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Solitary freedom
by Asa Butcher
Issue 9
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One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien años de soledad)
Gabriel José García Márquez (Translation by Gregory Rabassa)
Penguin Books Ltd, 1970
Where to begin? The cover was dull and uninspiring, the title carried an air of depression and overall I was not tempted to begin a journey of 100 years. It was then that the little cliché pirate, which writers should keep securely gagged and bound, wriggled free, removed the sock from his mouth and yelled, “Never judge a book by its cover!”

Curse you, little cliché pirate! For he was right, One Hundred Years of Solitude proved to be one of the most engaging novels that I have read this year. My expectations were nil, since I had never read any South American literature, let alone a Nobel Prize winning one, although the cover and title had alarmed me a little. Nevertheless, I decided to ‘give it a go’ and see how it panned out.

Ignoring the extensive family tree printed on the first page, I dived straight into the novel and began to follow the life of the Buendía family in the fictional Colombian village of Macondo. After about one hundred pages, I found myself in solitude because I had begun to lose track of the characters.

I am not stupid and I can just about follow the most intricate of storylines, except the difficulty here was that all the characters are christened with the same names. José Arcadio Buendía, José Arcadio, Colonel Aureliano Buendía, Arcadio, José Arcadio, Aureliano Segundo and they are the men’s names – the women aren’t as bad. My one regret was not copying the family tree and making brief notes beside each to help me avoid mixing identities.

This epic story takes place over one hundred years in Macondo, following the life of a large and complicated family, while Colombia’s history unfolds around them, which is a literary undertaking deserving of a Nobel Prize for literature - Márquez received his in 1972.

The village of Macondo is visited by gypsies, suffers from an insomnia plague, plays a role in the Civil War, falls under a brutal dictatorship, prospers from a banana plantation and endures heavy rains for four years, plus numerous other events that interweave around each generation of Buendías. The story is simply told and never loses it gentle pace; I never found myself speeding through chapters, but I felt a part of a Colombian village’s history for the few weeks I read the novel.

One other aspect of the novel that requires extra concentration is García Márquez’s use, or misuse, of time. Attempting to determine how much time has passed is difficult because some characters, such as Úrsula, live until they are over 130-years-old. Another interesting part of the book is that nobody ever learns from the past, the same mistakes are made repeatedly, which seems to leave the Buendía family in a vicious circle.

A component of García Márquez’s writing is called ‘magic realism’. For example, one night Remedios the Beauty ascends into the sky and nobody ever sees her again, there is no explanation for this surreal moment and you find yourself accepting it as easily as the inhabitants of Macondo. The strange and magic are routine in Macondo and as a reader you find yourself accepting the increasingly bizarre events that take place, right up until the last page, when you are ready to believe the fantastical ending.

Because I do not understand Spanish, I read the English translation by Gregory Rabassa and found it incredible. The translation of a novel is comparable to writing a novel because it is not enough for a straight word-for-word conversion; the translator needs to write a completely new novel in another language. Reading Rabassa’s version was a joy and has made me appreciate translators even more than ever.
One Hundred Years of Solitude does have an apathetic title, the cover looks dreary, but I owe that little cliché pirate a drink.

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