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One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (thoughts)

March 13, 2013

One Hundred Years of Solitude
As I mentioned in my post on Eva Luna, I decided to reread One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in order to both extend my sojourn in magical realism land and to compare Allende and Marquez (side note: I know I should be calling him Garcia Marquez but I try to limit my typing so I’m sticking with Anglophone Marquez). I was also vaguely curious about what I’d make of it seven or eight years after my first encounter (I loved it that time). Well! I loved it just as much, if not more, this time around. Marquez immediately swept me into the story of a family whose destiny rather mirrored that of a Greek tragic hero, one of my favourite types. ;)

I was already prepared for the constant repetition of Christian names through the various generations and couldn’t help giggling every time a new Aureliano turned up. I also recollected the powerful scenes of state oppression, told in that magical realist way that manages to recollect parables, satire, and court jesters all at once. What I hadn’t expected was just how domestic One Hundred Years of Solitude is. You see, my first theory for critics talking about Marquez more than Allende was that Marquez dealt more with ‘important’ (aka traditionally male) realms like military life and earning your fortune and spreading your seed around. And there’s plenty of that (well, at least the first and third) going on. But One Hundred Years of Solitude centers around a particular family, in a particular house, and in traditional Latin American society that means one thing: the women. The women of the Buendia family, whether there by birth or by marriage, are as sharply drawn as their male counterparts. Their lives are perhaps more circumscribed, although several of them go on adventures at least once, but their passions and idiosyncrasies are given plenty of attention. Moreover, while sex plays a big part of the novel (Marquez seems to have embraced the “more is more” philosophy), the women didn’t feel particularly objectified. As characters, that is: they existed in their own right instead of merely to evoke reactions from male characters. And Marquez seems to be criticising traditional gender roles as much as he is politics. Perhaps that’s me reading things into the text, but I was honestly shocked at how well One Hundred Years lends itself to a feminist lens. I’m used to a certain amount of machismo in reading Latino authors, but I didn’t see it here.

In other words, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a rich, epic, soul-satisfying novel well deserving of its modern classic status, a book that can be read and reread and contains a vast reservoir of human experience, both male and female. Garcia Marquez surely deserved his Nobel and all the other plaudits heaped upon him. But then, I feel the same way about Eva Luna. And the two explored very similar topics and themes in a similar enough style that they could be kissing cousins (is there any other kind in Macondo?). Which brings me back to my original question: why is Marquez placed on a higher literary level than Allende (who has not received a Nobel)?

Is it simply because he’s a man? Of the 109 authors awarded Nobel prizes, 97 have been men. And the gender gap in literature is quite well documented: I remember a flurry of articles in 2011 after Vida released a gender-based analysis of books reviewed by important literary outlets in 2010. (They also reported the 2011 numbers.) So gender certainly can’t be discounted. Is it a class issue, with Allende’s more privileged background somehow affecting her status as a ‘true’ writer instead of a dabbler? I’m not sure.

Or does it have to do with a difference between their canons as a whole? I’m somewhat well acquainted with both Marquez (have read 4 of his novels and 1 of his nonfiction works) and Allende (have read 5 of her novels and 1 of her nonfiction works), but my reading has been spread out over years, so I’m certainly not in a position for an airtight comparison. That being said, I do think that Allende’s later work became more accessible, with her plots incorporating more conventional adventure or romance aspects and her writing style more straightforward than Marquez’s. I don’t subscribe to the idea that books need to be obtuse or plotless or difficult to read in order to be excellent pieces of literature, but that doesn’t mean prize committees agree with me. I’m also not completely sure why I have the impression that Marquez is considered highbrow while Allende is middlebrow. It’s a general feeling, so perhaps I just read a couple of aberrant blog posts or have seen One Hundred Years of Solitude on so many lists of modern classics I’ve internalised it’s a more essential book? Or maybe it’s because I think of Allende as a comfort author in a way I don’t think of Marquez. I don’t believe this inherently makes her any less of a good author, but the literary establishment tends to favour a certain ‘type’ of book that I would not call comforting. Do you guys have a similar impression of Marquez/Allende categorisation or do you think of them as on the same literary level?

I clearly was left with more questions than answers. But I really loved reading the books closely together and reading with larger questions in mind. And I’m thrilled by how well One Hundred Years of Solitude lived up to my memory (I disliked Autumn of the Patriarch so much it made me question my previous love for Marquez). So I still consider this a success. :D

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22 Comments leave one →
  1. March 13, 2013 6:22 pm

    I’ve not read nearly as much of either author as you have, but I think you might be onto something with your thoughts about the nature of their work. That fits in with my own impression, based on the little I’ve read of each (1 novel by GGM and 4 novels and 1 memoir by IA). Allende’s work that I’ve read is very good, and the quality certainly rivals some books I’ve read that got longlisted or even shortlisted for various awards, but I don’t see it necessarily taking home the prize. However, as you see, I’ve read more of her books, so I don’t necessarily like the prize-winning types best.

    As far as how they’re generally categorized, I’ve seen House of the Spirits on quite a few lists of essential books, so I think Allende does get some critical accolades, just perhaps not as consistently.

    • March 13, 2013 6:28 pm

      And I meant to say that I think it’s possible that gender is a factor as well. Books about domestic and family issues so often get classed as middlebrow, regardless of quality. I think House of Spirits gets around that with its political angle and Allende’s family connection to the events depicted in the book.

  2. March 13, 2013 6:36 pm

    I enjoyed The House of the Spirits very much, as well as some of the others, but I think Allende’s later books became somewhat more predictable, more “comfort books” as you say. I thought Love in a Time of Cholera was one of the best 20th century books I had ever read, but then I tried the Patriarch book and quit after 30-40 pages. Time to try Marquez again.

    In general I think women’s points of view and women’s necessarily domestic concerns get less respect from the literary establishment.

  3. March 13, 2013 7:26 pm

    I’ve only read One Hundred Years of Solitude by GGM and Daughter of Fortune by Allende. Clearly not a representative selection of either of their works. I loved the GGM, while Daughter of Fortune…enh. However, I am intrigued by your thoughts on Allende. I’m more likely to give one of her other books a go now than I would have been previously.

    I certainly don’t doubt that gender is a play in how their books are regarded. Even when men and women are writing about more traditionally domestic spheres, male authors seem to get more respect for it. It’s as if having the menz deem it important enough to write about means we should all sit up and take notice.

  4. March 13, 2013 8:30 pm

    I read that book a long time ago and also really loved it. I’d like to read it again now as an “adult” but I don’t know if I can read it again. I’m sure I would have new insights into the book.

  5. March 13, 2013 8:52 pm

    My Spanish teacher once told me that Allende started out writing in Spanish for a Spanish-speaking audience, and now she generally writes for an English-speaking audience. She still authors each book in Spanish, but she uses phrases and sentences that are aimed at being much easier to translate into English. Since I’ve only really read her early works in Spanish, I’m not sure if that generalization is true, but it’s interesting to think about how it might affect her writing!

    It seems like Allende spends a lot of time now raising awareness of women’s issues and human rights; perhaps all that energy used to be channeled into her writing (hence writing such amazing books as “The House of the Spirits”) whereas now it’s channeled into her activism… again, I’m just speculating.

    By the way, my favorite Garcia Marquez novella is “Chronicle of a Death Foretold.” If you haven’t read it, I urge to you to pick it up – it’s fantastic!

  6. Mona permalink
    March 13, 2013 11:30 pm

    I’ve only read two books by Allende (House of Spirits and Zorro), and only One Hundred Years of Solitude by Garcia Marquez. I wasn’t a fan of either of the books by Allende but *loved* One Hundred Years… I read all three books at around the same time (in college, about 7-8 years ago) when my reading tastes were a little different (e.g. I didn’t consciously seek out POC authors or translated works). But I remember feeling like Allende didn’t take as many risks with her writing or characterization as Garcia Marquez, and that seemed especially evident in Zorro more so than House of Spirits.

    But it’s been years since I read either author. I’m kind of curious as to whether my perspective will have changed if I tried them again.

  7. March 14, 2013 4:50 am

    I’ve read a fair bit of GGM’s work but nothing by Allende yet – which probably shows their respective influence… I’d like to try something of hers though, and I’m planning to have a South American reading period – at some point ;)

    As for ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, I’d love to read that again – it really blew me away the first time.

  8. March 14, 2013 5:17 am

    I agree that Allende’s books after House of Spirits have gradually become somewhat predictable, or at least they haven’t made such a strong impression on me compared to Marquez’s.

  9. March 14, 2013 6:38 am

    I’ve read two or three Allende and love her. I’ve started 100 years three or four times. I hate it. I’ve never been able to finish it. In fact the kiss of death for me is when someone compares a book to it. I know I’m the only person in the world to feel that way.

  10. March 14, 2013 9:05 am

    Thanks for this, Eva. It reminds me that I need to make a place in my life for more rereads. I think you are spot on about the gender issue and the high-brow, middle-brow comparison. It seems to me this also the story of the acceptance of women artists throughout history.

  11. March 14, 2013 1:35 pm

    Classic one of my favourites ,I read about vida figures I try to feature a few more female writers in translation ,but sure I have more male than female writers covered on the blog ,all the best stu

  12. aartichapati permalink
    March 14, 2013 8:58 pm

    I have The House of the Spirits moved from my shelf to my coffee table to read, though work has been so crazy lately I’ve not opened it, especially as I still need to plow through King Hereafter, too. And the last time I read Garcia Marquez (and the first time, I admit) was in high school, so I too can make no comparison. Perhaps I’ll try to read Love in the Time of Cholera shortly after finishing House of the Spirits and see how that goes.

  13. Ash permalink
    March 15, 2013 6:13 pm

    I recently finished reading the House of the Spirits and since I haven’t read Garcia Marquez’s works yet..can’t comment on gender statistics. However, I can say that Allende’s book “My Invented Country” which speaks of her native country, Chile is beautifully written and well worth a read. I was able to get through 30% of the book in one train ride from work.

  14. March 17, 2013 6:46 am

    I have only read Love in the time of Cholera by GGM and The House of Spirits by IA. I loved them both. But it’s clearly my impression too that IA isn’t valued as highly as GGM. I can’t judge if it’s fair or not. I would love to read more by both authors – and reread The House of Spirits. It’s been maybe 15 years sinceI read it. By the way, I had to try several times before I was able to finish it. I think I was too young when I tried the first couple of times…

  15. March 24, 2013 2:19 am

    I haven’t read any Allende yet. One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of my favorite books. I suspect that you’re right that gender plays a role in how people perceive the works of Allende as opposed to those by Gabo. Also, Allende’s background would not help her either, though she cannot be blamed for it.

    My favorite book by Gabo is Chronicle of a Death Foretold. It takes on machismo in a startling way. I’m happy to spy The Black Jacobins in your sidebar?

  16. March 24, 2013 8:19 pm

    I am so glad it didn’t disappoint you on this re-read! This was the book that I attribute to introducing me to magical realism and it immediately jumped to the top of my favorite books list, and I can’t imagine its magic ever fading. It’s on my list of books I need to re-read, but that will have to wait until we are back home and I have access to all my babies again! :D

  17. March 25, 2013 9:25 am

    I love Marquez and that’s one of my favorite books in the world. I haven’t read Allende but I get the feeling that House of the Spirits is her “big” book and the others haven’t been as highly lauded.

  18. March 27, 2013 3:34 am

    I’ve only read a couple books by each author, but I think that the reason Allende might be considered middlebrow is because out of her books, those I’ve read have been distinctly middlebrow and not particularly impressive. True, I haven’t read her classics (or the books considered to be her greatest works), but I tried to get through her recent Island Beneath the Sea and it was just… clumsy. Clumsy writing, clumsy plotting, clumsy everything. I stopped reading it. Same with Zorro, which is a wishful thinking kind of adventure, but not a very good one. And I distinctly remember despising the writing in City of the Beasts when I read it for school.

    Garcia Marquez, on the other hand… even when I didn’t like Love in the Time of Cholera (and for the most part, I didn’t enjoy the book very much), I recognized where other readers might love it. It held me in its grip, it filled my mind and emotions, and years later I remember the story vividly. One Hundred Years of Solitude, meanwhile, I loved. I couldn’t set it down, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the page, I could hardly even breathe throughout the last pages. Is the difference that Garcia Marquez is a man and Allende is a woman? Or is it that Garcia Marquez has simply written better books (that I’ve read)?

  19. March 30, 2013 11:34 pm

    I have to admit, I haven’t read any Allende, but I’ve read One Hundred Years of Solitude three times – it’s one of my all-time favourite books. :)

  20. Peggy permalink
    April 4, 2013 2:17 pm

    I’ve often found Nobel-winning novelists disappointing. I’m reading one now (Selma Lagerlöf), as it happens–meh. I’ve not read Allende and of Garcia Marquez only One Hundred Years…, which I read 30 years ago. It was a most amazing read. I recall opening it on the ride down in an elevator from the 10th floor to the lobby. I was so entranced with the book, in that short time, I’d managed to forget where I was and was completely startled when the elevator stopped and the doors open.

  21. April 10, 2013 6:18 pm

    I read 100 Yrs in university, as part of my assigned reading for a Latin American History class. The prof was amazing at combining fiction and history and comparing how they both choose to tell stories (my degree was focused on this concept as well so I loved the class!) But just mean to say that I recall really liking this book, though I have never reread it. And uni was a long time ago now… I’ve never read Allende so can’t comment on a comparison.

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