“What hurts me most,” she would say, laughing, “is all the time that we wasted.”
That I only recently discovered the gift of the writing of Gabriel García Márquez is disappointing to me, given that the English translation of his most notable work was completed the year I was born. But maybe it’s perfect that I finished One Hundred Years of Solitude just this month. The younger me might have dismissed its whimsical nature, but the older me savored the rare art and creativity infused into every paragraph.
One Hundred Years of Solitude re-ignited my interest in reading fiction. As a person who writes primarily about travel, with its infinite destinations and discoveries, I always set aside fiction in favor of reading non-fiction details about the places we go and the real world we live in. But in reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, Márquez took me on a trip of a different kind — with magic and reality, humor and sadness, denial and passion, solitude and family ties, life and death, in a fantastic fictional world of dualities based on our singular humanity.
“Amaranta Úrsula defended herself sincerely with the astuteness of a wise woman, weaseling her slippery, flexible, and fragrant weasel’s body as she tried to knee him in the kidneys and scorpion his face with her nails, but without either of them giving a gasp that might not have been taken for the breathing of a person watching the meager April sunset through the open window. It was a fierce fight, a battle to the death, but it seemed to be without violence because it consisted of distorted attacks and ghostly evasions, slow, cautious, solemn, so that during it all there was time for the petunias to bloom and for Gaston to forget about his aviator’s dreams in the next room, as if they were two enemy lovers seeking reconciliation at the bottom of an aquarium.”
Márquez paints beautiful pictures with his words, sometimes surprising but always understandable. Yet as relatable as he makes his scenes and characters, Márquez still beguiles us with the mystery of life and the human condition.
“It was then that she realized that the yellow butterflies preceded the appearances of Mauricio Babilonia. She had seen them before, especially over the garage, and she had thought that they were drawn by the smell of paint. Once she had seen them fluttering over her head before she went into the movies. But when Mauricio Babilonia began to pursue her like a ghost that only she could identify in the crowd, she understood that butterflies had something to do with him. Mauricio Babilonia was always in the audience at the concerts, at the movies, at high mass, and she did not have to see him to know that he was there, because the butterflies were always there.”
This is the magic of One Hundred Years of Solitude. Its fundamental requirement is that you cast aside your notions of reality, escape with Márquez into a story of impossibilities and exaggerations, and believe in the mythical town of Macondo and its most complex family, the Buendías. My non-fiction mind found it hard to keep up with the family tree and hard to resist the urge to try to find Macondo on a map of the Americas. But as my imagination took over these things became less important. I found myself sitting next to Melquíades in his workshop, commiserating with the Colonel under the chestnut tree and celebrating the last passionate pages with Aureliano. And Úrsula — enduring Úrsula, who for much of the book stands at the center of the story as the matriarch of its magic, she runs the house with complete, humorous acceptance of its peculiarities and transformations.
“Úrsula cried in lamentation when she discovered that for more than three years she had been a plaything for the children. She washed her painted face, took off the strips of brightly colored cloth, the dried lizards and frogs, and the rosaries and old Arab necklaces that they had hung all over her body, and for the first time since the death of Amaranta she got up out of bed without anybody’s help to join in the family life once more.”
Gabriel García Márquez has gone, and with him goes his unforgettable imagination and unique perspective on life. There is much of his childhood in One Hundred Years of Solitude, and smart glimpses of him in his characters.
“The world must be all fucked up,” he said then, “when men travel first class and literature goes as freight.”
Thank you Gabriel García Márquez, for your first class literature, for your words that inspire me to read more, and for the magical realism that only you could share with the world.