One of the amazing things about a great piece of art is that everyone who sees it experiences something meaningfully different.
My experience of this book is wrapped up in my own dreams and fears: fears of aging and forgetting and losing what little competence I possess mixed in with dreams of mattering to the world and leaving a memory after I’m gone. I can say that this book is the most powerful expression of that which I’ve ever found. The promised one hundred years pass emphatically in a way that I’ve never seen represented on page or screen before. Time feels weighty and its effects are heavy.
Much could be said of the themes of cyclical history or pride or family. But, for me, all of those pale in comparison to the theme of everyone’s personal yet relentless march to become nothing more than dust. And it’s brilliant, if in a sad and lonely way.
I am certain that this work will travel with me for the rest of my days. This is one to put back on the shelf to take down in a decade’s time and see what I take from it when I bring so many year’s worth of spent life to it. At thirty-two, I wonder if I read it too young.
On a more practical note, One Hundred Years of Solitude was an extremely slow start for me. To emphasize the repetition of stories through the years, Márquez gives his characters repetitive names: José, Arcadio, Aureliano, Amaranta — he provides clues to help distinguish one character from another; but, for me, the combination of most of those names starting with “A” while also being foreign to my monolingual brain meant that all of the characters sort of blurred together.
I struggled for a long time trying to keep everyone organized in my head. Eventually, though, I gave up and simply read without worrying too much about who was who. I don’t know if there’s a “right” way to read a book, but I feel that this is at least an acceptable way to read this book: by allowing the characters to blur in my head, it reinforces the idea that history repeats over and over and that all of them are heading towards the same end just by different means.
If you’re struggling in a similar fashion: relax. Let the words wash over you and just see what experience you can find in these pages. It will be worth it.