Gabriel Garcia Marquez died today, and everyone is quite rightfully super bummed as he was amazing.
I’m not as smart as I like to be thought of, but I’m about to do a for-real smarty pants thing and that’s tell you why I liked a book. Because I can say in full honesty that Marquez’ major work “100 Years of Solitude” — a universally respected and beloved novel — is one of my favorite books if not my single favorite book, and I am so sad its author is gone that I want to tell you about why it is so great.
Here’s the trick: the title is misleading. “100 Years of Solitude” sounds sad and lonesome. Like a prison novel, or something from Kafka where twin siblings sit in a box forever and dread things that are never specified.
But “100 Years of Solitude” is anything but lonesome and sad. It is an explosively lively book full of joy and sex and hilarious characters. It is a huge epic masterpiece of happiness and recklessness.
It’s about a century in the history of a small fictional South American town called Macando, which is remote enough and old enough that despite/because of the poverty and lack of technology, magic things happen. There’s wizards and curses and gypsies and spells which all factor in to the story.
But the magic is incidental. The main focus of the story is the Buendia family, and how its members love each other and betray each other and sometimes fuck each other and hurt each other and long to help each other. Oh my God, it’s amazing, I’m talking too much.
It is also goddamn funny. If you are a person with a sense of humor and you also prefer the type of humor that one would describe as “deadpan” then you owe it to yourself to read this book.
Here is the opening which is one of the best openings to any book.
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point. Every year during the month of March a family of ragged gypsies would set up their tents near the village, and with a great uproar of pipes and kettledrums they would display new inventions. First they brought the magnet.
That first sentence is a humdinger. Please note how ridiculous it is.
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
The “as he faced the firing squad” is an ASIDE, an INCIDENTAL event. And it’s one the novel will not return to for over a hundred pages.
And then it says that the memory that the soon-to-be-executed colonel is thinking of is the day he and his father … discovered ICE? How can one discover ice?
This sentence is great, too. Not even one paragraph in and I’m smiling:
The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.
I never saw an interview with Marquez. I don’t know what he looked or sounded like. But throughout this book I developed a sense of a Latino man in his fifties with a thick mustache, who wore thick dapper cotton dress shirts, like I imagine Hemingway did. I imagine him with a furrowed brow, carrying around an armload of newspapers with coffee stains on them, thinking that the government was perpetually full of shit and that the women around him were all unfairly beautiful. I imagine him as an effortlessly funny and smart man. I am sad that this man whom I imagined so often is gone. I wonder what he was like?
I don’t have a precise enough brain to really analyze why it’s so great. I’ll say this: read this book and you will learn how to love everything far more than you do. The world will be more colorful and happy for the rest of your life. It’ll make you want to write things like this thing I’ve written: happy and yearning and excited!
P.S. He also wrote “Love in the Time of Cholera” which is a ridiculous love story that has one of the most effectively sentimental endings of all stories, and I hate how much I loved loved loved it.