Day 52 - One hundred years of solitude

— 4 minute read


So a shipment of eight books arrived at my doorstep on the 5th of May. Three days later, I'm three books down. One of them is One Hundred Years of Solitude. I just put it down five minutes ago, breathless from the ending.

It was a good ride. I think that this has been one of the few books that have been able to absorb me so much that I needed to have "brakes" to slow me down and breathe a little, as to be able to savour it better. The brakes came in the form of two other books that I finished. Not that I'm not a parallel book reader, I am, but usually to cater to my mood of the moment and not to serve as moments of brain rest so that I can continue enjoying the "main book" with a fresh mind.

I know this sounds kind of disrespectful to the other two books, but hey it's Gabriel Garcia Marquez that you're being sidekicks to. The two other books were Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple and The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartín Fenollera. The former was alright, the latter quite mediocre. [Spoiler Alert] Incidentally both sidekick books had heroines whose romantic interests were eventually found to be deeply religious. They (the heroines) both have meltdowns, but ultimately accept their born-again Christian partners, and live happily ever after. Not superbly interesting.

One Hundred Years of Solitude, though. I'm still wrapping my brain around it. I had not planned on reading it because Leo gave such a bad review (mainly the complaint was that he couldn't keep track of all the characters in the novel, mostly named Aureliano and Jose Arcadio and Remedios and Amaranta), but then again he's not the fiction type. Then a Colombian friend sent the following video, which sufficiently piqued my interest:

So I started to read it, with trepidation, but the first few pages went down as smooth as good wine. And the next 100 pages, half of the book, three quarters.... up till the last page.

I think that Leo and the TED-Ed video gave me an idea of what to expect, which made the book much easier to read and enjoy. The prose itself is not difficult, but the brain does drift around sometimes trying to figure out which character is which, or what incident is real and what isn't. The novel has a dream-like quality, and most of the stories of the characters happen within a very small setting, mostly in the ancestral house of Buendia. The village of Macondo expands and contracts in the visual imagination, as it goes through humble beginnings, prosperity, and utter decreptitude.

And the characters. What characters! The matriarchal anchors, Ursula and Fernanda, are like unwavering pillars of rest when you're disoriented by buzzing activities and love lives of the Aurelianos, Jose Arcadios, Amarantas, and Remedios. There's also the room of Melquiades, which is timeless and pristine, which provides refuge not only to an Aureliano or Jose Arcadio at any point (in seven generations) but also to my mind when it tires of keeping track of the disintegrating surroundings of the Buendia house.

And then of course there's the downward spiral that is mentioned by the video. It is accompanied by a real tinge of nostalgia, about halfway through the book, when the older characters start fading out, either through dying or through senility. The younger generations go through similar cycles of naivete, incestuous relationships (which occurs in extraodinary frequency, and are so frankly discussed that I found it refreshing), and eventual bitterness and death.

I can totally see all of this happening in a migrant family, such as mine - third or fourth generation Chinese Malaysian - every generation self-absorbed and unable to see beyond their own noses, going through similar life events as our parents and forefathers, yet feeling so utterly alone in our trials and tribulations. We did not invent exploration, we did not invent revolutions, we did not invent heartbreak. But it feels like we did.

Of course there's also the feeling of inevitable death. Even if some characters in the book live more than 100 years, they all eventually die. Strong as the matriarchs are, time marches on mercilessly, wearing everyone down to nothingness. Some die before they die, or perhaps they catch on the meaninglessness of life early enough - and while their lives away making little gold fishes and melting them down and repeating the process, for instance.

And one hundred years later, does anything matter?