In which yellow flowers fall like rain and I find a new favorite book
Author: Gabriel García Márquez
What it‘s about: Let’s start out by saying that there is a lot of debate over whether One Hundred Years of Solitude is a great book. Critics almost unanimously say it’s a masterpiece; after all, it did win the Nobel Prize. But many average readers I’ve spoken with find it boring, or give up several chapters in. I’m in the first category, though I understand why some people not might be moved by the book. It’s an acquired taste, a different type of literature than we’re used to. To me, Márquez is a modern Dickens. The appeal of his story lies in the characters, and just as in Dickens, his story is complex and spans huge amounts of time. Not everyone has a taste for Dickens; his books require a commitment on the part of the reader, and Márquez’s masterwork is no different. That said, I am officially moving this book into my Top 10 of All Time, a coveted position that I do not give away lightly.
Here’s why I loved One Hundred Years: It’s like reading a beautiful and sad dream. It’s extremely atmospheric, simply written yet emotionally complex. The breadth of the story is astounding, following the lives, loves, and deaths of six generations of the Buendía family and the town of Macondo, founded by the family’s patriarch Jose Arcadio Buendía. At first the most prominent family in town, over time the Buendías fall into decay until their great history is all but forgotten. It would be almost impossible to describe the twists and turns that the narrative takes, but the story is utterly captivating. It’s also one of the greatest examples of magical realism, which is what gives the story its dreamlike quality. Yellow flowers fall like rain, a woman ascends body and soul into heaven, rain falls for four years, a man is followed everywhere by swarms of butterflies, and men die from the intoxicating scent of the most beautiful woman in the world, but these are facts, not fantasy. It’s all part of life in Macondo and no one there would recognize these events as any more fantastic than sweeping the front porch.
To really get a feel for the book, you have to see a little of the language. Here’s one of my favorite passages, describing the death of the patriarch.
Then they went into Jose Arcadio Buendía’s room, shook him as hard as they could, shouted in his ear, put a mirror in front of his nostrils, but they could not awaken him. A short time later, when the carpenter was taking measurements for the coffin, through the window they saw a light rain of tiny yellow flowers falling. They fell on the town all through the night in a silent storm, and they covered the roofs and blocked the doors and smothered the animals who slept outdoors. So many flowers fell from the sky that in the morning the streets were carpeted with a compact cushion and they had to clear them away with shovels and rakes so that the funeral procession could pass by.
Would I recommend? This book is for dreamers. You need to have patience and be willing to immerse yourself in the story, but I guarantee it’s worth it.