As soon as I announced I would be reading One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, a friend who teaches English Language Arts commented that she liked the book, but used the visual family tree a lot because everyone seemed to have the same name. "Oh boy," I thought, "not only will the book be hard to read, it'll be confusing, too." I clearly needed a reading strategy if I was going to finish the book, let alone enjoy it.
This blog post is dedicated to the strategies I used to not only conquer One Hundred Years of Solitude, but to actually enjoy it.
1. Get a copy of the book that contains the Buendia family tree, or bookmark a web version as a favorite in your browser. This reference point should help prevent some of the confusion caused by similar/same names recurring throughout the generations. This family tree seems as good as any other:
2. After reading less than ten pages of text I opted for the audio version of the book. My public library had a Blackstone Audio 2014 version read by John Lee. Listening to the book was a brilliant choice. Lee handled the Spanish names and descriptions effortlessly, which really helped my comprehension and enjoyment. Follow this link for a brief audio sample of the book.
3. I read biographical information about Gabriel García Márquez and descriptions of magical realism before I got too far into the story. Never having studied literature with the assistance of a college professor, I needed some background information to help me appreciate the book. This obituary for Gabriel García Márquez in The New York Times by Jonathan Kandell was a good starting point. In fact, after reading this obituary I felt my attitude about this project shift from dread to excitement. Kandell had this to say about the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez:
In following the rise and fall of the Buendía family through several generations of war and peace, affluence and poverty, the novel seemed to many critics and readers the defining saga of Latin America’s social and political history. Mr. García Márquez made no claim to have invented magical realism; he pointed out that elements of it had appeared before in Latin American literature. But no one before him had used the style with such artistry, exuberance and power... “Reality is also the myths of the common people,” Mr. García Márquez told an interviewer. “I realized that reality isn't just the police that kill people, but also everything that forms part of the life of the common people.” (NYT, April 17, 2014)Professor Matthew Strecher defines magical realism as "what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe." (Princeton) Many of the strange events in One Hundred Years of Solitude must simply be accepted as magical realism.
4. I shared the listening experience with my husband. Though I was nearly 1/4th of the way through the audiobook, Don agreed to listen to the rest of it with me on a recent weekend road trip. I gave him a quick summary and intro to the characters before popping in the next CD, He picked up the story on the run. Don, unlike me, did take literature classes in college and was able to recognize the meaning of symbolism and themes that were lost on me. When we came to parts that confused both of us I would pause the disc and look for help on my smartphone. Shmoop became one of my favorite sources. This site is not only informational, it's also entertaining. Here is the opening paragraph, so you can see what I mean:
...In 1966, a moderately successful journalist is driving his family to Acapulco. All his life, he's wanted to write about growing up in his grandparents' house, but he's never really gotten a handle on just how to get across the weird mix of superstition, knowledge, religion, personal stories, and global history that surrounded him. Suddenly, the idea hits him full-on: a dead-end town; an endlessly repeating, cyclical, completely self-involved family; and above all, a narrator who doesn't give any kind of overarching ethical commentary on the insanity of the characters or on the supernatural and fantastical things being described (Shmoop Editorial Team).Don and I listened to and discussed One Hundred Years of Solitude during our drive to Eugene and back, probably nine hours total time. We talked about the characters and storyline, trying to figure out Garcia Marquez' intended meaning in the many surprising elements. We had the most fun with the biblical allusions: the Garden of Eden; the flood; the symbolism of the fish; themes of resurrection and salvation; and finally the wind of the Holy Spirit.
In all my previous reading experiences I never used literary aids as much as I did with One Hundred Years of Solitude. This statement makes it seem that understanding or enjoying this book would be impossible without literary aids. Honestly I was so "into" this book I simply had to know more. I was compelled to do my own personal research out of my own sense of curiosity. The reading/researching experience was extremely rewarding and added to my enjoyment.
We finished the last disc within a half hour of home giving us one last chance to talk about our experience of listening to this award winning, mind-blowing book. We both agreed that we enjoyed the shared experience and benefitted from the discussion.
Often works written in other languages lose something in translation. Gregory Rabassa translated One Hundred Years in 1970 and apparently Garcia Marquez preferred the English translation to the original Spanish. I'm not sure if that is true but I was never aware of issues related to language nuances missed in the translation.
To review, here are the steps I followed to enhance the reading of One Hundred Years of Solitude. I recommend you...
- Select a book with the Buendia family tree, or print a good one off the Internet.
- Read up on the author Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Magical Realism.
- Consider listening to the audio version of the book.
- Give in to the urge to do some of your own research on the book, its symbolism, and themes.
Because I followed these steps, reading a book I dreaded ended up being a very pleasurable experience.
Kandell, Jonathan. "Gabriel García Márquez, Conjurer of Literary Magic, Dies at 87."The New York Times. The New York Times, 17 Apr. 2014. Web. 21 Sept. 2014.
"Magic Realism." Princeton University. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2014.