I can’t read Spanish, to my shame. Shout-out to translators Gregory Rabassa and Edith Grossman for providing really poetic and (what I assume are) authentic translations of García Márquez’s work.
Of course, the translators have no material to use without a writer, and that’s who I want to celebrate. García Márquez is a storyteller, one who meanders through his worlds of magical realism with poetic language and extensive description. It’s sometimes a challenge to read his prose – it requires intense concentration sometimes to follow the strange subplots that tend to surface. That’s not to say that it isn’t worth making the effort though, quite the opposite in fact. García Márquez offers us an insight into his version of Colombia, as well as his views on fatalism, family, and solitude. We shouldn’t shrink from a story just because it requires our utmost attention – those are the stories that often have the most substance.
One Hundred Years of Solitude establishes the fictional town of Macondo, discovered by and the home of the Buendía family. This is the family we follow, through all its intricate twists and turns, over the hundred year journey we take with them. Fantastical elements are interwoven seamlessly with realistic, and even historic events throughout the course of the story. Alchemical experiments seem doomed to fail to the reader, who has modern scientific sensibilities, and yet we readily believe that the Buendías do see the ghosts of their past vividly. Perhaps we can follow this because it is an easy metaphor to grasp, in which we are all prisoners of our past. More than that though, I think that these fantastical elements contrast with their equally unbelievable historic counterparts. The Banana massacre of striking workers did happen, albeit not in Macondo, and it’s a difficult fact to accept.
‘There must have been three thousand of them,’ he murmered.
‘The dead,’ he clarified. ‘It must have been all of the people who were at the station.’
The woman measured him with a pitying look. ‘There haven’t been any dead here,’ she said.
– Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
It’s difficult to contain one element of feeling from this story because everything is so connected, and every small detail requires the greater context of the book to make real sense. I highly recommend it, although One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of the more difficult of García Márquez’s books, it is also one of the more rewarding and beautiful. Sometimes we stick with books that don’t grab our immediate attention and trust writers to deliver. This is an example that excelled far beyond my expectations.
The final page brings everything together perfectly. I think García Márquez finds the right balance between story and voice, not placing a huge importance on either, but bringing them together in such a way as to create something incredibly unique and inimitable. After the misfortunes of the Buendías have been experienced and repeated over the many generations of the family, the final Aureliano decodes the encryption left by the enigmatic gypsy Melquíades. Discovering it to be a detailed account of the family history that occurred long after Melquíades’ death, Aureliano reads ahead to discover his own fate, which ends as soon as he is finished.
We are left to reflect on whether our fate is determined by our history, and whether we can ever leave a truly lasting legacy. In line with the philosophical outlook of his work, I am inclined to leave that question in the air. Sincerely however, I think that Gabriel García Márquez himself certainly left us with enough material to make a case for the lasting legacy of an individual.