January's book: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
After “One Hundred Years of Solitude” was published in 1967, The New York Times declared it as ‘the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race.”Although that sounds pretty uncompromising, the novel does deftly touch on the woes of a fallen world.
At the beginning of the novel, Jose Arcadio Buendia wants to move from the isolated and undisturbed town of Macondo, which he founded, to a more accessible location. Jose embodies humanity’s inexplicable curiosity to leave what is safe and secure for the unknown, like Eve in the Garden. But the patriarch's choice to leave the Eden-like setting of Macondo creates a discord—also like the Creation story in Gensis—for the Buendia dynasty.
As the Buendia family emerge from isolation into a grim society, the characters begin a steep descent into a world much like the right panel of Hieronymus Bosch’s famous triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights. The sons of Jose especially succumb to the temptations of power in a war-stricken, lewd world.
Marquez’s unbridled imagination, coupled with a detached journalistic style, provides a very matter-of-fact portrait of the obscene. The magic-realism gives normalcy to characters like Rebeca, an earth-eating orphan who infects the town with an insomnia that causes memory loss, or Colonel Aureliano Buendía, a rebel commander who has 17 sons, all called Aureliano, to 17 women, or Remedios the Beauty, the most beautiful woman in the world, who spontaneously floats to heaven, abruptly leaving the novel. By the time I read of the banana plantation massacre and Aureliano seducing his aunt, I barely flinched. By a process of desensitisation, the unbearable realities become increasingly plausible, providing a confronting insight into what a town in Columbia during the 19th century may have looked like.
The characters and the town come full circle, beginning in a state of solitude, bound by tradition to a state of hostility, bound by modernity, then, at the end of the 100 years, back to isolation and age-old custom. Marquez comments on humanity's predictable knack for moving from one ideology to the next, like a pendulum-swing, searching for some equilibrium in a tumultuous world. The search for the Eden-state in worldly ideologies is likened to a dog chasing its tail: circular, tiring and futile. I’ve often prescribed to one set of ideals, only to be left unfulfilled and overcorrected with its opposite. My friend once dated a younger self-titled gypsy who didn’t believe in working. Then, he dated an older business woman who managed three businesses.
I don’t think it’s ‘the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race,” but the novel is darn raunchy and shouts countless truths of the human condition, of which this short synopsis has only skimmed.