One Hundred Years of Solitude – A Bluffers Guide

by M.G. Harris

You’re a well-read person, interested in literature: all your friends know this about you. Yet somehow you haven’t gotten around to reading a book that critics and readers and academics reckon may be one of the best novels of the 20th century: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, known to friends and fans as Gabo. These things happen. I haven’t read anything by James Joyce or Proust. I made the mistake of saving lots of heavy reads for my retirement. But seems that as I age I don’t read with the same intensity of focus as in my twenties… However, who wants to admit they haven’t read such a book? So here’s enough to get you through a dinner party:

1. The opening line:

Might as well learn it off by heart – most aficionados know it, often quote it. At High Table dinner at St. Catherine’s College once, an Oxford don quoted it to me in Spanish.

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.
That firing squad…you won’t hear about it again for a few hundred pages. And contrary to what this single sentence implies, Colonel Aureliano Buendia isn't actually killed by the firing squad. The construction of the sentence, plus the flashback/flashforward narrative style, is something the author may have picked up from Juan Rulfo’s magical-realist ghost story, Pedro Paramo.

2.Garcia Marquez’s apparent rise from Colombian obscurity to Nobel prize-winning status is a myth, a rather Anglo-centric view:

In Latin America Gabo was already on his way to rock god status by the time OHYOS appeared. In fact, the first reading of OYOHS took place in a packed hall in Mexico City. He read from pages of an unfinished manuscript, to awed acclaim. The novel was a critical hit even before it was published.

3.What you need to know about the plot:

100 Years are those of Macondo – a fictitious, isolated town in an unnamed South American country, and the founding family, the Buendias. This is not one story, it is a hundred stories fighting to be heard. Layers upon layer of invention. Remember the bit in Groundhog Day when Bill Murray starts telling Andie McDowell the story of everyone in the Punxsutawney diner? Scheherazade-like, each story opens another.

Highlights you might want to refer to in your cocktail party chat:
Remedios the Beauty, the girl with an aroma so irresistible that one man risked and then broke his neck trying to see her naked. After totally unconsciously driving a series of men crazy with her beauty and scent, Remedios exits the novel by simply floating off into the air. (This is the kind of thing which led Roberto Bolano to mutter unhappily about Latin American authors being expected to write about ‘floating grandmothers.’)

Mauricio Babilonia, the suitor who walks around in a cloud of yellow butterflies. A popular song Macondo, tells about the novel, with a chorus dedicated to Mauricio: Mariposas amarillo, Mauricio Babilonia! Mariposas amarillo, que vuelven libarales!

Ursula, the matriarch who shrinks. Ursula is the wife of the town’s founder Jose Arcadio Buendia. She outlives almost all their descendants. Her osteoporotic shrinkage is so pronounced that at the end of the novel, feral children of remaining family members play with Ursula, as though she were a baby doll.

4.Macondo – does it exist?

In the first part of his autobiography Living to Tell the Tale Garcia Marquez writes movingly about a train journey he took to his family’s hometown of Aracataca, Colombia, to sell his mother’s house. One the way he passes the abandoned banana plantation, Macondo. A banana company brought life to Aracataca and when the company left, the town dwindled to a ghost town.

In OHYOS Macondo stands for the Aracataca of the author’s childhood memories; a town that once bloomed in the solitude of the Colombian heartland, then faded.

5.The Aurelianos and Arcadios:

Some editions of OHYOS have a family tree in the front. You’ll need it. The male characters in the Buendia family are all named Aureliano, Arcadio or Jose Arcadio. Quite a true reflection of the Latin-American tradition of naming sons after their father. (I have an uncle who named four boys after himself and his own father – Agustin) But there’s a trick to the males' names. They are a code; a hint at the true nature of the character. The Aurelianos tend to be cerebral and introvert, solving problems with brain rather than brawn. The Arcadios tend to be action-oriented, taking matters into their own hands, often violently.

6.The ending:

It’s a long novel, starts brilliantly but after a few hundred pages it does become somewhat bogged down in the town’s saga. I know some readers who didn’t finish. Which is a shame, because the ending is breathtaking. Impress friends by commenting on the circular nature of the ending, how it takes us back to a long-forgotten mystery; the undeciphered manuscript of Melquiades (a travelling gypsy, bringer of the ice of the opening line). Look away NOW if this article has persuaded you to read the novel…

One of the Aurelianos finally deciphers the manuscript – it’s a prescient history of the Buendia family. Its prophecy is fulfilled in the final pages: as the town of Macondo dies, so also the last of the Buendias, a neglected infant, is left to die and be eaten by ants. (I didn’t say it was a happy ending!)


Published in the UK in spring 2008 by Scholastic, Invisible City, the first title in THE JOSHUA FILES sequence, was the fastest selling children's fiction debut of that year. It launched MG Harris as a major new children‘s author, was shortlisted for several book awards and has sold translation rights in 18 countries to date. Followed in 2009 by the acclaimed, rollercoaster of a sequel, Ice Shock, and in Feb 2010 by Zero Moment, The Joshua Files is entertaining children and adults across the world. It has been variously compared to the thrillers of Michael Crichton and Matthew Reilly, to the Indiana Jones and X-Files movies, to Doctor Who. But the truth is—The Joshua Files is unique. The Joshua Files is a tightly plotted, twisting, turning blend of myth, action-adventure, sci-fi, magical realism and a touch of teen romance.

To visit her site click here or view her blog or the Joshua Files' dedicated site. She is also on Facebook and you can follow MG on Twitter.


MG Harris is currently touring. This article is #6 on the ZERO MOMENT blog tour. How is any of this relevant to The Joshua Files? That’s the trick to this post! For a chance to win a signed copy of any English-language Joshua book, follow RealMGHarris on Twitter and tweet her all the connections you can see to Joshua’s story. The most comprehensive answer wins! (If anyone gets the connection to Pedro Paramo she’ll throw in an extra bonus prize…).

Next on her ZERO MOMENT blog tour – Motivating your characters – the secret to success? on her website. 23rd April 2010)

1 comment:

Mirza Ghalib said...

This book was in my wishlist from the day it was declared in Oprah's Book Club, I guess in the year 2003. And finally when I actually got to read it, I think it was worth the wait. I lived with Ursula all from the very beginning from the discovery of Mocondo to the death of the last heir of the family after 100 year! Recommended to all readers and the family tree would be a great help provided at the beginning of the book since you are passing on to several generations in a single book. Congratulations to the Author!