Gabriel Garcia Marquez slowly sets your mind aflame with this beautiful family history; spanning seven generations and set against the backdrop of a fictional South American city. The embers, however, are a little slow to catch and only do so through the persistent prod of detailed character development.
The first 100 pages (coincidence?) are dedicated to the first generation of Buendia children. This is important as the contrasting personalities of Aureliano, Jose-Arcadio and Amaranta are distinct pieces of their fathers persona and reemerge throughout the lives of their own children and grandchildren. Once the same strains of behavior become evident within offspring, (e.g. the unnatural physical strength and short-sightedness of Jose-Arcadios debauchery, Aureliano’s clairvoyance and tendency to withdraw, etc) Marquez starts to solidify his overarching theme of fatalism and forces the reader to question the very personal and eerie phenomena of “History repeating itself.” Yet the family’s story does not quite circle back on itself perfectly. It spirals downward.
The fate of the Buendia’s is intertwined with the fate of Macondo, an isolated town that the patriarch, Jose Arcadio Buendia, helped found. Tying the very personal and tragic decline of a family to that of the town in which it dwells is brilliant. Marquez successfully humanizes a murky political message by melding the two entities. One can remain unmoved by a dry expose on forced politicization in South American colonies. But when Marquez creates a Liberal warrior out of Aureliano Buendia, the reader is made painfully aware of the extent to which political terror and failed revolutionary responses can destroy the lives of survivors. Subsequently, it is only through the tortured eyes of Jose Arcadio Buendia, nephew to the great General Aureliano, that we can be supplanted into a violent, first-hand account of 1928’s “Banana Massacre.” We find the town misused by a government that it had no use for. At one point, Jose-Arcadio Buendia gives a detailed account of how they founded the village…
“..of how they had distributed the land, opened the roads, and introduced the improvements that necessity required without having bothered the government and without anyone having bothered them. “We are so peaceful that no one has even died a natural death.” he said. “You can see that we still don’t have a cemetary.” No one was upset that the government had not helped. On the contrary, they were happy that up until then it had let them grow in peace, and he hoped that it would continue leaving them that way, because he did had not founded a town so that the first upstart who came along would tell them what to do.”
Yet the poisoning of a paradise is inevitable and the town is embroiled in the country’s first civil war. Having no political affiliation, Macondo becomes a literal and ideolgical battleground for government factions. Aureliano Buendia emerges from this chaos as leader of the “Liberal” party and achieves a mythical status among his countrymen for actions during war. The Colonel organized thirty-two armed uprisings and lost them all. He survived fourteen attempts on his life, seventy-three ambushes, and a firing squad. He lived through a dose of strychnine in his coffee that could kill a horse. He refused the Order of Merit, which the President of the Republic had awarded him. Although he always fought at the head of his men, the only wound he ever received was the one he gave himself after signing the Treaty of Neerlandia, which ended nearly twenty years of Civil War. He shot himself in the chest with a pistol and the bullet came out through his back without damaging any vital organ.” Possibly eclipsing the Dos Equis character as “the most interesting man alive,” Aureliano embodies the warrior spirit, a man that continues raging against his enemies, even when his cause becomes unclear.
And therin lies the intricacy of Marquez’s human portraits. While the Colonel continues to fight under the guise of a vague “Liberal’ struggle, his infinite revolution leads only to a situation wherein Macondo and its people have been battered to the point of collapse. Macondo changes from an idyllic place to a town irrevocably connected to the outside world through the notoriety of Colonel Buendía. He cannot stop fighting even upon the realization that pride was his main motivation from the start. Pride and an inability to accept common-place death as his ultimate end. And so we come to see Aureliano as a reckless war-hawk just as easily as we can see him as a noble-intentioned revolutionary.
Marquez nods at the dark humor of fatalism with Aurelianos demise. While the Colonel had embarked on a life of political rebellion out of the same vague fear of destiny that obsessed his father, they end up dying in the same house, both utterly defeated, made mad by years spent trying to decipher and conquer their own fate. Aureliano has a street named after him in a town decimated by war.
The story is too rich to review properly. The characters too vivid and the authors messages too complex and numerous for an idiot like myself to paraphrase. The above rambling lends proof to just how easily one is lulled into dream by deep philosophical questions on life and backstories that bleed into one another as they travel down the family tree. At the end of the day, what brings us back to life is Marquez’s uncanny ability to pierce through the funk with stark poetry. We will leave off here:
“Jose Arcadio Buendia was as heavy as ever. During his prolonged stay underneath the chestnut tree he had learned to increase his weight at will, to such a degree that seven men were unable to lift him and they had to drag him to the bed. A smell of tender mushrooms, of wood-flower fungus, of old and concentrated outdoors impregnated the air of the bedroom as it was breathed by the colossal old man weatherbeaten by the sun and the rain.”