This year bibliophiles around the world celebrate 50 years of book life for “One Hundred Years of Solitude” (1967), a novel that pioneered a new genre, gave its author, García Márquez “Gabo”, the Nobel Prize (1982), and changed the way people would read and think about Colombia and Latin America. Much has been discussed about the novel ever since: its intricate plot spanning a century of a seven-generation family drama, its elevated use of language and idiosyncratic aesthetics, its role as long-lasting cornerstone of “el boom latinoamericano”… Even without having read it, people always have something to say about the book. So, are there new ways to read the saga? After half a century, can the story of Úrsula Iguarán and José Arcadio speak to new audiences?
Among many, perhaps the biggest feat of the book is having depicted extremely vividly the realities of Latin America by creating the imaginary world of Macondo. This artifice of encapsulating and crystallizing one place by creating and expanding another is what, most critics concur, makes this a masterpiece. García Márquez paints a fresco of the exuberance and the tragedy, the abundance and the melancholy of Latin America and its peoples. He ravels the genealogy of a family, the Buendías, to (re)construct in equal measures, fictional and historical, an account of sensuality, postcolonial ingenuity, protracted violence, seminal local wisdom and folklore.
In Gabo’s literary universe, the reader is never able to tell what is real and what is magical, nor we can tell where is the line (if there is a boundary at all) that separates life and afterlife, natural and supernatural. But admittedly, this may not be credited to the creator’s inventiveness. The unbearable realities and beautiful mysticism of Macondo are in itself everyday life in Latin America, a place where “all utopias seem possible”. Illustration by Luisa Rivera for a special edition of “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, published by Penguin Random House.
But Gabo does not want to romanticize his homeland. “One Hundred Years of Solitude” is powerfully a cautionary tale about the depredation of the political divisionism of the subcontinent and the superstructures of imperialism, about injustice, death and oblivion as Latin America’s ultimate self-inflicted condemnation. Tumultuous love stories and labyrinthine family episodes serve as pretext to yield socioeconomic and political underpinnings that are worth revisiting numerous times, always in the light of the signs and symbols of our time.
And though there are many teachings for the “children of Macondo” in the book, a less evident one comes from an underexplored theme, the environment. If there is an aspect that the next generation of readers must not overlook, is the inextinguible awe that García Márquez feels (and makes us feel) in the face of nature and landscape. From page one we are invited to the unfolding and reinvention of a majestic natural world: “At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.” The tale then is populated with insatiable carnivorous ants that may devour the protagonists in their sleep, scorpions whose stings are hard to decouple from erotic encounters, yellow butterflies that trace the path of impossible love interests, a rainfall that lasted four years, eleven months and two days, and that washed away the town’s lethargy… Indeed, this eco-imagery presents us with an augmented, even surreal Caribbean, imaginable only to those who dare to step into García Márquez’s biodiversity ecstasy, and those who, well, have lived long enough in this part of the world and its vicinities.
In its fiftieth anniversary, not only “One Hundred Years of Solitude” but Gabo’s entire bibliography should be (re)read and celebrated. In changing times for the continent, his opus magnum remains a prism to both remember and imagine the solitude of Latin America, one year at the time.
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