(Original Review, 1981-02-27)
I love One Hundred Years of Solitude, in my top three books. When I first read it, it was quite confusing, with all the names the same - and so sad and funny. Not to skip ahead, but I still remember that none of it really made sense until I read the very last page - and then I understood everything in a kind of revelation - I'd never had that feeling before nor since with any other book, and that is why I think it has stuck with me all these years. Sometimes, if I see it in a book store, I just read the last page - but it's never the same.
The characters are trapped in their family history. Marquez frequently uses animal imagery or comparisons to characterise the humans as they are consumed by passion or vice of some kind - similar to a 14th Century view of the world that man is below the angels and above animals unless they give way to sin or vice of some kind. There is a kind of hell on earth feel to the book the more I think of this. The wheel of fortune is always turning and people will always fall from hope into despair. Progress often leads to ruin and the search for knowledge consumes. There's very little human contact other than the obvious! When Fernanda and Aureliano Segundo put Amaranta Ursula on the the train, they briefly touch which is unbearably poignant. People are lonely and wall themselves up away from others metaphorically and literally. There are lots of echoes of literature generally.
The lessons-to-be-learnt-by us-all were there all the way through the book and the magical element and humour kept the reader slightly apart and somewhat protected from the horrors of human behaviour. I loved the ending where it all came full circle and they weren't even looking out for the poor baby!
Here is an alternative view behind Garcia Marquez use of magic and surreal in his stories. His fiction is full of humour and warmth without skimming over the more unattractive aspects of human behaviour. He used humour AND fantasy as a tool or a means of looking at those aspects of life which are difficult to absorb or understand. Make no mistake, they are savage commentary on politics and human nature but without the humour and fantasy to lighten the touch they are almost impossible to absorb. To him fantasy and magic are simply a way of trying to explain the unexplainable, not everything in life has logic and solution or clarity. This is his message and he was brilliant at doing so as it also captures our imagination. He was deeply embedded in the Latin American culture where the unexplainable was often attributed to fanciful gods of nature. Much like the Greek classical myths with Hydras and Minatours and so on. If you read the texts in Spanish and understand the Latin American humour, amongst the horror they have comic moments which are very funny. A sort of "suicide bunny" black humour is very much there in the background. This is very typical Latin American. Just because it is magical and funny doesn't make it not serious in intent.
I accept that this is a world apart and from a different era and I think Marquez uses a different kind of language to report the unsettling which makes this startling. Although it's a grim book, it has a huge amount of humour in it. It's a roller coaster of a ride that is always startling and powerful. Perhaps, one needs to understand that the point of good literature is not to portray society as "what it assumes itself to be", but rather "what it actually is". So if some readers or reviewers are discomforted by reading a portrayal of the true nature of human societies, and on the basis of that discomfort, judge the author as "strange and magical"; they need to reserve their judgments till they attain full maturity.