Monday, June 18, 2012

Book Club - One Hundred Years of Solitude

While my blog has laid dormant for quite some time, it might be time to resuscitate it. Not only am I part of a online book club with John and Hillary now, new adventures are looming on the horizon after I finished my BA in Montreal - a last summer in Montreal and Canada, travels around Italy and Croatia, and a two-year Masters program that lets me rediscover my roots and explore new places - what a lot to write about! Let's start with the book club... 

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez most definitely isn't your breezy Sunday-afternoon read. But a little patience - and attention due to the consistent name repetitions - goes a long way in discovering the unique beauty in this family saga imbibed with magical realism. John's post describes the special feeling reading magical realism gives you much more eloquently than I ever could, so be sure to check it out! The premise of One Hundred Years is simple - we follow the Buendia family literally through a hundred years of the family members' lives, which all seem to be dominated by two insurmountable emotions: one, a tremendous feeling of solitude no matter how many people they surround themselves with, and two, an unfettered obsession with either knowledge or achievement, which more often than not goes awry and ironically leads them to lives spent in even greater isolation.

The sole one to keep charge and aid the Buendias through their struggles is resilient Ursula, the matriarch of biblical age who herself discovered the odd repetition of history which leads all the José Arcadios and Aurelianos of the family to have similar fates and all the women to strive for love and passion without being able to consent to marriage. In her old age however, she starts to confuse past and present - surely readers will empathize, having struggled through many of the same confusions - and to surround herself with the family members she already outlived in an effort to normalize the circularity of history she so keenly spotted. This self-awareness, combined with the unbeatable but yet unsuccessful urge to solve the family issues and lead the Buendias to the peaceful and tranquil lifestyle they sought in moving to Macondo makes Ursula my favorite character, though the main theme of solitude is better portrayed through the many Aurelianos, including General Aureliano with whom the story opens. After Hillary so astutely reminded me of her, I do consider Meme and her yellow butterflies a close second in my affection for the literary characters of this novel - and her fate all the more heartbreaking.

Having finished the book, I found myself going back to the underlying themes again and again and becoming oddly self-aware in the process. As an individual, can one ever fully escape the feeling of aloneness? How do we know how others feel and whether they understand how we feel if we have never lived as another person than ourselves? Thinking about this reminds me of the eternal question of what the colour red really looks like. Clearly, we have defined objects that reflect light on a certain spectrum as being "red" and we are readily taught the name and meaning of colours growing up, but do two people really see the same thing when they see a red ball? Similarly, do two people ever have such a similar perspective of the world that they can truly efface the aloneness of being? 

Next on our list will be "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" by Philip K. Dick, the dystopian classic that set the premise for the movie Blade Runner. I'm already excited to start reading!  

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