Friday, April 02, 2010


Without a doubt, one of the more reknowned Nobel Prize winning books of the last 50 years is the classic from Gabriel Garcia Marquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude. It is a mammoth novel set in Latina America but reaching out to European memory (as well), like no other prize winning work from Latin America. Since FORTRESS EUROPE has again raised its head on the continent of the founders of much of the the last 5 centuries of Latin American history, it is time to ask Europe to rejoin and open itself to settlement and interaction with the rest of the world. Europe has created barriers between Latin America, between ex-African colonies, and against Asian peoples and tribes of whatever faith to a great degree in recent years. This is why I ask that readers in Europe of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his many great works to look at their own history.

Is Europe only ready to take from the rest, like Latin American Magical Realist literature, while still not giving back any more of its wealth, its education and its sciences of peace (not war) to Latin America and the other continents? Whatever happened to real lovers of Latin America, like the Humboldt brothers? It is time for Europeans to reorganize and rescrambled their histories in time and in place to link themselves closer to their older colonies and potentiality of other non-European and future partners on earth.

1. How does the novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, transform the history of Latin America?

As revealed in the last few pages of the novel and as clearly emphasized in Monegal’s review of CIEN ANOS or One Hundred Years of Solitude , Gabriel Garcia Marquez (like his own fictional author Melquiades) has telescoped time and given it non-linearity. This means that for Monegal, none of the events, histories or personages should be mistaken for real historical figures as described in this work by Marquez. On the other hand, I would certainly be forced to deny this supposed-lack of historicity in One Hundred Years of Solitude, i.e. as revealed by Monegal, because the history of Latin America revealed in Marquez’s work is quite authentic as novels go—but with humongous exaggeration mixed with the telescoping or jumbling of time and traditional narrations.

Similar to his later work, The Incredible and Sad Story of Enrindira and Her Soulless Grandmother, Gabriel Garcia Marquez in writing One Hundred Years of Solitude could and would not deny the fact that some of the mechanics of life present in the Greek world of Homer’s Ulysses are once again depicted in any number of his supposedly imaginary tales of multicultural Latin America. As a matter of fact, the character for the later Enrindira tale (1973) does, in fact, rise in the form of one of the female character’s who was an object of Aureliano’s early loves in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Likewise, in both Greek and Biblical times, there were temples of goddesses and families who had condemned their daughters to prostitution. The same has been true in Latin America and elsewhere—before and after the Spanish conquest.

As well, the traditional pagan traditions of a village (father or) mother’s sending their daughters to marry or to have sex with the strongest leader in an invading army, i.e. in order to increase the strength “of the breed”, is a concept that is likely older than written language. It was certainly once an acceptable custom in certain parts of the world until modern times. On the other hand, that this was always consciously practiced by so many peoples in Latin America as narrated in this tale is questionable (hyperbolic) to some degree. However, in certain parts of every kingdom throughout history, most of the scenes may appear to a distant visitor as being simply filled with hyperbole and verbiage as is normal in reading Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude the first time through.;jsessionid=L1FcSJGLnqpnTBJTWP6lJLtgVxw2F6TKwg5JpNk7S7QrNyvSh7Rg!-1002323192!1408800315?docId=5002526579

Meanwhile, the characterizations of the excesses of war, of violence, of rebellions, of revolutions, and families of catholic-conservatism were, in fact, often of an even greater eminent reality in the lives and times of Latin Americans over these last many centuries that a Latin America has existed (post 1492) Further, the ideologies of federalism, liberalism, conservativism, nationalism, regionalism, localism, caudillismo, socialism, anarchy, and communism have played an even more authentic and (conscientiously) ever-present role in Latin Americans over 5 centuries due to the integrative developments and underdevelopment taking place through various colonial and post-colonial trends and invasions.

The story of one family in the town of Macondo, as found in this Nobel prize winning classic of Marquez, is a story that is set in a time period of 100 years and is loaded with strong, determined and inherent examples of caudillismo, hubris, pride, machismo and what-have-you. In many Latin American countries, taking Bolivia and Haiti as examples, there have indeed been turnovers in regime annually or biannually for decades or centuries. This tendency towards ungovernability was encouraged by the early history of enslavement of the Indians and blacks in the Caribbean and Latin American regions. This had incubated in the eras of indentured-servitude and long-term serfdom–even after slavery was banned. This was particularly true among various mestizo cand Indian castes throughout the Americas. Such massive numbers of serfs and slaves made it possible for huge latifundian estates to survive for centuries. Even today, in Mexico, Argentina, Chile, and in Brazil, which have become more industrialized than other LA states, the stratification of society has continued economically through to the present day.

Initially, the Jose Aracadio Buendia family was part-and-parcel of a simple and small migration (or movement) to build a new town (kingdom) separate from the landed conservative state interests within the already heavily claimed borders of an imaginary nation of Marquez. This creation of a town in one’s own image and with the correspondingly important sense of control of one’s destiny became possible once these internal emigres had moved (or gotten lost) in a swampy frontier, where the isolation from the capital city soon enabled these settlers of the town of Macondo to feel a sense of true independence plus a self-identity-free from crime and official police.

This sudden freedom to plan and develop a town without a central government and with no traditional patriarchs or powerful cauldillos telling the founders what to do was enriching to all the Macondon residents lives. Jose Aracadio Buendia and his fellow travelers, thus, set up the streets of the new community without outsiders or government officials telling them what to do, e.g. there were not magistrates demanding that all the houses or roofs be of the same color as often happened in colonial days. Over hundreds of years this sort of independence had become a vanishing dream for many new settlements (as well as for traditional native Indian settlements) throughout the Americas from the Tierra del Fuego to the Bay of Henry Hudson from the 16th century onwards into the 20th century. Local autonomy was cut down with the growth of nation states and the ideas on centralization of authority

Nonetheless, so-called civilization or nationalism (and even federalism) came to dominate the region eventually. This growth in greater ideologies was followed by decades of strife and disintegration of what had once been a fairly loveable and orderly world in Mascondo’s earliest days. In fact, however, such ideals of living out “a wonderful life” or “dolce vita” were always fleeting, as many of these supposedly ideal generations in Latin American history, were actually founded [1] on the back of peasants to work the land of the wealthy, [2] on the backs of Indians who saw their dream worlds eaten up by diseases (and usurpation of public space and lands), and [3] on the shoulders of women and children who were exploited by adults and machismo. Especially, cynical was the treatment (and the divide-and conquer nature) of divisions and peoples into identified castes and classes of pure bloods, mestizos, mulattos, slaves, servants, blacks, bastards of the wealthy, and those various upcoming, falling, and rising groups of sons and daughters with powerful families (and tribes) behind their names.

With such a shared and divided Latin American heaven, it was easy to predict that days of judgment, days of rebellion, hours of revolt, hours of massacres, and decades of war would eventually destroy the differing paradises created and disfigured (by new waves of usurpers of) paradise again and again. Only occasionally did a more humanist approach to life and one’s fellow man provide pauses and tolerance to swell in equilibrium. However, often these tranquil pauses ended in crushed hopes for those whose dreamt of better futures. These dreams for some were eventually buried in cemeteries. This is the very stuff that makes up a lot of content and heavy-hearted but humorous background to and in One Hundred Years of Solitude. The novel thus allows us to see a mirror of Latin American history that is not any less clear and inaccurate as the one revealed to us in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ own NOBEL PRIZE acceptance speech.

Marquez opened that speech by explaining where fact, fiction, and history began for South America, i.e. in the original passage of Magellan. “Antonio Pigafetta, a Florentine navigator who went with Magellan on the first voyage around the world, wrote, upon his passage through our southern lands of America, a strictly accurate account that nonetheless resembles a venture into fantasy. In it he recorded that he had seen hogs with navels on their haunches, clawless birds whose hens laid eggs on the backs of their mates, and others still, resembling tongueless pelicans, with beaks like spoons. He wrote of having seen a misbegotten creature with the head and ears of a mule, a camel’s body, the legs of a deer and the whinny of a horse. He described how the first native encountered in Patagonia was confronted with a mirror, whereupon that impassioned giant lost his senses to the terror of his own image.”

Strictly accurate? Perhaps? Perhaps not? Perhaps hardly at ALL.

A bit dreamy and confusing? Yes.

Such is the history of Latin America and even more so is the story of Marquez in CIEN ANOS DE LA SOLEDAD.

However, particularly because in Spanish the same word “historia” can mean both “tale” and “history” , one should not be surprised (in English) for the confusion one witnesses in deciding what is fiction and what is not as mirrored in this famous work by Marquez. For Marquez also quoted to listeners in his famous Nobel speech in 1982 that madness envelopes his (our) Latin American history.

Marquez stated specifically: “Our independence from Spanish domination did not put us beyond the reach of madness. General Antonio López de Santana, three times dictator of Mexico, held a magnificent funeral for the right leg he had lost in the so-called Pastry War. General Gabriel García Moreno ruled Ecuador for sixteen years as an absolute monarch; at his wake, the corpse was seated on the presidential chair, decked out in full-dress uniform and a protective layer of medals. General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, the theosophical despot of El Salvador who had thirty thousand peasants slaughtered in a savage massacre, invented a pendulum to detect poison in his food, and had streetlamps draped in red paper to defeat an epidemic of scarlet fever. The statue to General Francisco Moraz´n erected in the main square of Tegucigalpa is actually one of Marshal Ney, purchased at a Paris warehouse of second-hand sculptures.” Such is the point where fact outdoes fiction in its own world of exaggeration and hyperbole.

2. What does the theme of loneliness mean for Latin America?

According to, synonyms for the word solitude in English are:

“1. retirement, privacy. Solitude, isolation refer to a state of being or living alone. Solitude emphasizes the quality of being or feeling lonely and deserted: to live in solitude. Isolation may mean merely a detachment and separation from others: to be put in isolation with an infectious disease. 2. loneliness. 3. desert, wilderness.”

Recall that one of the earliest adventures for the townspeople in Macondo was the epidemic of an insomniac disease. The town put itself under quarantine until Melquiades, rising form his Singaporean grave, came and rescued them.

Without a doubt, Macondo is located in a wilderness. It was dug out of a swamp and two days from the nearest town—which the Macondo villagers never even discovered until the wife of the patriarch, Ursula Buendia Iguaran, left town in search of her oldest boy who had run away with the circus gypsies. In a few days she had discovered the closest village—a discover which had evaded the male inhabitants of Macondo for decades. This lack of contact from most outsiders for a decade or more had allowed for the developing of Macondo in relative solitude. In short, as noted above, the original founders of Macondo had many years and opportunities for development in solitude, i.e. an incubation period without much pressure from outside states, nations nor ideologies (nor religions) trying to force them to conform to specific codes of conduct and to political or social control from outside benefactors.

This is why some-years-later, the first national government magistrate ever sent by the distant capital to the solitude of the tiny village of Macombo was taken to the edge of town and unceremoniously thrown into a swamp. This occurred when the government agent attempted to tell the villagers what color they should paint their own homes (by his own arbitrary decree). Some of the Macombo townspeople may have been depressed at the isolation of their wilderness community but most families sided with the patriarch, Jose Arcadio Buendia, in his insistence that the national government should have as little presence as possible in the solitary lives of these families (at the crossroads to nowhere). This detachment was fine for the majority of Macombites since at that time crime was not prevalent and wars were kept far away.

Throughout the book, One Hundred Years of Solitude, the individual characters also take on the world of solitude in their own lives and homes. Constantly, despite a strong sense of family, in life the main protagonists sense a pull towards solitude themselves. Amaranta, the daughter of Jose Arcadio and Ursula, never marries although she is courted most of the time and begins to bemoan her solitude ( & despite turning down various suitors dozens of times). Meanwhile, Aureliano’s wife (Amarant’s her brother) Remedios dies quite young in childbirth but he never marries again.

Finally, the oldest brother, Jose Aracadio Segundo, lives a violent and aggressive lifestyle, often playing the role of a bully and braggart, and eventually dies violently long before his own parents and other siblings do. After Arcadio Segundo’s execution, his own wife, Rebeca, refuses then to remarry and for the rest of her decades moves into an isolated world of her own imagination—just as had her adopted father, Jose Aracadio senior, had done sometime earlier. Eventually, the matriarch of the powerful Buendia family, Ursula Iguaran, finds a life of prolific free market productivity to be the means by which she fights off her own personal sense of solitude, i.e. as her family members either died or became more isolated and estranged. (She also offers to raise and help educate many a child over the decades.) She is always coming up with items to produce and sell throughout the land

Even the author, himself, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in his NOBEL PRIZE acceptance speech noted still one other important aspect of the LatinaAmerica’s experience of isolation—i.e. their sense of treatment as illegitimate sons and daughters of Europe. Marquez observed in his speech that over the past centuries Latin Americans have observed in Europe’s abandoning of the Empires (and in Europe’s segregation from the rest of the world in recent decades) a particularly painful isolation of sorts.. In short, Europeans and their state governments have often forgotten or ignored Latin America—and treated it like as an illegitimate bastard son, and then taking no real self-reflection in wondering why Latin America did not develop like Canada or the United States.

Marquez emphasized in 1982 on this visit to Sweden to receive the Nobel Prize, the following: “I do believe that those clear-sighted Europeans who struggle, here as well, for a more just and humane homeland, could help us far better if they reconsidered their way of seeing us. Solidarity with our dreams will not make us feel less alone, as long as it is not translated into concrete acts of legitimate support for all the peoples that assume the illusion of having a life of their own in the distribution of the world.”

3. What kinds of exoticizing stereotypes emerge from the “magical realism” of Latin America?

One of the most common exaggerations in the novel is the idea of machismo and sexual prodigies. Jose Arcadio Seguno, the son of the Patriarch, is one of the many figures of machismo and legend, which old men in a bar might tell one another. Likewise, many of the women in Marquez’s tales—not just the prostitutes—are seen as throwing themselves at the macho men and macho boys. At times, this again seems to be the imagery of young pubescent boys in narration.

In turn , the women in Marquez’s novel, in general fall into many female stereotypes. For example, there is the hard-working and sober matriarch of the clan, Ursula, who is keeping the men on their toes and, whenever possible, lovers under lock and key. There are the flirting types, like Rebecca, who goes after two men’s hearts simultaneously. As well, there is Amarant, Rebeca’s adopted sister, who stands for the woman who is never quite ready to get married and is constantly breaking any suitors hearts. Likewise, there are trainloads of persecuted prostitutes and witches who make love to any man who knocks at the bedroom door. (Above, I have already noted the Erindira and her grandmother figures passing through Macondo.) Finally, there are little girls who are married off to men twice there age, in the appearance of Remedios, and princes, like Fernando, who are told that they will inherit a kingdom, while their family is actually made up of has-been-royalty who have no real wealth in modern Latin America—except for a family name.

Traditionally, young men, in this macho world are often taken to prostitutes to prepare them for their wedding night. However, in this tale the young men, instead, go looking for free love from their dream matriarch, named Pilar Ternura. Ternura in Spanish, by the way, means “tenderness, delicacy, humanity” and “fondness”. (In Spanish, ternura is a noun of female gender.) She is both a mother figure and these young men’s dream or ideal of a woman—open to exotic sex and accepting the concept of free sex for all. Ternura, who claims also to be able to read the future through tarot cars, represents these macho ideals throughout the work. Naturally, she becomes the mother of sons with many different fathers. Two of these sons are the only sons of Jose Arcadio Buendia, the founder of the town. Meanwhile, both these irresponsible and macho lovers leave their mother, sisters and other family members (or military academies) to raising their offspring.

In this world, it is not too uncommon that a man “can become his own grandpa” because they are prolific in bed and pretty well have little discipline when it comes to sex and raising kids. This is why the matriarch’s role is especially strong in this tale and reflective of many Latin American traditions. As a matter of fact, I would not be surprised if the title of Marquez’s novel was not a direct play on Octavio Paz’s classic, The Labyrinth of Solitude. That masterpiece is among Paz’s “most famous works, [and] is a collection of nine essays: ‘The Pachuco and other extremes’, ‘Mexican Mask’, ‘The Day of the Dead’, ‘The Sons of La Malinche’, ‘The Conquest and Colonialism’, ‘From Independence to the Revolution’, ‘The Mexican Intelligentsia’, ‘The Present Day’ and ‘The Dialectic of Solitude’. The book’s first publication was in 1950” in Mexico.

Even to this day, Paz’s book is recommended as a classic work in sociology of Latin American customs and trends (at least through the mid-20th century). Paz explained in a sweeping portrait the importance of the home in Latin America along with describing the role of the matriarch, like Ursula, in maintaining the power of a family politically and socially. Pilar Ternura would be the example of “la Malinche”. Malinche was the name of Indian women who supposedly helped Cortez to takeover the kingdom of the Aztecs. She is that other women in the macho’s eyes who can destroy a family and future of family members through her seductive ways. In short, as far as realism goes, the legends of the Latin American family and its history in Latin America are ever-present in this work of Marquez’s. However, he plays with the various Latin American stereotypes and gives readers joy in critiquing classic literature, like Paz’s, much in the same way that a melodrama makes a farce out of serious drama.

4. In what ways does “magical realism” contribute to the international success of this novel?

Magical Realism is inherently international in the pens of Latin American writers, who see or at least dream of a world of post-nationalism—where multiculturalism is not only appreciated but is the most important remaining high caste of literary-emphasis. In an anti-nationalist narration, the truth is told: We come form different tribes, different kingdoms, different continents and different gender preferences. However, through time and intermarriage we are one whole mystical family. Hence, traveling and multicultural Sanskrit speaking gypsies are the norm, as seen through their parading in and out of One Hundred Years of Solitude. There are Italians, Arabs, Sir Francis Drake and travelers, soldiers of fortune, and run-away sailors from all over the world passing through and touching the lives of those in the somewhat isolated town of Macondo.

Moreover, in magical realism, ghost and apparitions play a common role. They can be used to tell what the author thinks or feels about metaphysics, politics or civilization. They can also remind the reader of collective memories of a community or tell us about long forgotten links to lost families or distant communities. In addition, according to some practices in the genre, they are used in instruction against solitude and isolation, such as the ghosts who came to lecture and show Ebenezer Scrooge his past, present, and destiny. However, Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is more than a ghost story, it is story within stories of biblical and Homeric proportions.

Many people love horror and ghost stories. One only has to think of Poe’s fiction and the love people have had for monsters, and science fiction, e.g. Shelly’s Frankenstein, to understand the popularity of these stories which are at once real (science) and fiction (mythical). Two important ghosts for Jose Arcadio Buendia were the ghosts of the dead gypsy genius, Melquiades, and the ghost of Prudencio Aguilar. Prudencio was the man whom Jose Arcadio senior had killed in his hometown before eventually taking his family (and friends’ families) on a march to the coast—a trek he had never finished.

Instead, Arcadio and his fellow travelers had all eventually decided to settle in the wilderness and thus built the town of Macondo. In fact, however, an important point to note—from the beginning—is that the murder of Prudencio had not been the source that forced Jose Arcadio to flee his hometown because in that era in history a dual of honor between adversaries was not considered a crime in that country. Lesser ghosts in Marquez’s tale include the grandmother of Fernanda, the woman who would-be-queen-of Madagascar and who would marry Aureliano Segundo.

Instead, it was rather “”the existence” of the ghost of Prudencio which had forced Jose Arcadio to finally flee with his family to the Wilderness. This ghost had come very often to visit Jose and his wife before he left his ancient home. This annoyance of a bad memory and a sense of guilt for his hand in Prudencio’s fate eventually had inspired Jose Arcadio and his wife Ursula to uproot from their old world and flee the very village in which they (and some of their ancestors) had grown up in. Decades later, after the second death of Melquiades, Prudencio’s spirit also arrived in Macondo and once again takes up residence at Jose Aracadio and Urula’s home.

By this late date, both the ghost of Prudencio and Jose Arcadio recognized each other as good friends—although when alive, Prudencio had been an enemy of Jose Arcadio. Years later, after it is clear to all in the town that Jose Arcadio is crazy, his old enemy and now old friend, the ghost of Prudencio, comes regularly and washes his sweat and takes care of him as he lives out his last days tied to a tree or stuffed into a bedroom. Some apparent lessons from this ongoing relationship with Prudencio, the ghost, for Jose Arcadio Buendia appear to have been that (1) you cannot run from your past, (2) in death an enemy may become your friend, and (3) even the dead seek to preserve their memories by seeking out the living. Such are the tales of the past, present, and future in Marquez’s novel, which also certainly focuses on how we deal with memory.

One other obvious international appeal to the tale is the fact that by telescoping centuries of history into a short (or long) book, one has a refreshing sense of how to view and retell tales and various repetitions in history in a way that is amusing, farcical and, yet, still rings of fact rather than fiction. In the very fact that we can see the future and past written on the same page throughout this (or any family history book), we can also bring all these past and future ideas into the present to the extent that the reader is fully engrossed in the tale (in the now). Tragedy in this way can become farce and farce can be seen simply as comedy. The mixing up of narrative order can add a comedic element to tragedy because we, the reader or audience, can often see the tragedy coming from very far away—and we desire to shout into the book: “You idiot! Didn’t you learn anything from your parents or your ancestors?” or “Oh, God, why doesn’t she accept that man’s hand in marriage and save us another suicide?”

In short, the novelist, Marquez plays with our ability to study history and our sometimes inadequate attempts to forge new destinies (for ourselves and our families) only to repeat the same sins of the father’s and mothers. However, the divine tragedy for us readers is that in the whirlwind of timeless history, which any book actually reflects, we readers must always come full circle, i.e. when the book is over, shall we reread it? Shall we remember the details photographically, or in our own internal way of recalling memories?

We, as readers, bring this power of creating and going through history, i.e. interacting with history using our minds, even as the seasons change all around us. We can start at page one or we can read the last three pages as Monegal did. We are the writers or authors, like Melquiades. We are the captured readers, like Aureliano.



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