Master Builder

One Hundred Years of Solitude

by Gabriel García Márquez, translated by Gregory Rabassa
Harper & Row, 422 pp., $7.95

Gabriel García Márquez
Gabriel García Márquez; drawing by David Levine

Since its publication in 1967, Gabriel García Márquez’s Cien años de soledad has provoked throughout Latin America reactions far beyond those of ordinary critical approval. Indeed, this novel by a Colombian writer who has lived in Europe for the last fifteen years has been welcomed, written about, and discussed by Spanish readers with an almost relieved exuberance, as if to suggest that the style and sensibility of their history had at last been represented by a writer who understands their particular secrets and rhythms, by a writer who, moreover, presents these qualities with a classic lucidity and humor, and whose art is large enough to include the rough and the fastidious taste, to be epic at a time when so much of what is interesting in literature belongs to the idiosyncratic and consciously complex—certainly timely qualities for our fiction, but qualities not particularly suited to an imagination which wishes to span a century of narrative or catch the essence of an entire culture.

One has only to read a few pages of Márquez’s novel to understand the response it has occasioned. Immediately, the reader senses in its style a simple audaciousness which alerts him to the premise that he is attending to something more than an ordinary chronicle of fiction, that he is being presented, rather, with a work that presumes nothing, that starts from a beginning both in literary and historical time, as if existence itself had no previous records or memories. Although La Hojarascas (Dead Leaves) and Las Funerales de la Mamá Grande (Big Mama’s Funeral), earlier works by Márquez, used the town of Macondo and its people for their subject, Cien años de soledad (translated ably now into English by Gregory Rabassa as One Hundred Years of Solitude), while occasionally referring to events recounted in the two previous collections of stories, moves on to a new level of narrative, a level more inclusive and distant, more robust and magical, than the earlier tales about the inhabitants of this imaginary South American town.

Having examined the fictional reality of his characters in short, perceptive sketches, Márquez seems here to transport them into a literary myth, a myth which at once sets them permanently beyond the common laws of life and at the same moment dissolves them forever in a deliberate act of artistic obliteration. Cien años de soledad may indeed be a depiction of a time and a culture, but Márquez also makes it clear that his tale is more a dream of art than a collection of social and historical truths, and, at the work’s end, when this dream takes on the force of a metaphor for all the cycles of human life that have vanished, one realizes that the excellence of this book lies in its victory over the quaint and anecdotal, in its sustained vision of the vanities and futile passions with which humanity tries…

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