- 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' Review
- Questions for Study and Discussion
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez Biography
Chronicle of a Book Foretold
When I first read Gabriel García Márquez's 1967 novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, finishing it at 4:00 in the morning, aged twenty, I lay the book on my chest and said aloud to myself, "That was the best book I've ever read."
Since then there have been other favorites, but the impact of that overwhelming introduction to García Márquez's world has remained one of the most formative reading experiences of my life. Looking back, it seems to have prepared me for many things that were to come, but at the time it felt like a totality, a final culmination of everything that a book could ever do or contain.
When the book was translated into English in 1970, the great writer and critic William Kennedy wrote that it was “the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race.” Many years later (the novel’s opening words are “Many years later”), after I’d graduated with a minor in Religious Studies and was doing a systematic study of the Bible on a long trip across Europe, I began to see more than just Genesis in García Márquez’s vast novel-scheme.
The rise and descent of the Buendía family, with all of its endlessly repeating name-variants of the family’s first-generation patriarch, José Arcadio Buendía, mirrors the Bibles’ arc from the Book of Joshua to the Book of Judges to the Second Book of Kings. Coming after the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy), this second major section of the Bible (called the “Deuteronomical History”) leads toward the establishment of the House of David over the land of Israel and then follows toward the nation’s inevitable disintegration.
When Israel can’t hold any longer and breaks into two parts (the northern Israel, which God dislikes, and the southern Judah, which God favors because it’s still ruled by David’s ancestors, whose supporters were the people who compiled and redacted the Bible), the names and trajectories of the parallel kings mirror each other (e.g. Jereboam/Reheboam) and sometimes even have the same name (and diminutive nickname).
But then after another brief golden age, Judah eventually goes the way of all flesh too and is conquered by the Babylonians as God decides that the nation has been sinning for way too long and that it’s too late to make up for it now. But the thread of Israel’s Davidic lineage continues in the Babylonian exile, because God has promised to let David’s descendants rule forever.
García Márquez mimics many of these biblical complexities and absurdities as Macondo rushes toward disintegration, and he has a mysterious Gypsy named Melquíades write it all down in a book of parchments—a book the memory of which is taken into exile by a minor character named Gabriel García Márquez, who had been friends with the last of the Buendías: Aureliano Babilonia Buendía (note his middle name), who translated Melquíades’ book.
As in the Bible, we read in One Hundred Years of Solitude of an endlessly overlapping and circling mythical history, and of that history’s translation into an ur-chronicle, which is then redacted by a human author to become the book that we get to hold in our hands and read. At twenty, with my hands empty and the finished novel on my chest, I only understood some of these vast resonances.
But the book utterly changed me and sent me on journeys that I couldn’t have imagined at the time, making One Hundred Years of Solitude both a starting-place and a constant point of return, an Alpha and Omega that can be wholly loved and appreciated by the unschooled twenty year old and the educated writer/critic alike—and in my case, connecting and uniting them into one constantly evolving person.