One hundred years of solitude: Imagination and Reality
In 1982, the then 55-year-old Colombian novelist, Gabriel García Márquez, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in particular because of his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, in which he tells the stories of seven generations of the same family over a period of one hundred years.
In 1982, the then 55-year-old Colombian novelist, Gabriel García Márquez, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in particular because of his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. García Márquez was universally recognised as the most representative writer in the magic realism style. The author was awarded his Nobel award “for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent’s life and conflicts.” The awarding committee also stated that One Hundred Years of Solitude is “a monumental work reflecting the historical and social scenes in Latin America.”
García Márquez created a unique world with a magic writing style. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, he tells the stories of seven generations of the same family over a period of one hundred years, the ups-and-downs they faced, the various kinds of solitude they felt and the loneliness of the 40-plus members of this mysterious family.
From Law Student to Novelist
One Hundred Years of Solitude created an instant stir in the literary world of Latin America as well as the entire Spanishspeaking world when it was first published in 1967. The novel was soon translated into many languages, earning Garcia Márquez worldwide fame.
Gabriel García Márquez was born in 1927 in Aracataca in Colombia and was raised by his maternal grandparents. His grandfather was a highly respected ex-
colonel and a stubborn but kind-hearted man. His grandmother would tell him endless fairy-tales and stories about ghosts. García Márquez began reading
One Thousand and One Nights at the age of seven and often listened to folk stories told by his grandmother at a young age. Such experiences provided important materials for his future literary creations.
For García Márquez, growing up in Aracataca was a special time. His birthplace was a weird world full of ghosts and people—a magic yet ordinary place. Such an impression provided an inexhaustible source of inspiration for his future novels. In his works, Aracataca became “Macondo,” a fictional village where many stories took place.
At the age of 20, Garcia Márquez went to study law at the National University of Colombia in Bogotá, where he also began to write. During his time at university, Garcia Márquez was an avid reader of poetry from the golden period of Spanish literature and arts—an experience that laid a solid foundation for his later literary creations. A year later, however, he left university due to the civil conflict in Colombia. In 1955, he was forced to leave Colombia to work as a correspondent for El Espectador in Europe after exposing a government cover-up of a navy shipwreck. He later found himself stranded in Europe after El Espectador was shut down by the Colombian Government. It was during this year that Márquez published his first novel, Leaf Storm. In 1958, Garcia Márquez and his long-time girlfriend Mercedes Barcha married. In 1959, he worked for the Cuban news agency Prensa Latina in Bogotá, Cuba and New York. A year later he was invited to attend the ceremony celebrating victory in the Cuban Revolution.
In 1967, One Hundred Years of Solitude was published and became a literary sensation in Latin America and even across the world. Reputed as a “literary masterpiece worth reading by all humans,” the work was translated into numerous languages. The novel won Garcia Márquez various financial rewards, enabling him to devote himself to writing full-time. Having first conceived of the novel more than a decade earlier, he began writing it in 1965 before completing it two years later. The main part of the book is devoted to describing the legendary life of its protagonists, reflecting the historical fact that dozens of internal wars in Colombia had claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people between 1830 and the end of the 19th century. The book vividly depicts the hypocrisy of politicians, the brutality of the country’s rulers and the blind obedience and ignorance of many people.
Garcia Márquez spent most of his time in Mexico City after 1975. He was involved in many aspects of the news industry and remained politically active all his life. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982, and in the same year, returned to Colombia following an earthquake.
Garcia Márquez published Love in the Time of Cholera in 1985, in which “lovers find love in their ‘golden years’.” In 1986, the first edition of Clandestine in Chile: The Adventures of Miguel Littín, a non-fiction report completed by Garcia Márquez in 1986, was destroyed in public by the Chilean Government in San Diego. However, this only guaranteed the success of later editions of the report. The work describes a well-known film director living in exile who returns clandestinely to his motherland of Chile to shoot a documentary about the lives of ordinary people living under the rule of the Pinochet government.
Garcia Márquez and his agent Carmen Balcells visited China together in 1990. After suffering from lymphatic cancer in 1999, Garcia Márquez seldom wrote literary works, and in 2006 he announced that he would not write any more. In 2008, Carmen Balcells and others returned to China, spending two months making various inspections. Finally, China was granted permission to publish One Hundred Years of Solitude in 2010. Later, many other works by Garcia Márquez were published in China, including I’m Not Here to Give a Speech and Love in the Time of Cholera.
Márquez passed away in Mexico City in 2014 aged 87. As the representative of Latin American magic realism, he is one of the most influential writers of the 20th century and is reputed as one of the greatest writers of the past century. By combining imagination with realism, he depicted the rapidly-changing, fairy-tale like history of Columbia and even the entire South American continent. One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the legendary stories of seven generations of the Buendía family. José Arcadio Buendía, who is of Spanish descent, lives in a small village. His wife, Úrsula Iguarán, refuses to sleep with him, out of fear that she would give birth to a child who grows a tail, as happened after her aunt married her uncle. Buendía leaves the village with his wife after being haunted by Prudencio Aguilar, a man he killed in a duel after being ridiculed by him. After trekking for more than two years, they decide to establish a town while camping by a river, which later becomes known as Macondo. The stories of the Buendía family begin to unfold here.
José Arcadio Buendía is a creative man. Having seen how a gypsy performs wonders with a magnet, he decides to use the magnet to mine gold and later to openup a new road out of dissatisfaction with the backward life he lives. He leads a group that works painstakingly for two weeks but to no avail. Later he becomes obsessed by alchemy and shuts himself away in his laboratory. As his spiritual pursuits are all out of tune with the parochial reality of Macondo, he is unable to release himself from his loneliness and suffers a mental breakdown. As such, his family members tie him to a large tree, where he remains until his death several decades later.
There are two men and one woman in
the second generation of the family.
José Arcadio Buendía’s firstborn son, also called José Arcadio, commits adultery with Pilar Ternera, and they have a child. He eventually leaves the family to chase a gypsy girl and unexpectedly returns many years later, unrecognisable to those who once knew him. In spite of objections from his family, he marries his adopted sister Rebeca, causing his banishment from the family, and he dies from a gunshot wound in the family house.
Aureliano Buendía is Buendía’s second son. He was thought to have premonitions because everything he said came true. He spends his days in his father’s laboratory, conducting experiments. However, as he grows up, he falls in love with Remedios Moscote, the daughter of the village administrator. Prior to that, his and his brother’s lover Pilar Ternera gives birth to a son named Aureliano José. Later, Aureliano becomes involved in the civil war and reaches the rank of colonel. When he realises the war has no meaning at all, he signs a peace treaty with the government, bringing the war to an end. He then tries to commit suicide by shooting himself in the heart but miraculously survives. During the war, he fathers 17 sons; all of which coincidently go to Macondo in search of their roots. Unfortunately, all but the eldest are murdered by unknown assassins. When he grows old, Aureliano Buendía returns to his hometown where he spends his time trying to turn ordinary metals into gold. He would make two little gold fish each day— then once he had made 25, he would melt them down in a crucible and starts making them again.
The third child of Buendía and Úrsula is their daughter, Amaranta, who falls in love with Pietro Crespi, an Italian piano technician. However, she refuses to marry Pietro which leads to him committing suicide. Out of her regret, she deliberately burns one of her hands to show her determination never to marry. She shuts herself in her room all day, sewing and unraveling clothes for dead bodies until she dies.
There are only two members in the third generation of the family: Arcadio, the son of José Arcadio; and Aureliano José, the son of Aureliano Buendía. Arcadio becomes infatuated with his biological mother, not knowing who she is, almost bringing about a huge blunder. Later, he becomes a tyrannical dictator of Macondo and is shot by a conservative firing squad. Aureliano José, who matured too early, is obsessed with his aunt, Amaranta. After being rejected by her, he feels so lonely that he joins the army. However, he cannot dispel his love for her even after he enlists and so seeks consolation from a prostitute. He is eventually shot to death midway through the wars.
There are two males and one female in the fourth generation of the family, all of whom are the children of Arcadio and his wife Santa Sofía.
Their daughter, Remedios, is delicate, charming and emanates an uneasy scent that causes the deaths of several men who love or lust after her. Later, she ascends into the sky while folding a white sheet and disappears forever.
José Arcadio Segundo and Aureliano Segundo are her younger twin brothers. José Arcadio Segundo is a supervisor at an American-run banana company and becomes a leader in the union. When more than 3,000 workers go on a strike under his leadership, they are massacred by the military police and only he survives. José Arcadio Segundo witnesses the government authorities taking the dead bodies of the workers to a beach by the sea and dumping them there. They announce that the workers have been transferred to other sites for the time being. Arcadio Segundo tells whoever he meets about the massacre, but people think he has lost his mind. Afraid and disappointed, he shuts himself in his house to study parchments left by gypsies until his death.
Aureliano Segundo abandons himself to wine and women, taking a mistress by the name of Petra Cotes, regardless of his wife Fernanda del Carpio. He and his wife have three children: two girls and one boy. In the end, he dies of an unknown illness at the exact same time as his twin brother.
The fifth generation of the family members consists of Aureliano Segundo’s two daughters and son. José Arcadio, the eldest son, is sent to study at a theological college in Rome when he is just a child. However, he shows no interest at all in becoming a priest, as his mother had wanted. After the death of his mother, he returns to his hometown and sells off the family properties to support himself. He is eventually murdered by several boys who ransack his house and steal his gold.
Renata Remedios, or Meme, is the first daughter of Fernanda and Aureliano Segundo. She falls in love with Mauricio
Babilonia, a mechanic in the banana company, but is forbidden from marrying him. When Mauricio is killed, Remedios falls into a deep despair. Her mother sends the pregnant Remedios to a convent where she remains mute for the rest of her life.
Amaranta Úrsula, the younger daughter, goes to study in Brussels at a young age. There she meets and marries a pilot by the name of Gastón. Later they return to Macondo, only to find the town is in a destitute condition and so decide to revamp the place. An energetic person who is full of vitality, Amaranta manages to entirely transform her hometown in just three months and decides to stay there to help save this disaster-ridden village.
New Magic Realism
The stories of the Buendía family begin to come to an end. The sixth generation consists of just Aureliano Babilonia, or Aureliano II, the illegitimate child of Meme. He grows up in solitude and his only hobby is hiding himself in the room of Melquíades, a gypsy, where he studies various kinds of mysterious parchments. He falls in love with Amaranta Úrsula, not knowing she is his aunt, and has an affair with her. Although they are tortured by loneliness and love, they feel like they’re the happiest people in the world. Later, Amaranta gives birth to a child—a boy born with a pig’s tail—and then dies of postpartum haemorrhage.
Aureliano, the boy with a pig’s tail, is part of the seventh generation of the Buendía family. He is devoured by ants at birth. When Aureliano Buendía sees that only a small piece of skin remains of his on, he finally deciphers the Melquíades’ parchments. The dedication at the beginning reads: “The first of the line is tied to a tree and the last is being eaten by ants.” It turns out that the parchments record the history of the Buendía family. The moment Aureliano completes deciphering the last chapter of the parchments, a great wind destroys Macondo and the village disappears forever. The novel ends with the following words: “… that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.”
A large number of unique characters are vividly portrayed in the novel, and the sense of the family’s solitude is also clearly described. The family has neither emotional communication nor trust and understanding between husband and wife, father and son, or mother and daughter. The efforts made by people to rid themselves of solitude all end in failure. Solitude is the emblem of the Buendía family, and each family member wears such an emblem, either consciously or unconsciously.
Such solitude, as disclosed by Garcia Márquez, is attributed to the closed, backward, corrupt and tyrannical social atmosphere that prevailed in Columbia and even all of Latin America during the first half of the 20th century. The author hopes that the Latin American people can be united to rid themselves of this solitude. The sense of solitude depicted in One Hundred Years of Solitude mainly reflects the resentment and protest of Latin America regarding the fact that it was overlooked in the process of the world’s evolution towards modern civilisation. It also represents Garcia Márquez’s thoughts on the fate of Latin America over the past 100 years. He attempts to use the 100-year history of the Buendía family to generalise the historical evolution of Latin America. He points out almost desperately that “the history of Latin America is the summarisation of considerable yet futile efforts and is the sum of one act after another of a drama that is destined to be forgotten.” Such a history symbolises solitude, hence the novel’s name. When speaking about his intentions in creating One Hundred Years of Solitude in 1982, Garcia Márquez admitted: “I hope to find a perfect literary home for all my childhood experiences.”
Following the creative principle of magic realism that aims to “turn reality into fantasy without losing its authenticity,” Garcia Márquez combines alarming reality with the fantasy of fairy-tales and legends and turns them into unique, colourful images using his skilful conception and rich imagination. The stories are intricate and the second and third generations of the family often adopt the same names. The continuity in the complex relationships involved in the family members over several generations that have the same names produces a sense of repetition, which deepens the magic solitude prevailing throughout the entire novel.
In addition, Garcia Márquez creates stories with unadorned and lucid language. The author focuses on the structure of the novel, creating clear points of view and precise details. For example, the novel begins with the following words: “Many years later as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” Such a terse sentence incorporates past, present and future tenses. The author obviously narrates the story from a hidden “present.” The first sentence is immediately followed by a review of when Macondo was being built. Such a temporal structure is repeated throughout the novel, building suspension.
Magic realism strongly influenced a whole generation of Chinese writers. Western literary thoughts impacted Chinese literature in the 1980s, when China was undergoing ideological emancipation and the foreign writer that exerted most influence was none other than Garcia Márquez. At the time, it was considered trendy to read One Hundred Years of Solitude and discuss magic realism. Such a writing style is also employed by many well-known Chinese writers including Chen Zhongshi, Mo Yan and Yan Lianke. The Chinese edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude was formally authorised by Garcia Márquez and published for the first time in 2010. The deluxe edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude translated by Fan Ye was published by Nan Hai Publishing Company in 2011, and has become the most popular edition.
As is described in the book, “Things have a life of their own. It’s simply a matter of waking up their souls.” Such a work of magic realism craftily fuses reality with imagination with its distinctive style and fantasies. It not only describes the rise and fall of the Buendía family, honour and disgrace, and the love and hatred between family members but also reflects the rapidly changing history of Latin America over a century. It is a classic piece of literature with its own soul, displaying a magnificent magic world.
Gabriel García Márquez
A scene from the 2007 film adaptation of Love in the Time of Cholera