"100 Years of Solitude" and the Soul of a Nation

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When a new era is ushered in, historians can look back at the individuals who helped pave the way. These trailblazers stand head and shoulders above their peers with regards to their outsized contributions. The film industry has Orson Welles and Steven Spielberg. Fine art has Da Vinci and Michelangelo.

Latin American literature has Gabriel García Márquez.

Gabriel García Márquez was born in 1927 and passed in 2014. He was 87 years old at the time of his death. During his time, he saw the world change multiple times, and he felt each and everyone one of those changes in his homeland.

He was a novelist, screenwriter, activist, and journalist. As a journalist, he was always alternating between love for his country and being fiercely critical of it. This dichotomy forms the basis of many of his works including "100 Years of Solitude."  “100 Years of Solitude” is Márquez’s magnum opus, it is the work that will always be associated with him. Surprisingly it is still hard to overstate the importance and impact of Gabriel García Márquez. This was a man who, on the day of his death, was called “the most important Colombian who ever lived” by the sitting Colombian President. Marquez was -is- a literary titan. He has influenced an entire generation of novelists and journalists. His books have become emblematic all throughout Latin America. Here was an author that managed to capture the very essence of the culture and make that culture widely accessible to the world at large. Márquez placed Colombia on the world cultural map. In recognition of his monumental achievements, Gabriel García Márquez was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.

“One Hundred Years of Solitude” is the defining novel of the Latin American fiction boom. It’s so important, so powerful, that you could easily read this book and have a pretty good grasp of the entire Latin American boom and an encapsulation of the culture of the time and country. The plot follows seven generations of the Buendía family. The first generation patriarch of the Buendia clan, José Arcadio Buendía, founded the town of Macondo, alongside his wife Úrsula Iguarán. Macondo is a stand-in for any number of small towns that litter Colombia, including Gabriel García Márquez’s hometown of Aracataca. “Solitude” follows the Buendia throughout many real-life historical events like a Latin American Forrest Gump. From the arrival of the other Western superpowers to the Colombian Civil War to the 1928 banana massacre. These lightly fictionalized historical events are another aspect of magical realism.

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The overarching theme of “100 Years of Solitude” is how the past is irrevocably connected to our present. This seems to be an obvious connection, but it is much more complex than it first appears. The past weighs down the future in “Solitude.” This weight is suffocating to the point of being fatalistic. There is an astounding difference between Latin American boom and similar movements in North America. Here in the United States one of our guiding ethos is that our past does not have to define us. Americans believe that we can overcome our past, or even redefine it. We are who we want to be, at least that is the belief. Gabriel Garcia Marquez rejects this idea. His Buendía family is doomed from the start. The throughline of their ancestry is what defines them. Six generations of this family are doomed by what has come before. History and family are the prisms which we, the reader, are meant to view them.

Gabriel García Márquez is famous for his use of “Magical Realism”. Magical Realism is a literary, or artistic, style.  It presents a realistic world that is nigh on indistinguishable from our own. This world is also touched with magical or supernatural elements. The blending of the mundane and otherworldly elevates and illuminates. Magical Realism is a wild concept to introduce into what would have normally been considered literary fiction. The magical realism turns the story on its head and changes how the reader perceives the novel. Magical Realism is also known for its implicit political critiques. The idea is that by showcasing magical or folklore concepts in a realistic setting gives power to the common folk. The elite and monied people are those more educated and therefore bound by more mainstream literary conventions. The common folk, steeped in folklore and traditions, are more open to new forms of storytelling. Magical Realism also allows the use of supernatural elements to make much more explicit critiques of power. It's one thing to have a citizen question the mayor and another thing entirely to have an angel sent from heaven to scold that mayor.

Art is a way for people from different cultures to connect and understand one another. “100 Years of Solitude” is an outsized work that has afforded Colombia a level of artistic exposure it has rarely experienced. Reading "Solitude" is like getting a glimpse into a world and a culture that is not my own, and understanding it. It presents a world and values different than what many audiences might be expecting. It is not interested in presenting a happy ending or tying things up in a nice little boy. It is a messy and complicated story that challenges the reader. It's a challenge that everyone should take up. I normally shy away from declaring anything essential, everyone has a different set of likes and dislikes. "100 Years of Solitude" is an essential novel that everyone should read.