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One Hundred Years of Solitude. The Incredible History


The basis of the novel is the history of the town Macondo. Soon after the publication of the book (1967), this word took an honorable place on the literary map of the world. Its origin was explained in different ways and served as an occasion for discussions. Finally, in the so-called "banana zone" in northwestern Colombia, between towns Aracataca (the birthplace of the writer) and Cienaga, the settlement of Macondo was found, safely hidden in the tropical jungle and known as an enchanted place – you can get there, but you cannot get out.

And is it not magic of the word, its mysterious sound that explains addiction of the young Colombian writer? The town Macondo flashes already in his early stories of the forties and fifties and is bestowed a description in his first novel, "Leaf Storm", 1952. But for the time being, it remains an ordinary place of action, it will find its self-sufficiency only in the novel "One Hundred Years of Solitude". There, from geographical coordinates, Macondo will migrate to deep spiritual and moral parallels, become lovely memory of childhood, turn in whirlpools of History, like a sliver, pour out the magical power of age-old folk traditions, fairy tales and superstitions, absorb "laughter through tears", and tears through the laughter of the Great Art, and will sound by a bell of human memory.

Remember good citizens, who became a deck of cards in the hands of dark forces of history, about the tragedy of the mighty tribe Buendia, sentenced to extinction from the face of the earth, in spite of its name, which means "long live".

All We Are from Childhood

"One Hundred Years of Solitude" is just a poetic reproduction of my childhood," – Garcia Marquez said. His grandmother, Dona Trankilina, performed eternal work of women who stood at the cradle of future talents. The hereditary narrator with a deviation in terrible and otherworldly things, she awakened and developed child's imagination with her tales. The real world of the grandfather, the retired colonel, served as a counterweight to the fairy-tale world of the grandmother.

Free-thinker, skeptic and life lover, the colonel did not believe in miracles. The highest authority and senior companion of his grandson, he was able to simply and convincingly respond to any child’s "why?". "But, wanting to be like my grandfather – wise, courageous, reliable – I could not cope with the temptation to look into fairy-tales of my grandmother," – the writer recalled.

And at the beginning of life, there was an ancestral nest, a large gloomy house, where they knew all signs and conspiracies, where they read cards and tea leaves. It is not for nothing that Dona Trankilina and her sisters who lived with her grew up on the Guajiro Peninsula, a breeding ground for sorcerers, the homeland of superstitions, and roots of their family went to Spanish Galicia, the mother of fairy tales, and the nurse of jokes. And outside the house, the town Aracataca was bustling.

During the years of "banana fever", it was in the domain of the company "United Fruits". Crowds rushed here in pursuit of difficult earnings or easy profit. Cock fights, lotteries, and card games flourished here; dealers, sharers, pickpockets, and prostitutes lived on streets. And the grandfather liked to remember how quiet, friendly, and honest the village was in the years of his youth, while the banana monopoly did not turn this paradise into a lofty place, an average between a fair, a doss house and a public house.

Years later, Gabriel, a student at a boarding school, had occasion to visit his homeland once more. By that time, banana kings, having exhausted surrounding lands, had left Aracataca to the mercy of fate. The boy was struck by general desolation: cringed houses, rusty roofs, withered trees, white dust everywhere, dense silence everywhere, and silence of an abandoned cemetery. Memories of his grandfather, his own memories and the current picture of decline merged for him into a vague similarity of the plot. And the boy thought that he would write a book about all this.

He went to this book for a quarter of a century, returned to his childhood, stepping over towns and countries, through a miserable youth, through mountains of books read, through infatuation with poetry, through journalistic essays that glorified him, through scripts, through "terrible" stories with which he debuted in his youth, and through a solid, realistic prose of mature years.

Miracle or Phenomenon

Gabriel Garcia Marquez was displeased with himself and the traditional form of Latin American socio-political prose, in which his novels were written. He dreamed of an absolutely free novel, interesting not only for its political and social content, but also for its ability to penetrate deeply into reality, and best if a novelist was able to turn the reality inside out and show its opposite side. He began such a novel and after a year and a half of feverish work finished it in the spring of 1967.

On that day and hour, and maybe even at the very moment when the author turned the last page of his first novel and lifted his tired eyes from the manuscript, he saw a miracle. The door to the room silently opened and a blue, absolutely blue cat entered it. "The book will survive a couple of editions," – the writer thought. However, both of his young sons appeared in the doorway, triumphant, choking with laughter ... and smeared with blue paint.

And yet, the novel "One Hundred Years of Solitude" turned out to be a miracle, or, in scientific terms, a phenomenon.

The Argentinean publishing house "Sudamericana" has published a book with a circulation of 6,000 copies, hoping that it will be sold within a year. But it was sold in two or three days. The shocked publishing house promptly threw the second, third, fourth and fifth editions onto the book market. Thus the fabulous, phenomenal glory of "One Hundred Years of Solitude" began. Today, the novel exists in more than thirty languages, and its total circulation exceeds 13 million.

The Cross Road of the Novel

There is another area in which the novel of Garcia Marquez set all records. Over the past half century, no work of art has met such stormy and disparaging variants of criticism. Comparatively small in volume, the novel is littered with monographs, essays, and dissertations. They have a lot of subtle observations and deep thoughts, but there are often attempts to interpret the work of Garcia Marquez in traditions of the modern western "myth-novel", connect it with the biblical myth with its creation, the Egyptian and apocalypse, or with an ancient myth with its tragic fate and incest, or Freud's psychoanalytic, etc. Such interpretations, caused by the noble desire to "elevate the novel to a myth", violate or obscure connections of the novel with historical truth and folk soil.

One cannot agree with attempts of some Latin American researchers to interpret the novel as a "total" carnival laughter, although some elements of the carnival may be present in the book. In this case, already known mythological interpretations are turned inside out and instead of the "Bible" and "apocalypse" and "two thousand years of human history" allegedly reflected in the novel, a "carnival revision" of the same "two thousand years of history", "laughing bible", "apocalypse" laughter arise. The meaning of these lush myth-metaphors is that in the novel, the people themselves allegedly ridicule their history and bury it in order to rush into the bright future with a light heart.

We will return to the nature of laughter of Garcia Marquez later, here we will only recall that in the novel, along with laughter, there are both tragic and lyrical beginnings, which are not comparable to a comedy. There are pages on which the flow of folk blood flows, and laughter over them can only be a mockery. And it is hardly necessary to prove that the main thing in the book is not "self-derision", but self-knowledge of the people, possible only with preservation of historical memory. Time to bury the past for Hispanics, and for all of the humanity, will not come soon.

At first, the author was pleased with the success of the book. Then, he began teasing critics, assuring them that they fell into "traps" set for them, then a note of irritation sounded in the tone of his statements: "Critics are used to subtracting from the novel something that is not there, but what they would like to see in it"... "Under an intellectual, I understand a strange being who opposes reality to a preconceived concept and tries to squeeze this reality into it at any cost". It came to that the writer renounced his beloved child. In an interview, he regrets that he published "One Hundred Years of Solitude," a novel written in a "simple, hasty and superficial manner". But when he started to work, he believed that a simple and strict form is the most impressive and the most difficult.

Double Optics

From childhood, an artist is endowed with a special worldview, creative vision, which the devotees themselves call with the words optics, prism, magic crystal. The mystery of the book is in double optics. The basis of it is the vision of the boy Gabo, the memory of childhood. Optics of the "adult" writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez merges, or coexists, or even argues with this framework.

"One Hundred Years of Solitude" is a holistic literary testimony of everything that occupied me as a child", – the author said. From childhood, the boy Gabo brings his immediate imagination into the novel, not overshadowed and not complicated by either science or mythology. Grandmother's tales, beliefs, predictions and grandfather’s stories come out with him on pages of the book. There is a native house with a long gallery where women embroider and exchange news, with fragrances of flowers and herbs, with the scent of floral water, with constant war with insects: moths, mosquitoes, ants, with mysteriously flickering eyes of saints in half-darkness, with closed doors of rooms.

Of course, Gabo took his favorite toys with him, and a favorite book of fairy tales, and favorite treats: ice cream and candy cocks and horses. He did not forget walks with his grandfather through the streets of Aracataca and the glades of banana plantations, he did not miss the best holiday – visiting the circus.

There is a part of the writer in every hero. The boy lavishes signs of his childhood on the pages: dreams, need for play and playfulness, acute sense of justice and even childish cruelty.

The writer picks up these children's motifs and deepens them. In his eyes, childhood is identical with the nation. This point of view is not new. It has long been in the literature, has become a traditional metaphor, a conventional poetic formula.

And simple childish concepts of incompatibility of good and evil grow into a ramified system of patrimonial family morality. Boy's fairy tales and dreams become a part of people's self-awareness. People's mythology is included in the real world. These are nation's beliefs, its tales that are not born out of anything, but are created by the nation, they are its history, its daily life, they are participants of its victories and its defeats.

At the same time, the author summed up a solid foundation – the history of Colombia for about a hundred years (from the 1840s to the thirtieth of the XX century) – in its most acute socio-political upheavals. The first of these ones was civil wars between liberals and conservatives, during which the political struggle of two parties degenerated into the rivalry between two oligarchies.

On the historical canvas, the author weaves the history of six generations of the genus Buendia. Using the experience of a realistic "family" novel of the XIX-XX centuries and his own writing experience, he fashioned multifaceted characters of heroes, formed under influence of both heredity (genes), the social environment, and biological laws of development. To emphasize the belonging of members of the family of Buendia to a single genus, he gives them not only common features of appearance and character, but also hereditary names (as is customary in Colombia), exposing a reader to the danger of getting lost in the "labyrinth of generic relationships".

The author enriched the book of his childhood in one respect. He introduced into it a huge book erudition, motifs and images of world culture – the Bible and the Gospel, the ancient tragedy and Plato, Rabelais and Cervantes, Dostoevsky and Faulkner, Borges and Ortega – turning his novel into a kind of "book of books". He also enriched stylistic methods inherited by the boy Gabo from his grandmother.

In the book, we find polyphonic, internal monologue, subconscious, and much more. In it, we will meet Garcia Marquez not only as a writer, but also as a screenwriter and a journalist. The latter we owe a plentiful "digital material" as if confirming the authenticity of novel events.

The writer has rightfully called his multifaceted, multidimensional, multifarious novel "synthetic" or "total", that is, comprehensive. We would call it a "lyric epic tale," based on the well-known definition of a novel as an epic of the new time.

The poetic rhythm of the narrative, the dispassionate intonation of the author-storyteller, who, like precious laces, weaves phrases and sentences, unite the novel-saga. His other connecting principle is irony.

And in Play and Seriously

Irony is a property of the personality of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The origins of it are in the dualism formed in the mind of the boy Gabo. In his youth, it helped the journalist Garcia Marquez move away from newspaper cliches and contributed much to success of his correspondence; in the years of his literary fame, almost none of his numerous interviews are complete without it. Irony early manifested itself in his stories.

Irony that connects "yes" and "no" in one image (or phrase), absorbed the paradox, irony with its fusion of opposites: tragedy and farce, fact and fiction, high poetry and low prose, myth and mode of life, refinement and simplicity, logic and absurdity, with its variety of forms from so-called "objective" irony, or "irony of history", which is not funny, but tragic or sad, to irony that penetrates all kinds, varieties and shades of comic: satire, grotesque, sarcasm, humor and "black humor", anecdote, parody, play on words, etc. – was necessary for "synthetic" novel. It connects two "optics" of the book, connects the dream and reality, book culture and being. Irony defines the artist's attitude to tragicomic chaos of being. It contains the key to the dream of a "free novel" that allows to turn the reality inside out and show its opposite side. The ironical view of life is related to objectivity and directly coincides with the concept of poetry because it soars in a free game over reality, over happiness and misfortune, over death and life.

The novel is rich in all varieties of irony. It is filled with ironic confrontations of characters, events, objects that complement each other, collide with each other, repeat themselves, reflected in the crooked mirror of time. We think that one can do without examples. They are almost on every page. But we should say a few words about the "irony of history". In the novel, it reflects an objective historical process. "Irony of history" falls to colonel Aureliano Buendia's lot three times. Bogged down in the "swamp of war", in which the struggle for national interests degenerated into the struggle for power, he naturally becomes a dictator, a fighter for justice, into a power-hungry, cruel tyrant who despises people. According to the logic of history, violence that has broken loose can be defeated only by violence. And in order to make peace, colonel Aureliano is forced to start even bloodier, more shameful war against his former comrades-in-arms.

But peace has come. Leaders of conservatives, who seized power with the help of the colonel, are afraid of their involuntary assistant. They surround Aureliano with a ring of terror, kill his sons and, at the same time, load him with honors: they declare him a "national hero", he is awarded the order and ... they harness his military glory to their victorious chariot. Similarly, history does the same with other of its heroes. A kind and peaceful family man, Don Apolinar Moscote, Corregidor of Macondo, will be forced to unleash violence, provoke a war, and a young treasurer of liberals, who preserved the military treasury with incredible efforts, will be forced to give it to enemies with his own hands.

Irony extends to the main plot of the novel, the so-called "Story of Oedipus" with its criminal incestuous relationship between relatives and its fatal consequences. But the story here loses its universality and becomes something like a generic belief. Marriage between cousins is fraught not with parricide and other terrible punishments, but with the birth of a child with a pig's tail. However, in the text, there are hints of a more terrible retribution, coming from a fairy tale – the birth of iguanas. But no one takes this risk seriously.

Fairy Tale and Myth

Life-giving waters of a fairy tale wash the historical foundation of the novel. They bring poetry with them. The fairy tale seeps into the life of the Buendia family, acting in full harmony with science. In the book, there are also fairy-tale stories and fantasy-poetic images, however, the fairy tale in it likes to take the form of a poetic metaphor or even an association, and it flickers through a dense verbal fabric of the novel in these manifestations. A fabulous sorcerer-werewolf shines in all-powerful Jack Brown, and a multi-headed dragon called to deal with strikers is in soldiers. There are more large-scale associations in the novel. The gloomy city, the birthplace of Fernanda, where ghosts roam and thirty-two bells mourn their fate on streets every day, finds features of a kingdom of an evil wizard.

Fairy-tale roads stretch along the pages of the book. The gypsies come along it in Macondo, undefeated colonel Aureliano wanders around them from defeat to defeat, Aureliano II wanders through them in search of the most beautiful woman in the world.

There are many miracles in the book, and it is natural – how a fairy tale can do without miracles, and where he is, the boy who would not have dreamed of a miracle. But miracles are typically fabulous there, "functional", that is, having their own individual purpose. And good hands of the fairy tale raise Father Nikanor above the earth only to collect money from astonished people to build the temple. In the novel, the miracle-working inventory of the fairy tale is also collected – so-called "magic objects". These are the simplest things, modest companions of home life. A cup of hot chocolate – without it, Father Nikanor would not soar above the ground; freshly washed white sheets – without them, Remedios the Beauty would not ascend to heaven.

In the book, there are also death and ghosts. But death here is not a carnival, grotesque mask with its obligatory attributes: skull, skeleton, scythe. This is a simple woman in a blue dress. She, like in a fairy tale, orders Amaranta to sew a shroud, but she, as well as in a fairy tale, can be deceived and you can protract sewing for many years. Ghosts are also "domesticated". They represent remorse or ancestral memory.

There are also Arabian tales from the "Thousand and One Nights". Their source is a thick ragged book without a binding, which Gabo read, perhaps the first book in the writer's life. The gypsies bring these stories, and they are connected only with the gypsies.

There is Gabo's familiar "home" version of the fairy-tale prophecy – cards reading and fortune-telling. These prophecies are poetic, mysterious, and invariably kind. But they have one drawback – the real-life fate, which the writer knows, is formed defies them. So, Aureliano Jose, to whom the cards promised a long life, family happiness, six children, received a bullet in the chest instead of this. "This bullet, obviously, was poorly versed in the prediction of cards," – the writer sadly sneered over the body of another victim of the civil war.

In its origin, a tale is either a daughter of a myth or its younger sister, so in the mythological table of ranks, it stands a step below a myth with its grandeur, its absolute, its universality. However, there are family ties between them. T. Mann successfully called a myth "a particle of humanity". But a fairy tale can also claim this title, although it is to a certain extent limited to the national framework. It is remarkable not only the wide spread of a fairy tale, but also the fact that tales of the peoples of the world are interconnected. To some extent, a fairy tale is a symbol of unity of the peoples of the world.

Macondo and the Buendia

We have considered only two style-forming principles of the "One Hundred Years of Solitude" – irony and a fairy tale. Poetry is left aside, but we think that readers will figure out why the author called his amazing work "the poem of life". And we need to see how the writer's intention to penetrate deeply into reality was implemented in the novel. In our opinion, the problem of the basic philosophical idea of the work goes to depths of morality. It is noteworthy that the book opens with a moral paradox. The general moral prohibition on marriages between relatives comes into conflict with conjugal love and fidelity.

Morality is corporate, this is principles of behavior of a social group, based on morals, traditions, arrangements, a common goal. Morality has arisen with humanity.

In the novel "One Hundred Years of Solitude", we will meet two corporate historically formed types of morality, embodied in the image, revealed in the psychology of characters. Their foundations are various social structures coexisting in Colombia and other developing countries of Latin America. First of all, it is folk, patrimonial, family morality. Further – aristocratic, class, caste morality, preserved in backward mountain regions of the country as a relic of colonial times.

There are two storylines in the book – the history of inhabitants of Macondo and the history of the family Buendia, closely interrelated and united with a common fate – the fate of Macondo.


The final of the novel is frankly eschatological. And on this high mythological pedestal, Gabriel Garcia Marquez hoists his thought, his sentence to the epoch, a prophecy in form, a parable in content – those human families that are doomed for a hundred years of solitude, are not destined to appear on earth twice.

In a conversation with Cuban journalist Oscar Retto (1970), the author lamented that critics did not pay attention to the very essence of the novel, and this is the idea that loneliness is the opposite of solidarity. And it explains the collapse of the Buendia one by one, the collapse of their environment, the collapse of Macondo. This is the basis of political thought, loneliness, seen as a denial of solidarity, acquires political meaning. And at the same time, Garcia Marquez associates the Buendia’s lack of solidarity with their inability to love spiritually, thus transferring the problem to spiritual and moral spheres.

But why did the writer not put his thought into an image, did not entrust it to a hero? We can assume that he did not find a real basis for such an image and did not artificially create it. And a Colombian version of a hero with high moral principles and socialist ideals, spread in progressive Latin American prose, would suffocate in the atmosphere of the book, densely saturated with electricity of irony.

Artists are not obliged to give a ready solution to the problem that is tormenting them, they are obliged to express, to turn this problem into a word. And the main idea of the novel "One Hundred Years of Solitude", in our view, is as follows: humanity will perish if it does not develop the universal spiritual community, the universal moral, that would not exist by itself, but would serve as the basis for a universal human, and political thought.

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