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