I had never read anything by Gabriel Garcia Márquez before this, but Book Riot challenged me to read a book set in South America or Central America by an author from South America or Central America. Someone else in my IRL Read Harder book group mentioned Márquez, so I decided to read this book. I had heard the title before, but didn’t know anything about it and figured I should educate myself, especially since Márquez won the Nobel prize for literature.
I’m not sure I liked this book. I really don’t know what to think of it. The title comes from the fact that the book takes place over approximately 100 years in a secluded village called Macondo. It starts when José Arcadio Buendía and his wife, Úrsula Iguarán, found the town with a bunch of other young adventurers from their hometown. It turns out José and Úrsula are cousins so, although they love each other, Úrsula is at first hesitant to consummate the marriage for fear their children will be born with a pig’s tail. But a neighbor makes so much fun of José for being sterile that José kills him, then does away with Úrsula’s literal chastity belt to consummate the marriage and maintain his dignity. But the fact that José killed a man is a big reason they flee their hometown in search of a place where they can be free of his ghost (which, as it turns out, is nowhere).
Úrsula gives birth to two boys, two girls, and then they end up adopting a fifth girl, named Rebeca, who just shows up on their doorstep one day with a bag of bones that supposedly belonged to her parents.
The two boys are named José Arcadio and Aureliano and each has certain traits of their father, though distinctly different personalities of their own.
The book goes on to chronicle the lives and families of the two boys, their sisters, and their children, and on through the decades. I’m going to stop giving their names here because the rest of the boys in the books were either named Aureliano, José Arcadio, or some variation thereof. It made it really hard to keep them all straight, but I started to think that might be the point. Not only do they all have similar personalities, but they also tend to keep making the same mistakes.
Úrsula is probably the longest-lived character in the book (apparently the last time she was coherent enough to calculate her age, she was in her 120s), and the older she gets, the more clearly she starts to see things (even as she loses her eyesight). She sees her grandchildren and great-grandchildren making the same mistakes of her husband and sons.
There’s magic and a years-long monsoon and technological advancements that are perceived as magic and attempts at alchemy. Most of all, I think this book was about the ways in which history repeats itself and the inevitability of fate. Although Úrsula never gave birth to any deformed children, her great-great-great-granddaughter and great-great-great-great-grandson end up falling in love and making a baby together, not realizing that they’re aunt and nephew (although they suspect they may be related). Their baby is born with a pig’s tail, although by the time he’s born Úrsula is long dead. The mother dies giving birth to him and his grief-stricken father neglects him to the point that he’s eaten by ants, which is simultaneously the end of the village of Macondo.
Overall, I think I enjoyed this book, but I’m not sure I would read it again or read anything else by Márquez. It was strange and hard to get into, although very well written.
What did you guys read this week? Any other prize-winning authors I should try?