Category Archives: Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Rereading ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’

WARNING: This contains spoilers!

  1. Things have a life of their own… it’s simply a matter of waking up their souls. (2)
  2. I find the above cover for this edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude hysterical. When in the book exactly does this moment occur? At what point does one of the female characters have a blue macaw perched upon their shoulders? There’s a reference to macaws during the epic journey to found Macondo, specifically to their “harsh and musky taste.” I guess that cover as it is looks sufficiently “exotic” or whatever. But I suppose the cover from the childhood edition I was familiar with isn’t much better? At least with that one I can vaguely say what scene it’s reflecting! Bah, I like the one for my Spanish edition (which I can’t find online) the best.
  3. I first read this book in Spanish in senior year of high school, something we all looked forward to very much as it felt like a proper initiation–we were finally one of the “older kids”; we would join the club of having read the book we’d spent our entire lives hearing about.
  4. Our teacher had us write little descriptions under the name of each family member in the family tree. So José Arcadio Buendía became el patriarca, José Arcadio of the second generation became el gitano, Arcadio of the third generation became el dictador, and so forth. It was very helpful.
  5. As a project for Art Class, my sister made a diorama of the book, with cartoon drawings of the characters. I liked her one of Rebeca eating dirt the best. I think Rebeca is my favorite character…
  6. Along with spending an entire semester reading this book, senior year (or was it 11th grade? I’m starting to doubt myself… God, my memory) was also the time when we took a class about Colombian history. COLMUNDO. God, so many timelines we had to memorize, so many treaties. Colombian history is intense and fascinating and I wish I’d learned more about it in my youth in a way that didn’t primarily emphasize memorizing dates :/
  7. In terms of vivid writing techniques, García Márquez does a great job of using smells in this book, most memorably with Pilar Ternera’s smell of smoke under her armpits.
  8. There’s lots of little moments in this book that I love in general, like when José Arcadio is stumbling around, looking for Pilar Ternera’s sleeping figure, and he bumps against a man who turns in his sleep and says, “It was Wednesday.” (27).
  9. Or when Úrsula thinks her love-struck sons have worms, and she feeds them a paste till they poop out some rose-colored parasites.
  10. The word “shit” comes up frequently in this book–most memorably near the end, when Úrsula shouts out, “Shit!” and Amaranta looks up in alarm, thinking it’s a scorpion. “Where’s the bug?” Amaranta asks, and Úrsula points at her heart and says, “Here.” :(
  11. The frequency of the word “shit” reminds me of the final sentence of Nobody writes to the colonel. Or the way intestines and shit are emphasized throughout Crónica de una muerte anunciada. In both those books, the frequent references to shit functions as a way to condemn the community’s lack of accountability, of the basic shittiness and lack of justice in the world. I wonder if it’s doing the same thing here.
  12. Reading this book makes me feel hot and sleepy. Like I was in a stuffy room without a fan. But in a good way? García Márquez must have based this feeling on the afternoons of his childhood–I definitely feel like I’m living in a sleepy slow town while reading this.
  13. “The host dust that made everything old and clogged up, and the drowsiness caused by lunchtime meatballs in the unbearable heat of siesta time.” (352)
  14. Who has the saddest fate in this book? Meme, with her shaved head and silence in the Cracow hospital? Paralyzed Mauricio Babilonia? José Arcadio Segundo, traumatized by his survival of the massacre? Kiddie raper/aspiring Pope José Arcadio of the fifth generation, psychologically destroyed by Amaranta’s molestations? Rebeca in her “A Rose for Emily”-like self-imposed solitude?
  15. The characters seem most unique in their deaths, in contrast to their names and lives…
  16. I think reading it this time round, the fate of José Arcadio Buendía (el patriarca) hit me surprisingly hard. Passages like the one below reminded me of the accounts of kidnapping victims I’ve read, in which it’s the passage of time, the blurriness of the identical days, that becomes the most hellish thing to deal with:
  17. “What day is it today?” Aureliano told him that it was Tuesday. “I was thinking the same thing,” José Arcadio Buendía said, “but suddenly I realized that it’s still Monday, like yesterday. Look at the sky, look at the walls, look at the begonias. Today is Monday too.” Used to his manias, Aureliano paid no attention to him. On the next day, Wednesday, José Arcadio went back to the workshop. “This is a disaster,” he said. “Look at the air, listen to the buzzing of the sun, the same as yesterday and the day before. Today is Monday too.” … On Thursday he appeared in the workshop again with the painful look of plowed ground. “The time machine has broken,” he almost sobbed… He spent six hours examining things, trying to find a difference… in the hope of discovering in them some change that would reveal the passage of time.
  18. Santa Sofía de la Piedad is definitely a character who manages to exist without existing (if that makes sense)–she doesn’t get a POV moment until the end, when she departs. At least the author lets her escape Macondo before its destruction, a small gesture of grace towards her sacrifices. This must have been one of the trickiest things about writing this book (among the MANY, many tricky things)–stating the fates of peripheral characters, so that they wouldn’t just disappear.
  19. Is Fernanda with her close-minded ways the book’s biggest villain? Mr. Brown the gringo who brings the banana plantation?
  20. Is the downfall of Macondo due to the treatment of Úrsula as an irrelevant plaything by the children? The death of Pilar Ternera, the oldest character in the book, whose last name sounds like the Spanish word for “tenderness”? Obviously the banana plantation massacre is a key turning point…
  21. “What did you expect?” he murmured. “Time passes.” “That’s how it goes,” Ursula said, “but not so much.” (341)
  22. I found the final hundred pages of the book deeply intriguing, as they’re the ones I never remember quite as well as the others. I’d forgotten that the characters Gabriel and Mercedes represent the author himself and his wife, for instance–they leave Macondo for Paris, and Gabriel is last seen in the imagination of Aureliano Babilonia, writing by night in a room that smelled of boiled cauliflower (those smells again!!).
  23. And I’d completely forgotten about how much time is spent discussing the bookshop owner from Catalonia, and the time spent there by Aureliano Babilonia and his friends. Is this the one form of redemption offered to Macondo? The fact that a few of its residents were able to escape via literature, via the mad energy of their Savage Detectives-like youthful impulses?
  24. Another big theme of the book that sunk in for me is the pointlessness of violence, and the damaging effects of war, seen most clearly through the Colonel, who basically becomes a walking corpse. His actual death feels so cruel (I’ve never understood why it follows the carnival scene). Such a withered husk of a man.
  25. The way this book depicts old age, illness, and decay is also commendable.
  26. Additionally, the way García Márquez writes sex scenes was very interesting to me, specifically how he depicts the passion without ever specifically saying what’s exactly going on in terms of, you know, what body part is where…
  27. I love how the chapter in which the ascencison of Remedios the Beauty occurs is also the chapter about the arrival of the cinema to Macondo. Which is more miraculous?
  28. I also love the unexpected parallels that I’d never noticed before in previous readings, the little mirroring moments of which there are surely many (how many are deliberate and how many emerged unconsciously during the writing?). Like José Arcadio Bunedía’s discovery of the skeleton in armor and the galleon beached inland, and then his son’s discovery during his gypsy travels of the preserved armour of a Crusader within the belly of a sea dragon. Two reminders of never-ending cycles of war and violence. This is the kind of book that makes you an active reader: you don’t just react to the text, you remember it while you read it.
  29. I want to give the insomnia plague passage to my students in order to provoke a discussion about the connection between words and their meanings. Isn’t it interesting how insomnia ties in to the end, in which everyone forgets the massacre, the wars, the Buendías themselves? Is the insomnia plague a subtle political metaphor for the erasure of memories and stories?
  30. I read an essay which García Márquez wrote early on in his career, about how the documentary impulse that characterized many of the early novels about Colombia’s la violencia period was fundamentally misguided, as they become so gory and obsessed with describing the massacres, the wounds, the desecrated bodies, that they cease to be novels at all. What would García Márquez have made of Part 4 in 2666, with its infamous catalog of corpses?
  31. Speaking of Bolaño, there’s an interesting essay to be written about García Márquez’s use of mirrors and history vs. Bolaño’s…
  32. I could go on to 100, but that would be way too cheesy, so I’ll just stop here :) I’ll save it for the next reread…

Leave a comment

Filed under books, colombia, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, review

On Gabo


On Pablo Escobar’s influence on Colombian culture: Easy money … was injected into the national culture. The idea prospered: The law is the greatest obstacle to happiness, it is a waste of time learning how to read and write, you can live a better, more secure life as a criminal than as a law-abiding citizen — this was the social breakdown typical of all undeclared wars.

On the relationship between journalism and literatureThat supposedly bad influence that journalism has on literature isn’t so certain. First of all, because I don’t think anything destroys the writer, not even hunger. Secondly, because journalism helps you stay in touch with reality, which is essential for working in literature.

On writing and realityIt always amuses me that the biggest praise for my work comes for the imagination, while the truth is that there’s not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality… That’s a journalistic trick which you can also apply to literature. For example, if you say that there are elephants flying in the sky, people are not going to believe you. But if you say that there are four hundred and twenty-five elephants flying in the sky, people will probably believe you… The problem for every writer is credibility. Anybody can write anything so long as it’s believed. [There’s also lots of good quotes in this article about the writing process itself]

On the traditional conception of his so-called “magical realism“: The safe and pretty version of magical realism—Magical Realism Lite—has little to do with the more vigorous Garcíamarquian version in which skulls sprout hair and sunflowers grow out of sores… The true texture of Colombia’s beauty comes not by pretending its problems are wholly over, but in seeing how darkness is interwoven with the light. García Márquez knows this. There’s no denying that for all its hyperfabulism, his fiction is stained with the ink of Colombia’s most despairing headlines.

On reality, history & subjectivityPoetry, Auden said, makes nothing happen. It is not a revolution, not an election, not even a platform. García Márquez understood that the highest service literature can perform is to give people an image of their historical reality, especially the way that reality has shaped their souls. One Hundred Years of Solitude is political for the same reason neorealism is: it shows us not only the lives of ordinary people but also the political context that creates them and the historical context that creates that.

Me, reading in Nuevo Laredo and Campeche.

And hanging out with Julio Cortázar.


Top moments of my childhood:

  • The diorama of “100 Years of Solitude” that my sister made in Art Class–the figures she made of Rebecca (eating dirt) and Jose Arcadio (the patriarch, tied to the tree) were particularly impressive.
  • Watching the movie Milagro en Roma for Spanish class and being FREAKED OUT BEYOND BELIEF by that creepy toy monkey, let alone the girl’s non-decomposing body. Gah, what was the teacher THINKING?
  • The way we get to calculate what grade we’re in by what García Márquez novel/short story we read that year: sixth grade, short stories like “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings” and “Eyes of a Blue Dog.” Eighth grade, “Crónica de una muerte anunciada.” And of course, EVERYBODY looked forward to senior year, because that’s when we finally, finally, finally got to spend an entire semester focusing on “Cien años de soledad.” That’s how you really KNEW you were finally a Young Adult. Thank God for Ms. Aguirre and that family tree she drew us that I still have sketched in on the first page of my copy.

And finally from “One Hundred Years of Solitude”:

“The world must be all fucked up… when men travel first class and literature goes as freight.”

“Wherever they might be they always remember that the past was a lie, that memory has no return, that every spring gone by could never be recovered, and that the wildest and most tenacious love was an ephemeral truth in the end.”

“Things have a life of their own… it’s simply a matter of waking up their souls.”

Leave a comment

Filed under colombia, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Gabo in Nuevo Laredo

Even though this is my third week of living in Nuevo Laredo, I feel like the main thing I want to talk about is all the food I’ve been eating because that’s one of the things I find most exciting about being in Mexico. Like yesterday I went to this giant market with my co-workers and their kids that everyone calls las pulgas (the fleas). There’s a saying that “para calidad, hay que ir a liverpulgas” because apparently there’s a trendy department store in either Mexico or Texas that’s called Liverpool… hence the ironic play on words “liverpulgas.” For lunch we had a big steaming bowl of menudo, or soup made of lining from a cow’s stomach. I’m not going to lie to you… it was hard to finish. I poured on the little green chilis and onions and cilantro like nobody’s business. But yeah, I’m proud to say that unlike the tripe tacos (I could only eat one, and it made me horribly ill), I ate the whole bowl of menudo. Go me. And then we walked for what seriously felt like 2 kilometers through the stalls. I ended up only buying one shirt even though I seriously need more, I’m sure all my co-workers have noticed by now that I wear the same rotating set of six shirts every week.

The main thing I wanted to write about here, though, isn’t so much the food or what it’s like to live in Nuevo Laredo or what I’m doing here (you can read all that on the Kiva Fellows blog). What I wanted to say here was that yesterday I found a plaza right near my apartment that not only looks like a good place to go running, but more importantly, there is a LIBRARY right near by! Well, I guess it’s not really a library, because you’re not allowed to check books out, it’s a “center to promote reading.” But they have shelves and shelves of books of photography and novels in Spanish and English. I spent an hour reading “Richard the III,” struggling to understand how everyone was related but loving the hell out of it. I only left because the place closed.

The coolest thing is that it’s named after none other than Gabriel Garcia Marquez, autor nacional de la tierra de mi alma. Yes, apparently he donated serious monies to build the place and came to the inauguration naming ceremony and everything. Apparently (according to the informative plaques inside the building) Gabo has a special affection for Nuevo Laredo because it was the first part of Mexico that he passed through.

The reading center built right by the railway track, which is where he took the train with his family. It’s an awesome, well-lit space with a snazzy little cafe. And a children’s center that is filled with the EXACT SAME inflatable green turtles from IKEA that I wrestled mightily to blow up for the Boys & Girls Club! A strangely small, surreal world indeed. I wish I’d taken a picture for proof.
Garcia Marquez’s books translated into different languages such as Estonian, Czech and Danish.

Reading = Growing, and lovely old copies of Don Quixote behind a glass case.

Oh, it just all brought tears to my eyes, the sight of books lined up on shelf after shelf. It just seemed like such a tranquil, lovely scene of beauty in the middle of a city that gets such a bad rep from everyone. It’s discovering places like this that makes me so glad and grateful to have the opportunity to travel to cities that are brusquely dismissed as “not worth it” or “unsightly and dirty” in guidebooks. Lago Agrio and Coca in Ecuador. Tijuana and Nuevo Laredo in Mexico. Cali in Colombia isn’t exactly spoken of as a haven of beauty either. But I love these cities! It’s what I’m used to, what I grew up with. Cracked sidewalks covered in grass. Dogs with the dirtiest, most disgusting eye sockets you can imagine, all runny with pus and so gross it just makes you want to vomit. Street food. Sugary drinkable yogurt. Men hissing ooh beautiful white girl wherever I go (okay, this I can live without).

I think something a lot of people get out of traveling is the feeling that they’re suddenly experiencing what it’s like to see themselves through someone else’s eyes. When I moved to Portland I experienced the opposite effect; it was like suddenly and magically becoming invisible. Suddenly, I could blend in, I wasn’t the white girl with the hair that always inevitably stood out in the crowd anymore as an obvious foreigner. In Portland I can lie and say that I’ve grown up in Oregon my entire life and that I’d learned Spanish in high school and no one would ever be the wiser. How weird, right?. How funny that when I travel to Spanish-speaking countries I get the feeling like I’m coming home, that I’m returning to a comforting site of familiarity, that “standing out” as the obvious clueless foreigner is the state I’m more used to.

Some cartoon drawings hanging on the walls of the reading center.



Filed under books, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, library, Nuevo Laredo, travel