My feelings about this novel were like the swells of the sea. At times, I loved the magical realism and the character interweaving, while at other times it was disjointed and irreverent, as the biographical information dragged on for pages with nothing really happening, like a the conversation you wish you hadn’t started with the stranger at the bus stop.
The last 30 pages or so are where this book earned its rating for me. This was the ultimate “wait for it…” book. The culmination of everything that happened, the justification of the need for so many frustratingly confusing characters and the symbolic meaning of so much of the book all came together at the end. I didn’t truly *get* the novel until then and when I did, it had a big pay off. I found so many quotables in those last chapters and the ending was exactly what it needed to be – magical, emotional, symbolic and panoptic.
One of my favorite aspects of this book is the interplay of memory and reality. It’s not only how the main characters use the past to alter their reality, but also the way the entire society views what we call fact. A fact, as defined in this book, is not simply what the characters see with their eyes and hear with their ears, but instead what they believe. The complete denial of what happens at the banana factory was a great example of that. For me, it was also a gut-punch that showed how truly corrupt colonial governments were in South America and offered some historical perspective on what we are seeing today in these countries.
Another moment that I loved in this book was the flood and subsequent drought. The level of supernatural events peaked here. Márquez’s description of the household and characters during these chapters is epic, from the mold spots on the sheets covering the gypsies’ carts and the bricks used to prop up the tables and chairs because there is a layer of water always on the floor to the air so saturated with moisture, fish could swim in the windows. These tall tale aspects made this novel special and reminded me of the movie Big Fish. Without these elements, the prophesies and cycles that haunt the family don’t have as much credibility and power. Just like how holy texts like the Bible have such resonance and staying power because the stories in them are larger than life. There are a lot of Bible elements too. My favorite is that Aureliano Babilonia comes along and fulfills the prophesy that destroys the once great city… just like real life Babylon.
I recommend reading the book steadily, as my slow read over a month made following who was who and keeping track a nuisance, even with the family tree in the back – speaking of which, super spoilers there! I made good use of that graphic, often using it to refresh myself on what exactly *this* Aureliano or Jose Arcadio had done and when.
Overall, fantastic novel and one that I’m still really understanding and digesting. Even if you don’t love it from start to finish, as was the case with me, I think Márquez rewards the patient reader in the end.
** Footnote: An interesting bit of trivia or hearsay, depending on your standards for what a fact is: Salman Rushdie was a huge fan of One Hundred Years of Solitude and Gabriel Garcia Márquez in general, so much so that Rushdie’s book, The Satanic Verses, featured a protagonist named Gibreel and a similar magical realism style.