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Invitation to World Literature

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The Magic and the Real

One Hundred Years of Solitude is not just a great novel—it became the standard-bearer for an entire literary movement called magical realism. You'll notice from the very first page that this is a story of two worlds, the magical and the real, that somehow co-exist without contradicting each other.

The novel is a family history, a retelling of Latin American history, and a chronicle of human experience—how we perceive the things we do, the people we love and hate, and the events we live through, as individuals and as part of human civilization. Love, birth, war, and death in the novel all have roots in the literal and magical worlds, and human events are a complicated mix of earthly and unearthly desires, events, and influences.

Patricia Smith

Patricia Smith
Associate Professor of Creative Writing, City University of New York:

"It's just a small thing to even call it a book. It is a whole universe that's been created that you're being asked to step into."

Expand each section to read more.

CE 1st - 15th centuries The Tayronas and Muiscas dominate the region that would become Colombia.
1525 Spanish colonizers establish a permanent settlement at Santa Marta.
1549 The area that would become Colombia is named New Granada.
1819 Simon Bolívar, from neighboring Venezuela, defeats the Spanish at the Battle of Boyacá.
1928 Gabriel García Márquez is born in Aracataca on March 6.
1965-7 García Márquez writes and publishes One Hundred Years of Solitude.
1982 García Márquez receives the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Gabriel García Márquez was born in the small town of Aracataca, Colombia, in 1928. He lived with his grandparents. God, the saints, miracles, ghosts, ancestors, war, politics, farming—all were part of the fabric of García Márquez's childhood. From his grandmother García Márquez heard extraordinary stories of sometimes impossible events, told in a matter-of-fact way. For his grandmother, miracles were no less real than politics, and history had its magical aspects.

García Márquez found a way to express that point of view in One Hundred Years of Solitude, a novel about a family whose lives are shaped by the intersection of magical and everyday happenings, and whose stories, however fantastical, illuminate the political and practical realities of Latin American life.

When One Hundred Years of Solitude was published in 1967, its equal treatment of reality and fantasy was given the name "magical realism." But García Márquez has made it clear that he does not see his work as a fable or fairy tale; in his 1982 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, "The Solitude of Latin America," he pointed out the tenuous line he sees between reality and fantasy in Latin American life:

[Outsiders] have been struck by the unearthly tidings of Latin America, that boundless realm of haunted men and historic women, whose unending obstinacy blurs into legend. [As] creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of [our] imaginations, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable. That is the crux of our solitude.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is a work of metafiction—that is, we realize at the end that we have been reading a story about reading a story. We have been reading about the Buendías only because Aureliano (IV) has been reading the story of the Buendías in a book written by the prophetic gypsy Melquiades. The novel we hold in our hands is Melquiades' story. As Aureliano (IV) finishes it, we finish the novel written by García Márquez, and both Macondo and the Buendías disappear, contained within the pages of a book, real and not real. That is a bit of magical realism that you participate in as a reader of García Márquez.

García Márquez wrote his novel in Spanish, his native language. One Hundred Years of Solitude touches on the colonial history of Colombia, and all Latin America, during which time the Spanish language was forced on Americans. The first Americans to encounter Spanish used it as necessary, but kept their native languages intact. But with each passing generation, Mayan, Quechua, and the other native languages of the Americas became less common. Millions of people still speak native languages today, but gradually Spanish and Portuguese became the dominant languages of Latin America.

Today, most Latin Americans (at least those of full or partial European heritage) see Spanish (or, in Brazil, Portuguese) as a language they have made their own, distinct from the European original, and a suitable vehicle for expressing themselves.

Prudencio
Killed by José (I), Prudencio's ghost haunts his killer twice, first spurring José (I) to leave his home village, the second time driving him to madness in Macondo.
Amaranta (I)
Daughter of José Arcadio (I) and Úrsula. She becomes first embittered by her foster sister Rebeca when Rebeca wins the love of a handsome store owner, Pietro Crespi, then a bitter recluse after Rebeca chooses another and Amaranta herself rejects Pietro, who dies.
Amaranta Úrsula and Aureliano (IV)
Accidental incestuous lovers, Amaranta Úrsula and Aureliano (IV) are the last inhabitants of Macondo. Amaranta Úrsula erases Macondo from the Earth.
Arcadio (II)
Arcadio (II) is the result of José (I)'s liaison with Pilar Ternera. When his father abandons him, Arcadio withdraws, and his life ends when he is executed by the Conservatives for joining his uncle Aureliano's Liberal army.
José Arcadio (I)
Patriarch of the Buendía family, he founds the village of Macondo.
José Arcadio (II)
The first son of José (I) and Úrsula, who leaves with the gypsies rather than face his illegitimate son Arcadio. He marries his foster sister Rebeca.
(Colonel) Aureliano Buendía
Second son of José (I) and Úrsula. This quiet boy becomes a Colonel in the rebel Liberal army, fighting and losing 32 wars and fathering 17 sons by 17 different women. He marries Remedios (I) early in life. He dies in Macondo, haunted by war and his memories of his youth.
Aureliano Segundo and José Arcadio Segundo
The twin sons of Arcadio (José Arcadio II). José Arcadio Segundo witnesses the massacre of banana workers, which no one else believes happened.
Melquiades
Leader of the gypsy troupe that visits Macondo regularly in its early years, author of the mysterious book left to the Buendías.
Meme
Daughter of Aureliano Segundo and Fernanda, who has an illegitimate son (Aureliano IV) by Mauricio Babilonia, and is banished to a convent.
Rebeca Buendía
Abandoned by her parents, Rebeca is raised from a near-feral child to a young lady by José Arcadio (I) and Úrsula. She marries José Arcadio (I) when he returns with the gypsies.
Remedios
The young love of Colonel Aureliano's life, she dies during her first pregnancy, after which he joins the Liberal Party and then engages in endless civil wars after becoming disgusted with the corruption of the political status quo.
Remedios the Beauty
Daughter of Arcadio (Jose Arcadio II), whose great beauty leads to many deaths, and who ascends into Heaven one day while hanging out the laundry.
Úrsula Iguarán
Matriarch of the Buendías, wife of José Arcadio (I).