life I chose as my ‘desert island book.’ There is simply no better paradigm of magical realism ever written. I’m almost done with this read-through, and there’s at least one sentence on almost every single page that I read twice, for the sheer beauty and brilliance of it.
Starting with the first line and unfurling with relentless imagination, here are some examples:
“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice…. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.”
“Science has eliminated distance,’ Melquiades proclaimed. ‘In a short time, man will be able to see what is happening in any place in the world without leaving his own house.”
“Her heart of compressed ash, which had resisted the most telling blows of daily reality without strain, fell apart with the first waves of nostalgia.”
“It was an intricate stew of truths and mirages that convulsed the ghost of José Arcadio Buendia under the chestnut tree with impatience and made him wander all through the house even in broad daylight.”
“Ursula, almost blind at the time, was the only person who was sufficiently calm to identify the nature of that determined wind and she left the sheets to the mercy of the light as she watched Remedios the Beauty waving good-bye in the midst of the flapping sheets that rose up with her, abandoning with her the environment of beetles and dahlias and passing through the air with her as four o’clock in the afternoon came to an end, and they were lost forever with her in the upper atmosphere where not even the highest-flying birds of memory could reach her.”
“He saw the clowns doing cartwheels at the end of the parade and once more he saw the face of his miserable solitude when everything had passed by and there was nothing but the bright expanse of the street and the air full of flying ants with a few onlookers peering into the precipice of uncertainty.”
“The indolence of the people was in contrast to the voracity of oblivion, which little by little was undermining memories in a pitiless way…”
“…and then they understood that José Arcadio Buendia was not as crazy as the family said, but that he was the only one who had enough lucidity to sense the truth of the fact that time also stumbled and had accidents and could therefore splinter and leave an eternalized fragment in a room.”
These examples are essentially random and can’t come close to capturing the rollicking wonder of getting swept away page by page in this marvelous family’s tragic saga from nothing to everything to nothing again. Nothing I write can do it justice. After forty years, it’s still my ‘desert island book.’ I am grateful for this extraordinary novel, and for others in the magical realism genre by authors like José Saramago and Salmon Rushdie; grateful for the fictional escape from actual spirals into chaos, and also for the fundamental human truths illuminated in all the best novels. I’m grateful for the precision and beauty of words, and grateful that I have time in my busy days to explore worlds real and imagined through the simple act of reading.