Happy Birthday Gabo: An Appreciation of One Hundred Years of Solitude

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. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point. (Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1)

It’s been roughly eight years since I read One Hundred Years of Solitude and I feel now distant from it. The experience is like looking at a receding country from a ship headed oceanward: I have been there, but am bound for other places. I don’t feel like Márquez’s finest novel (and yes, I believe this strongly) is any less important to me, just farther away. I’m afraid to read it again, in case it’s different this time, but I know someday I will. I’ll have to.

Today is Gabriel García Márquez’s birthday‚ Gabo‚ and that he is somewhere in the world drinking coffee and looking at the patterns its grinds make (he mentions this too often in his fiction for me to believe that he doesn’t do this with every fresh cup) makes me happy. When I think about him, I think about his friendship with Shakira. That in his youth he used to wear brightly colored and printed shirts, clothes that verged on clownish. I think that 20 percent of why I dated this one boy in high school was because he once saw Gabo on the beach, and they waved at each other. And when I think about his obsession with sex workers, I cannot digest it. I feel like I’m rolling marbles around in my mouth. I’m never quite sure what to make of this man.

When I read One Hundred Years of Solitude I listened to Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain on repeat. I cannot listen to that album without hearing Márquez’s words, thinking about Ursula growing smaller, seeing the sign to remind insomniacs that “GOD EXISTS,” feeling the rumble of the train that carried the bodies of 3000 dead banana plantation workers. Appropriately (or not), all of the ipods I’ve ever owned have been named after its characters. I took six years of Spanish (unsuccessfully) so I could read it in its original language. I cannot think of another novel whose images have stayed with me like this one’s.

I found it among my mother’s books. It had a beautiful cover. (I read many books for their covers.) This one made it look both good (of high literary quality) and good (are those people making out? in a forest? in the sunset??). I think I was first struck just by the beauty of the language. It read like a old song or poem: simple, evocative, puzzling, almost mythic. As I read more I identified a quality that felt organic, the story’s naturalness, which must have partly grown out of the fantastical oral storytelling tradition that Márquez so famously borrows from. Thinking back now it was also the (seemingly) effortless harmony Márquez struck between style and story, so that the novel itself felt like an organism, keenly attuned to itself. It was unlike any book I had read.

Most readers have a book that changes them: the novel, like Irene Adler is to Sherlock Holmes the woman. This one was, is, mine. I didn’t need convincing of the merits of literature, of fiction, of books‚ I was already a convert, and Márquez was preaching to his choir. What I didn’t know yet was what literature, fiction, books were capable of. One Hundred Years of Solitude astonished me with its beauty, its depth, its variety, its humanity, its tone capable of rendering the true fantastic and the fantastic true, and its exuberance in the pleasures of storytelling. For that I have to wish its author a very, very happy birthday today, and offer him my thanks.

Molly McArdle About Molly McArdle

Molly McArdle (mmcardle@mediasourceinc.com, @mollitudo on Twitter) is Assistant Editor, Library Journal Book Review. She also manages the Library Journal tumblr.