One Hundred Years of Solitude, written by Nobel Prize winner and Colombian Gabriel García Márquez, has earned its place as one of the greatest novels of all time — with a string of awards and rankings to show for it. First published in 1967, this work of fiction mixes mysticism and reality, while offering lessons for life.
These lessons may be subtle, but they are many and spread throughout the chapters. For the cognizant reader, Solitude can be a guide for someone trying to change the status quo.
García Márquez, who passed away in 2014, tells the story of a family who reside in the fictitious village of Macondo — isolated from the rest of the world but in Colombia. And he traces this family back to the utopic founders of the village, beginning with patriarch José Arcadia Buendía and matriarch Úrsula Inguarun (Buendía).
As with Brazilian Paulo Coelho’s novel, The Alchemist, the reader can readily identify with specific topics, based on what is happening in his own life. In particular, García Márquez lifts the veil on the cruelty and misguided grievances that we as human beings are often guilty of. Further, the mystical style — known as magical realism — creates new experiences each time someone reads the book.
Even better, the novel consumes the reader, and offers a personal experience like no other. Solitude takes on the full breadth of human nature and what so many are willing to do, ignore, or allow for the sake of money, power, and greed.
Beyond the somber tones, the beauty and readability behind García Márquez’s unique style comes from surprising twists and turns along the way — as he plays with the reader in several ways. Most of the family members, for example, have the same name, and often one has to refer to the family tree presented on the first page.
If the reader steps back and takes a critical look at the book’s events, several questions come to mind, left hanging for individual interpretation. One wonders, have such events really happened, or are they simply the product of the author’s active imagination?
One navigates these events mainly through the eyes of Úrsula Buendía, a woman of strong character throughout the plot. Through her, García Márquez shows the reader that we are able to create our own reality, even in trying times. When Úrsula faces ghosts and death, events out of her control, she learns to “see” and respond to things in the way of her choosing.
Although we are never told the precise ages of the characters, most of the family members live in the same house for what seems to be 100 years. Many often leave, but somehow along the way they return to Macondo, to live in solitude in the small untouched village. García Márquez thus explores what isolation (and its cessation) does to an individual, a family, a village, and to progress.
One might imagine the locals sticking together, but García Márquez details a fracture over religion — one we are so familiar with at the national and international levels. Strong views on the matter lead to de facto seclusion for some members of the family, even though they reside together in the same household.
With time comes the element that perhaps most captivates the contemporary world, almost half a century after the novel’s release. The years may pass slowly in Macondo, but inevitably the village faces the arrival of a banana company with modernization: “progress, industry, and development.” In a parallel of what continues to happen to this day, locals in the developing world find themselves enthralled by a system they have yet to understand.
The banana company brings workers, managers, and foremen who dislodge the demographics of the village and supplant the way of life of its inhabitants. The new power structure is foreign to the locals, who see a new layer of haves — those with so much more than the subsistence incomes of the prior and remaining have-nots.
This juxtaposition is worth your attention. It challenges the reader to consider how modernization and resource extraction in virgin and undeveloped locales actually play out. That includes the potential for injustice on account of misappropriation and deception, particularly with the specter of corruption ever present.
Nicole Phillips is a Jamaican immigrant in South Florida who holds a bachelors degree in public relations and a masters in international and intercultural communication, both from the University of Florida. An avid reader and traveler, she has a passion for international development. Follow @nicksnacks22.