One Hundred Years of Solitude

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez

The novel tells the story of the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendía family. It is a rich and brilliant chronicle of life and death, and the tragicomedy of humankind. In the noble, ridiculous, beautiful, and tawdry story of the Buendía family, one sees all of humanity, just as in the history, myths, growth, and decay of Macondo, one sees all of Latin America.

Love and lust, war and revolution, riches and poverty, youth and senility — the variety of life, the endlessness of death, the search for peace and truth — these universal themes dominate the novel. Whether he is describing an affair of passion or the voracity of capitalism and the corruption of government, Gabriel García Márquez always writes with the simplicity, ease, and purity that are the mark of a master.

Alternately reverential and comical, One Hundred Years of Solitude weaves the political, personal, and spiritual to bring a new consciousness to storytelling. Translated into dozens of languages, this stunning work is no less than an accounting of the history of the human race.

I’ve yet to meet someone who read this book and didn’t absolutely love it. The language is beautiful, imaginative, and sweeping. It is the pinnacle of achievement of magical realism.

I’ll admit to harboring a very large soft spot for works of Spanish origin, in translation (see my Author Spotlight on Carlos Ruiz Zafon or my post on Blindness). It’s not a secret and I’ll admit to it in a heartbeat. That said, I can’t exactly what it is that draws me in. At the risk of sounding cliched and generalizing, in all my reading I have discovered that in the translated works of regions of the worlds, there exists in each a flavor of the region. It’s something that’s hard to articulate and even harder to pin down. What is it that makes Chinese literature feel different from Spanish or French or Russian literature? I have no answer for that, other than I would posit that potentially communities of people are connected by more than just language and locality- they are connected by something intangible, but no less real, something that binds them irrevocably to their people.

Anyway, back to the book at hand. The work is thick and rich like a good stew; like a stew, it takes a while to come into its full flavor. It must be enjoyed slowly, with measured sips. Do not expect to be in control while reading- the magic and singularity of Garcia-Marquez’s Macondo will draw you in and hold you fast, attempting to drown you beneath the sweet-sounding prose. It is a drowning yes, but what a sweet drowning it is.

I read this book over a period of weeks last year, only reading before bed. I think this is a book best enjoyed that way, when the day is done, when the night is dark and deep, and when the book may welcome you in with the warm embrace of a dreamer, wrapping and unfolding you until you drift off into a sleep colored by beauty.

This is one of a number of books that make me wish I were fluent in Spanish. I’m told its exquisite in its native language. Of that, I have no doubt. It’s exquisite in translation so how could it be otherwise? Whatever your means, Spanish, English, whathaveyou, I encourage you to find a copy of this book and drink deep of the well Garcia-Marquez.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

This is a truly beautiful book. I have much to say about it, but perhaps it would be best to let the book speak for itself. Anything I might have to say is insufferably insipid besides the beauty of a passage like this.

Do you know what a summer rain is?

To start with, pure beauty striking the summer sky, awe-filled respect absconding with your heart, a feeling of insignificance at the very heart of the sublimee, so fragile and swollen with the majesty of things, trapped, ravished, amazed by the bounty of the world.

And then, you pace up and down a corridor and suddenly enter a room full of light. Another dimension, a certainty just given birth. The body is no longer a prison, your spirit roams the clouds, you possess the power of water, happy days are in store, in this new birth.

Just as teardrops, when they are large and round and compassioante, can leave a long strand washed clean of discord, the summer rain as it washes away the motionless dust can bring to a person’s soul something like endless breathing.

This is the way a summer rain can take hold in you-like a new heart, beating in time with another’s.

Blindness

Blindness by Jose Saramago

A city is hit by an epidemic of “white blindness” that spares no one. Authorities confine the blind to an empty mental hospital, but there the criminal element holds everyone captive, stealing food rations and assaulting women. There is one eyewitness to this nightmare who guides seven strangers—among them a boy with no mother, a girl with dark glasses, a dog of tears—through the barren streets, and the procession becomes as uncanny as the surroundings are harrowing. A magnificent parable of loss and disorientation and a vivid evocation of the horrors of the twentieth century, Blindness has swept the reading public with its powerful portrayal of man’s worst appetites and weaknesses-and man’s ultimately exhilarating spirit.

Saramago’s Blindness is not a novel you read when you want a little injection of happiness in your life. It’s not a novel you read when you’re searching for the companion to your sadness. Blindness is a novel you read when you want to contemplate the origin of sin and the components of humanity. This is a terrifying descent into hell and back, not unlike Dante’s masterpiece The Divine Comedy . Who are people when they are no longer held accountable?

Originally published in 1995 and made into a film in 2008, the novel follows the citizens of the world as they are struck by an epidemic of blindness. The novel centers primarily on the experiences of an eye doctor and his wife as they try to navigate this new world. In an effort to keep the epidemic from spreading, the initial sufferers of the plague of blindness are quarantined in an old mental hospital. From there, the treatment of the blind and their conditions of living fall deplorably.

Saramago’s real stroke of mastery is providing the reader with one character who has not been struck blind amongst all the others- the doctor’s wife. Thus, we are given an eye-witness in the world of the blind.

The metaphorical use of eyes, sight, and vision is appropriately rampant throughout the novel. Told with penetrating detail, Saramago uses the doctor’s wife to provide an entry into this horrific situation. He pays close attention to the level of filth and disorder that gradually coats the world, so much so that it feels oppressive even to the reader.

The doctor’s wife lives in constant fear that she may lose her eyesight like everyone else. Though she fears this development, she also longs for it in that she would not have to see the depravity to which the world has fallen.

When I initially began reading this novel, I was warned that it would be difficult to get through. Not in the sense that the writing isn’t engaging or the plot slow (both quite untrue). Blindness is difficult to get through because Saramago is ruthless in his description of peoples’ behavior towards one another, taking their cruelty and barbarity to a visceral level. Even with the forewarning, I indeed contemplated setting down the book because I was unsure if I could continue reading.

That said, the difficulty in reading the novel is also its strong point. It takes great skill in a writer and storyteller to unsettle the reader to such a degree that they will consider putting the book aside for no other reason than unease.

Author Spotlight: Carlos Ruiz Zafon

A few summers back, I wandered into my local Barnes & Noble. I was hoping to interview with a literary agent the next week and wanted to read one of the books she represented. While looking for that one, I stopped the display for Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Angel’s Game.With a title like that, I couldn’t not pick it up and skim the back.

In an abandoned mansion at the heart of Barcelona, a young man, David Martín, makes his living by writing sensationalist novels under a pseudonym. The survivor of a troubled childhood, he has taken refuge in the world of books and spends his nights spinning baroque tales about the city’s underworld. But perhaps his dark imaginings are not as strange as they seem, for in a locked room deep within the house lie photographs and letters hinting at the mysterious death of the previous owner.

Like a slow poison, the history of the place seeps into his bones as he struggles with an impossible love. Close to despair, David receives a letter from a reclusive French editor, Andreas Corelli, who makes him the offer of a lifetime. He is to write a book unlike anything that has ever existed–a book with the power to change hearts and minds. In return, he will receive a fortune, and perhaps more. But as David begins the work, he realizes that there is a connection between his haunting book and the shadows that surround his home.

I was hooked. I wanted to buy the book right then. Then I noticed The Shadow of the Wind on the table beside it. That one was in paperback while the other was in hardcover. I set down The Angel’s Game and picked up The Shadow of the Wind. In case you’re wondering, I also bought the book I game in for which was title, Something Missing (also good, might do a review in the future).

The book sat on my shelf for awhile. It wasn’t until Christmas that I started it. And I fell in love.

At this date, I’ve read The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game. I own The Prince of the Mist, but I haven’t read it yet. Zafon has utterly captivated me. I simply cannot believe only three of his books are available in English. Simply put, his work is fantastic. Every time I’ve recommended his novels, I’ve scored a hit.

Zafon has a lurid and lush writing style. He composes sentences that twist and fold in upon themselves like the shadowy streets of his romantic Barcelona. Zafon plans to write a four-book series that involve the mysterious place called The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Literature is involved at every level in his work. From this secret library sort of place to the readers who delve in its works to the bookseller and his son to the young author, Zafon paints the world of the bibliophile with love. And Barcelona is the perfect backdrop for it all. Beyond Paris and London, it is one of those cities infused with the romanticism of the nineteenth century.

One of my friends said his work was very cinematic. This is true, but it’s not cinematic in the Hollywood blockbuster sort of style. The Barcelona Zafon creates for the readers is as vivid and colorful as a reel of film.

Although this is an author spotlight, I’m going to briefly comment on the two novels I’ve read. Both are considered to be for adults. His previous works, including The Prince of the Mist and his untranslated works, are geared towards young adults. Of the two novels, I enjoyed The Shadow of the Wind a little more. The Angel’s Game is dark and twisted, much more so than the preceding book. While both books deal in the currencies of sadness, regret, and memory, The Angel’s Game provides little respite from those hard-hitting overtones. However, I would easily recommend both books.

Book Blogger Thoughts:

The Shadow of the Wind at Jo’s County Junction

The Shadow of the Wind at I Hug My Books

The Angel’s Game at Compulsive Reader

The Angel’s Game at My Wordly Obsessions