For Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), I wanted to spotlight a particular writing style popularized and, in my opinion, perfected in Latin America. I became interested in Magical Realism through an article on Book Riot about Disney’s Encanto. The article explains Magical Realism as: “having magical/supernatural elements presented in an otherwise mundane setting…Magical Realism does not rely on heavy exposition or narration. Everything, according to the reticent narrator, is as it should be.” And today’s book One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez is one of the most famous examples of Magical Realism. Being the second most translated literary work in Spanish after Don Quixote, One Hundred Years is brimming with magic; Flowers raining from the sky, insomnia plagues, and beautiful women simply floating away. Yet, while the characters go about their lives, they don’t seem to realize that the world around them is magical. Everything is as it should be.
The 1967 novel One Hundred Years of Solitude begins with the first of its seven generations of the Buendía family. José Arcadio Buendía, with his wife/cousin Úrsula Iguarán, established an isolated village named Macondo and began to raise their family in that small community. And as the years go by, the family (all named after each other) grows and faces hardships, usually stemming from their ambitions to reach higher and go farther than they are able to. After being visited by the worldly Romani people and wanting to explore what the world has to offer, Macondo eventually grows into a thriving city with a train station and a banana plantation. However, when civil war begins to tear the country apart, and the plantation turns against its workers, the Buendía men and women live and die by their beliefs, and the family name lives on for better or worse. Through a cyclical repetition of misfortunes, battles, and incest, the house of the Buendía stands through the long years with Úrsula as their matriarch. But the family’s fate is controlled by the ceaseless march of time, and ghosts of their past (real and imagined) are waiting at the end of those 100 years.
As José Arcadio Buendía built Macondo by following a dream of building a beautiful city of mirrors, Márquez created Macondo to mirror our own world, especially that of Columbia and its imperialists. One Hundred Years of Solitude, while representing many aspects of Columbian life, is also a socio-political critique of Western Imperialism’s effect on Columbia. The banana plantation that overruns the town and its subsequent destruction is based on the Banana Massacre that Márquez experienced as a child. And the long war that takes Colonel Aureliano Buendía away from home is Columbia’s brutal Thousand Days’ War. For a book group, there is no shortage of ways to move your discussion. Topics can range from how Márquez shows the cyclical nature of history. Or how the Buendía family affected each other, all living under one roof for so long. And, of course, how the symbolism of Magical Realism drives the story. You also might need to consult a family tree to reference as you read along.
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Márquez, Gabriel García. One Hundred Years of Solitude. Harper Collins. 1967.