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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

100 Years of Solitude

If you have not read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s masterpiece I would commend it to you. I just finished reading it again after a twenty-year hiatus, long enough to have forgotten the particulars but with fond memory of a transformative work. 


Having moved many times in my life, books comprise a good deal of my belongings, and can prove to be cumbersome baggage.  Though it has been hard to cull my collection, out of necessity my public library has been the beneficiary when I had to part ways with a title or dozens. As an avid reader I have a litmus test I apply to those books I want to keep in my library rather than on my e-reader.  It is simple; will I ever want to read this again? 

 

Of course, I could just keep everything on my Kindle but there is something about the kinesthetic of holding a book in hand that is more pleasing than cold words on a screen. Now you might ask whether I actually do go back and re-read favorite books from time to time—in addition to Marquez. The answer is decidedly yes.  It isn’t that I am disinterested in anything new, far from it.  I am in a men’s book club that meets monthly and one of its many benefits is making acquaintance with titles I would never have stumbled upon on my own. While some have proved great fun or fascinating, only a few have made it to the bookshelf over the years.

 

For those who may not be familiar with Marquez, 100 Years of Solitude was published in the 1960’s and became an iconic work in very short order.  It introduced a genre that has been described as magical realism.  Dark and deeply disturbing in some instances and wickedly funny in others, Solitude chronicles the lives and affairs of a single family over more than a century living in a fictional village that is, at the story’s beginning set apart from the rest of the world. Against this backdrop Marquez tells a story of a paradoxical Eden despoiled by the incursion of human follies that exist beyond its borders.

 

Reading Solitude requires what Samuel Coleridge aptly described as the willing suspension of disbelief.  Marquez himself said that to write it, he had to accept the absurd while retaining an awareness of life's harsh reality.  Behind the magic lurks stark truths to which the world has too often turned a blind eye and it is for this reason Marquez was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.

 

Only one other author I know of has done a fair approximation of Solitude’s unreal reality. Luis De Bernieres, a British expat living in Columbia, wrote a trilogy that captures the lunacy and grim horror of life amidst the corruption of politicians in far off capitals, a deranged and an equally corrupt priesthood, and the ever-present drug lords who pull the strings controlling everything. Like Marquez, De Bernieres conjures a magical fantasy to tell stories that reveal the very real and desperate circumstances he witnessed almost daily.

 

Perhaps one of the many reasons I was drawn to Marquez at this particular time is his ability to tell devastating truths within a mythical fabric. His characters are able to rise above tragedy, horror, even death itself but in the end they perish, content or mad, and always alone in their solitude.  As deeply flawed as we all are, Marquez’s protagonists are not self-aware commentators but living, breathing figures who kindle emotional investment despite their unreality. We wish them only good, living amidst the crises and solitude of their human existence and cheer for them when they triumph over the evils of the outside world, however briefly.  Living as we do today in a time of plague, war, division and poverty we too must find within us the ability to suspend disbelief, to accept our solitude and see our present challenges in the light of their absurdity.

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