Why You Should Read One Hundred Years of Solitude: An Animated Video Makes the Case

Maybe we read some cel­e­brat­ed lit­er­ary works the way we eat kale or quinoa—you don’t exact­ly love it but they say it’s, like, a super­food. Not so Gabriel Gar­cia Marquez’s One Hun­dred Years of Soli­tude. When I first start­ed read­ing the nov­el, I couldn’t stop. Twelve hours and a cou­ple pots of cof­fee lat­er, I want­ed to read it again right away. It’s a page-turner—not some­thing one often says of lit­er­ary fic­tion beloved by high­brow crit­ics and academics—but I mean it as the high­est pos­si­ble com­pli­ment.

The book has every fea­ture of a binge-wor­thy soap opera: char­ac­ters we love and love to hate, doomed affairs, sex, vio­lence, end­less fam­i­ly squab­bling, tragedy, intrigue, melo­dra­ma…. Again, this is no crit­i­cism; Mar­quez loved telen­ov­e­las and even wrote a script for one. He want­ed his work to reach as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble, to thrill and enter­tain. But he did­n’t with­hold any lit­er­ary nutri­ents either.

The novel’s poet­ic lan­guage, his­tor­i­cal scope, and the­mat­ic and sym­bol­ic com­plex­i­ty has led crit­ics like William Kennedy to com­pare it to the book of Gen­e­sis, and led no small num­ber of read­ers to wild­ly pre­fer it to the Bible or any oth­er ancient book of mythol­o­gy.

If you’re one of the two or three peo­ple who hasn’t read the nov­el, and you don’t find all this praise ful­ly con­vinc­ing, con­sid­er the case made by Fran­cis­co Díez-Buzo in the TED-Ed ani­mat­ed video above.

The sto­ry, we learn, arrived as an epiphany Mar­quez had while he and his fam­i­ly were on the road to a vaca­tion des­ti­na­tion. He turned the car around, aban­doned the trip, and start­ed writ­ing immediately—an exam­ple of the total com­mit­ment many writ­ers promise them­selves they’ll one day get around to maybe work­ing on. Eigh­teen months and many pots of cof­fee lat­er, One Hun­dred Years of Soli­tude appeared, intro­duc­ing a world­wide read­er­ship to Mar­quez, mag­i­cal real­ism, and Latin Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture, pol­i­tics, and his­to­ry.

Most every read­er now has a vol­ume of Octavio Paz or Pablo Neru­da on the shelf, and nov­els by Mar­quez, Mario Var­gas Llosa, or Isabelle Allende. Before Cien años de soledad arrived, how­ev­er, this was rarely so out­side of Span­ish-speak­ing coun­tries. The nov­el cre­at­ed a glob­al appetite for rich Latin Amer­i­can tra­di­tions of sto­ry­telling and lyri­cal poet­ry. New trans­la­tions from the region began appear­ing every­where.

Like Faulkner’s entire cor­pus com­pressed into one vol­ume, the epic tale of sev­en gen­er­a­tions of Buendías in the fic­tion­al Colom­bian town of Macon­do is vast and sprawl­ing. It “is not an easy book to read,” says Díez-Buzo. Here, as you might expect, I dis­agree. It is hard­er not to read it once you’ve picked it up. But you will need to read it again, and again, and again.

So packed is the book with detail, allu­sion, his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ence, and nar­ra­tive that you could read it for the rest of your life and nev­er exhaust its lay­ers of mean­ing. As Harold Bloom put it, “every page is rammed full of life beyond the capac­i­ty of any sin­gle read­er to absorb… There are no wast­ed sen­tences, no mere tran­si­tions, in this nov­el, and you must notice every­thing at the moment you read it.” Pablo Neru­da called it “the great­est rev­e­la­tion in the Span­ish lan­guage since Don Quixote of Cervantes”—the found­ing text of Span­ish-lan­guage lit­er­a­ture and, indeed, of the nov­el form itself.

The super­nat­ur­al and the sur­re­al suf­fuse each page, rais­ing even mun­dane encoun­ters to a myth­ic dimen­sion, stag­ing his­to­ry as time­less dra­ma, played out over and over again through each gen­er­a­tion. In each rep­e­ti­tion, fan­tas­tic and fatal changes also “pro­duce a sense of his­to­ry,” says Díez-Buzo, “as a down­ward spi­ral the char­ac­ters seem pow­er­less to escape.”

It is this his­to­ry that Mar­quez described, when he accept­ed the Nobel Prize in 1982, as “a bound­less realm of haunt­ed men and his­toric women, whose unend­ing obsti­na­cy blurs into leg­end.” Marquez’s own fam­i­ly his­to­ry, full of “haunt­ed men and his­toric women,” served as a mod­el for his suc­ces­sion of fic­tion­al ances­tors. Latin Amer­i­cans, he said, “have not had a moment’s rest,” yet in the face of colo­nial­ist bru­tal­i­ty, civ­il war, dic­ta­tor­ships, “oppres­sion, plun­der­ing and aban­don­ment,” he declared, “we respond with life.” By some strange act of mag­ic, Mar­quez con­tained all of that life in one extra­or­di­nary nov­el.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Gabriel Gar­cía Márquez’s Extra­or­di­nary Nobel Prize Accep­tance Speech, “The Soli­tude Of Latin Amer­i­ca,” in Eng­lish & Span­ish (1982)

New Gabriel Gar­cía Márquez Dig­i­tal Archive Fea­tures More Than 27,000 Dig­i­tized Let­ters, Man­u­script Pages, Pho­tos & More

Gabriel Gar­cía Márquez Describes the Cul­tur­al Mer­its of Soap Operas, and Even Wrote a Script for One

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (5) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (5)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • E says:

    I absolute­ly hate this nov­el. It’s utter garbage that is famous because it has a rep­u­ta­tion for being vague­ly “deep.” I hate when books like this become famous—they’re like the Mona Lisa: their con­tin­ued fame and approval is guar­an­teed because they are already famous and approved of. It’s the kind of book your friend who thought “Eat, Pray, Love” was a real mind ben­der can’t stop gab­bing on about.

  • Octavio Paz says:

    Maybe you should try some books by Dr. Seuss. The cat in the Hat might be for your lev­el.

  • Ya. Yah says:

    E try­menudo in the evening before you go to slept. You won’t be a grouch, like now

  • E.A. Garrard says:

    I remem­ber think­ing, when I read that Gar­cia-Mar­quez had won the Nobel, that he would have deserved it if he had only writ­ten the open­ing pages of 100 Years. I’m glad he kept writ­ing though.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.