The Re-Reading Project Guest Post: One Hundred Years of Solitude

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At the 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.

1982. Dublin, Ireland. I was a young, naïve kid obsessed with books and movies and tennis, and my buddy, Joe—home from his tennis scholarship in the States—was all MC Hammer pants, the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” Bolivian marching powder references, and going on and on and on about this book you’ve got to read! We’d shared a love for reading since meeting the year before at the tennis courts of a local club, and loved nothing better than to plow through some Kundera, or lengthy John Irving tome, and head to the city center to catch the latest French or German movie at the art-house cinemas.

Before he left to return to school in Kentucky, he passed over his tattered copy of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, telling me how it was going to change my life.  With Joe back in America, the end of the summer meant more of my dull retail job and the unraveling months of a failed relationship with a heart surgeon’s daughter. So, I picked up the book and read the first paragraph and was mystified by the language and the exoticness. I flung the book into the corner of my bedroom and forgot all about it until near Christmas, I told myself, “If Joe recommended it, then it has to be good.”

Second time around, I dug in the pile of dirty tennis clothes and towels in the corner of my bedroom and uncovered the musty copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude. I read the first paragraph, kept going, and read on into the night. The wind shook the leaves of the banana trees, the old suits of armor clanked in the darkness, and I read on. When Remedios the Beautiful ascended into heaven I knew something magical had happened. And on I read, until around four in the morning, I became Aureliano Buendia, his eyes mine, and the pages turned until the last fantastical sentence sent me into silence for a long time.

[S]he watched Remedios the Beauty waving goodbye in the midst of the flapping sheets that rose up with her, abandoning with her the environment of beetles and dahlias and passing through the air with her as four o’clock in the afternoon came to an end, and they were lost forever with her in the upper atmosphere where not even the highest-flying birds of memory could reach her.

Joe and I are still in touch, less so lately, but always connected by words, images, and music. Every few years I return to Solitude and take that journey once again to Macondo, to the language and the poetry of Marquez, to Melquíades and his gypsy troupe, and to the long, simmering days and nights of the familiar territory of Gabo’s imagination.

This past spring, I went back to Macondo, to the firing squad and the twenty adobe huts, to the humid, stinking jungle and the mysterious time of mass amnesia, and this time I noticed things were clearer, more defined, sharper than in previous readings. Before, the confusion of Buendias, their maddeningly similar names, the hodgepodge of relatives jostling to have their voices heard, all came across to me in a more understandable manner. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m an older, slower reader now, and the rush to turn the page I experienced as a boy no longer takes place, but I was more at home in the mysterious surroundings of Marquez’s world. And maybe it’s because Gabo, el maestro, has departed our world and returned, himself, to the universe he wrought so magnificently from his imagination. I like to think of him there, in the pages, an active participant in his own narrative, condemned, as is Aureliano Buendia, to live out his afterlife in the pages of his greatest book, “condemned to one hundred years of solitude,” and without “a second opportunity on earth.”James Claffey

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James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA, with his family. He is the author of the collection, Blood a Cold Blue.

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Filed under literature, poetry, review, The Re-Reading Project

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