Cease, cows, life is short.
Full disclaimer 1: This book will not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Full disclaimer 2: Keeping in mind the enormity of this narrative, I will only attempt to do partial justice to this review.
This book had been on my list for the last two years, sitting on my pile labeled ‘to read’. Somehow it always found its way to the bottom of the pile, bearing the load of other literature on its back that always seemed to climb up the ladder of my reading priority. It was perhaps due to the general view out there that it’s a complex read.
Now that that’s out of the way, we can talk about a book that is nothing less than a masterpiece. Written by the Columbian writer Gabriel García Márquez in 1967, it is a novel that spans over multiple generations. It is set in the town of Macondo, a fictional place so far removed from reality that people believe in flying carpets, in the magic of magnets and where ice is a wonder.
Why is this book a masterpiece? The author has set the book alive with magic realism, making the possibilities endless for imagination, for pushing the boundaries with language. He sets up the schema in such a way that it becomes possible to create events in shapes and forms that prove instrumental for portraying characters, exploring attributes that contribute to the complexity of human nature.
The beauty of this book is that it heavily relies on descriptive writing to create a powerful narrative without relying on dialogue. The dialogue is really scarce throughout the text. If you are a person who is looking for a story to read, then I would ask you to leave this book alone. However if you are someone who craves to lose themselves in the enchantment of the power of words, please go ahead and enjoy phrases such as “tying a colourful string of chatter together” or “rumble of the termites as they carved the wood” and “the snipping of the moths in the clothes closets”, language so vivid that you can almost hear the termites and moths hard at work, bringing about destruction. One of my absolute favourite lines is “The world must be all fucked up, when men travel first class and literature goes as freight.” The author’s ability to give life to inanimate objects is undeniably the most powerful tool used to impress upon the vividness of the world that he has created.
There are as many stories running in this book as there aren’t. This work is majorly a portrayal of journeys undertaken by several generations of a family who exist in each others’ presence in absolute solitude. They go around carrying the burden of life, each in their own way with their unique codes of life. However they do not remain unaffected from the actions and decisions of each other. It has a profound impact on shaping and driving the course of future generations. This is depicted in the strong metaphor Marquez uses of time going around in a circle. The characteristic traits of the family are unconsciously transcribed, adopted through heredity and translated sometimes across multiple generations, thus rendering it impossible to break the circle and making repetition of history unavoidable.
There are too many characters in the book to comment on them all. So I have picked a few to review. There is Jose Arcadio Buendia who is driven into madness with his un quenchable thirst for innovation, who sets the wheels in motion by giving rise to Macondo. There is his wife Ursula who has the undying need to set things right even in the face of calamities. The author makes a very powerful point using Ursula that as humans the understanding and comprehension of others around us doesn’t simply come about by seeing them. Our mental constructs of those around us rise from us being watchful and through the silence of observation, and not through the simple magic of sight.
Amaranta is a mighty character who spends her life nurturing with hatred the tender love she develops as a young girl. She dedicates her life and soul to the one person whom she deems responsible for snatching her love, as a result of which she tends and nurtures further passions in life, only to murder them mercilessly herself, when they become mature enough to leave the crib. It seems that her rival in love Rebecca holds onto dear life, despite her slow decay for decades, simply to spite her worthy opponent. Then there is Fernanda, she has been so miserable for so long that it has become a part of her person, she doesn’t ever notice it "Rain didn’t bother her, it had been raining all her life". She who goes through the motions of life unaffected, going through the charade meticulously just so she doesn’t have to face her misery and drown in it, perpetually avoiding the inevitable. There is such an array of complex characters that it is an enormous task attempting to do justice to all. All in all the manner in which the conclusion of the narrative has been executed is powerful in itself. It is a manifestation of the repetitive nature of life, drawing on the metaphor of time going around in circle, unless of course “it stumbles and has an accident, in which case it can splinter and leave an eternalized fragment in a room”.