“All human beings have three lives: public, private, and secret.” – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez passed away yesterday at the age of 87. As the world mourns the loss of one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, we reflect on personal memories and what he contributed to literature as a whole.
I first picked up One Hundred Years of Solitude while I was in college. The author’s name had been passed around by some friends of mine, and I was going through a phase where I was reading the classics. It’s first sentence …
“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.”
… is now considered one of the greatest openings to any literary work ever written. For me, I was immediately hooked. With this first sentence you can tell you’re about to read a unique book. One where ordinary objects like ice are treated extraordinarily, while instances of magical or very dramatic events, like the firing squad, would be treated ordinarily. This idea would be developed throughout the novel, and it would be one of the devices the author used to create a new literary style called magical realism.
In magical realism reality and fantasy are blended. One might think Garcia Marquez based his style off of combing Tolstoy with Tolkien, but that is far from the truth. The ultimate goal of this new style looks to showcase the point that reality is subjective. The subjectivity of reality is something that most people don’t think of during the course of their days or their lives, and it was something I didn’t think about until I read this book. Marquez puts it more eloquently though:
“What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.”
When reading One Hundred Years of Solitude the reading experience can vary widely from reader to reader, and that’s due to Garcia Marquez’s ability to distort traditional ideas about reality.
Magical realism only scratches the surface of the historical and thematic depth of One Hundred Years of Solitude. Macondo, the fictional setting for the story, is a peaceful almost utopian place until it is visited by outsiders. Solitude is disrupted and eventually the story follows the decline of Macondo and the story’s narrating family, the Buendia’s. Events that start to bring down Macondo are close related to historical events that happened in Latin America history: labor strikes, colonialism, and military campaigns, for example.
A few years later, and during some difficult times in my life, I discovered the idea of solitude. I ultimately learned that in today’s world many people don’t embrace the idea of solitude, instead their brain tricks them into feeling lonely. While figuring this out in my own life, I found myself thinking back to reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, and I was reminded of the entire arc of the plot which acts as a cautionary tale as to what can happen when solitude is absent.
One Hundred Years of Solitude also warns us about human nature and its tendency to repeat itself. The book itself seems to suggest time isn’t linear, but rather all events in the world are happening at once. A fascinating concept this is the part of the story that kept me up for nights thinking of the possibilities that it suggests.
A few years later I would read Love in the Time of Cholera and would again find consolation in Garcia Marquez’s words about the suffering found from being in love. Likening cholera and disease to the pangs felt in your stomach and your heart is a metaphor I frequently reference when thinking about love sickness. Despite the pain love can cause, trying to keep an open mind and an open heart is a hard learned lesson. Difficult as it is to keep an open heart, this quote from Love in the Time of Cholera encourages me to do just that:
“The heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good.”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s writing was so much more than a welcomed distraction from life. It pushed the literary art form in new directions; it encouraged writers to be more flexible; it provided readers with a wealth of thoughtful thematic ideas; it encouraged people to look at the world differently. In my own life, the writings of Gabriel Garcia Marquez had a major impact on me and the way I view the world, and that is why I believe this man’s writing will always be worth remembering.