My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“It had never occurred to him until then to think that literature was the best plaything that had ever been invented to make fun of people…” (388).
This was the first book I have read by Gabriel García Márquez, by way of a recommendation from a friend who wished to spark my interest in the literary genre of Magical Realism. Honestly, this is one of the most fantastical novels I have ever read. I can only compare it to what a narrative reading of Genesis must be like in its attempt to explain age, time and familial relation in fantastical ways. What I mean by that is, Márquez has a way of solidifying the fantastical (I’m going to be using that word a lot, so brace yourself), while daring you to not believe his story.
I think at this point in the review a quote is necessary. Well, wait a minute. Let’s start here: This story involves the erection and eventual annihilation of a town (Macondo) in the middle of nowhere, the rise to infamy and the falling from fame of a single family (the Buendia’s), and, as my interpretation warrants, the affliction that modernity has on the magical elements of life. I think that is a basic plot summary.
I want to focus on one element, and that is Márquez as an author and the way in which the genre of Magical Realism positions itself. In other words, authorial fallibility or intent. The trick is simple, but often misguided: Márquez is the author; therefore, you have to believe him IF you want to enjoy the story. Now, here is where it gets tricky. Márquez, and any other author for that matter, never has to tell a truth; or, in other words, a story that most likely resembles what we have accepted as reality.
When Márquez writes a happening that I, and you, know to be incapable of occurring in our reality, and yet it does in the novel, we must suspend our understanding of reality. This is often a HUGE leap on the part of the reader. For his or her part, the reader must accept a fictional reality inhabited by humans to include mystical explanations. Because of our reliance on science and the burden of empirical truth, these stories often become farcical, read as fables, or morality tales, which are then relegated to the domain of children. But what happens when a story of a world inhabited by adults contains fantastical elements?
Well, what happens is: we often attempt to explain it to fit our reality.
Now a block quote is necessary.
“A trickle of blood came out the door, crossed the living room, went out into the street, continued on in a straight line across the uneven terraces, went down steps and climbed over curbs, passed along the Street of the Turks, turned a corner to the right and another to the left, made a right angle at the Buendia house, went in under the closed door, crossed through the parlor… (goes on for another 7 lines) and went through the pantry and came out in the kitchen, where Úrsula was getting ready to crack thirty-six eggs to make bread” (131-32).
This isn’t Franz Kafka. No one has woken up as a bug. Rather, it is reality (a person being shot) mixed with fantastical element (that person’s blood finding its way to a relative miles away who would know immediately how to respond); Kafka is often the other way around, fantastical elements challenging reality. What I realized while reading this is something unique about this genre: I have to believe Márquez in order for this story to be enjoyable. If I am unable to suspend my interpretation of reality, then this blood meandering through town can occur. And if that small example is possible, then Márquez can do just about anything with this story, so long as I trust him as an author.
This leads me to the second portion of this already lengthy review that is tied to the first with this notion: the characters must also believe Márquez as an author, and trust him. The characters must NOT question this indefatigable blood. It just must be accepted as a truth that allows the character to, obviously, follow the trail back to the original source. If the character must walk for miles; if they must find a long lost relative, it does not matter. What separates Márquez’ writing from others is his character’s willingness to accept that blood as an occurrence of their reality, not of a supernatural force or omen to be deciphered. It just is.
But what one notices while reading is that the character’s natural assumptions dissipate as the novel proceeds; both as we read and as the time of the novel is imagined. Time slows down as one reads further. In the beginning, a whole paragraph would be an enormous birth, life and tragic death; but later, a chapter becomes a life, or two chapters. This is the main reason I bare it in comparison to Genesis, or a book of biblical proportions.
Interestingly enough, this loss of natural assumptions occurs precisely with the haphazard arrival of modernity. As modernity creeps in to the narrative with its trains, photographs & machine guns, the fantastical elements of the story dwindle in intensity. They do not disappear, but slither away slowly; cowering in an abandoned room. For instance,
“‘We have to bring in the railroad,’ he said.
That was the first time that the word had ever been heard in Macondo… But unlike his forebear, Aureliano Triste did not lose any sleep or appetite nor did he torment anyone with cries of ill humor, but he considered the most harebrained of projects as immediate possibilities, made rational calculations about costs and dates, and brought them off without any intermediate exasperation” (221).
What once took years, now takes months. And with that promise of immediacy comes the loss of something. Whatever it is, is up to you, dear reader, to interpret for yourself. All you have to do is believe.