“It had never occured to him until then to think that literature was the best play thing that had ever been invented to make fun of people”
Gabriel Marquez Garcia came to me in a way, all of a sudden, like all good books and writers come to me. I wasn’t looking for him before. But, as soon as he knocked my doors with this work, I knew he is one of my ‘kind’ (what is ‘my kind’ is inexplicable. Yet I know it, feel it, just as we know a person could be our friend by a simple flashing smile). I let him inside my home and listened intently to the story he weaved around. And in the end, what an enchanting garden he left behind!
Garcia bewitched me from the very moment he began with the famous opening lines, “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice”. Mysterious are the ways he hooks you to his story that you forget the rest of the world except Macondo, like being captivated by a lover’s spell. If Garcia wills to write violets, you smell them; when he writes about two lovers making love, you feel their dance to the tune; when butterflies are worded, they flutter around you. The wizard arises all the senses – touch, smell, sight, taste – just by the sheer prowess of his words, style, and substance. Garcia is a musician too, for he marvelously invokes a new world with sounds, words, and rhymes.
There is, of course, a Latin American History. But it is hidden, subtly, behind the veil of human relationships and hearts. By capturing the story about the affairs of a family, he evokes and solves all the mysterious interplay of human nature. A small village, Macondo, is made to reflect the whole mighty humanity of the forlorn 20th century. Its first habitants provide a bird’s eye view understanding of the various cycles and compartments of life. History runs its strings through each player of the central family, although never they knew the whole scheme themselves. Each character takes its worthiness too seriously or too little, without knowing what they add or remove, like all humans do in this gigantic ploy of Universe.
Jose Arcadio Buendia begins the village and the family. His lineage blooms with several Arcadios and Aurelianos down the line. The names repeat and so does their idiosyncrasies. Each repetition happens like a farce, a comical divine joke, that it must be the way it should be, no matter how hard the course is corrected.
You shouldn’t complain. Children inherit their parents’ madness
As the village turned from a solitary confined marshland, disconnected from the rest of the world, to increasingly integrated to it, the Buendias are afflicted with joy, misery, wealth, disease, penury, and what not. If the ‘discovery’ of ice turned Jose Arcadio Buendia imaginary and inventive, a small heavy metal piece making like ‘gun’ turned the first Aureliano the leader of a civil war, and the whistling-honking-rattling train turned the last Jose Arcadio into a workers’ Union head. Each technological invention…er..or, perhaps, invasion affected the family, like all inventions, does in the reality. Yet, the family remained rooted by the culture, love and values, although such anchors decayed slowly over time.
The women characters of Garcia are no lesser than their men counterparts. They are women of strength, conscience, turbulence and flaws. There is one who eat earth; other, who curse in sheer vileness to the point of poisoning the other’s black coffee; another, who throw cards to predict the future, and gives birth by fornicating with two brothers out of lust; there is even one, who raises to the heaven for her radiant innocence ,along with bed-sheets. Be it Amaranta’s vileness, Ursula’s firmness, the bravery of the wife of General Moncada, who told Colonel Aureliano, at the height of his fame and power, straight in his eyes, when he tried to get in her house with force and no permission, “You can’t come in colonel. You may be in command of your war, but I’m in command of my house”, that pierced his ego boosted by power, Garcia’s women although remain grounded in their homes change the fate of men, the course of war, and the future of a nation. Especially, Ursula’s deep rootedness holds the whole family like a strong heavy trunk holds the branches of an old banyan tree. She reminded me of another mother from Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘The Wreck’, and she flows with the shades of my own grandma.
The political discourses appear as off-shoots of human nature, as one immerses in the story. If such are the men, then such is the way they would act. Nothing ever showcases how cruel revolutions and war can be than the statement,
Remember, Old friend. I’m not shooting you. It’s the revolution that’s shooting you
And pointlessness and corruption of every political revolution, promise and war is best captured when Colonel Aureliano utters, “The important thing is that from now on we’ll be fighting only for power”, as he dilutes and renounces all the values for which he fought and waged a war under the pretext of “tactical changes”.
There is also a memory that slips away from a disease that afflicts the whole village, that even the smallest items are labeled with their name and purpose upon it. Maconda springs back to life again from this memory loss brought about by the calamities of nature. However, it forgets forever, the death of three thousand workers that were machine-gunned and thrown into the sea. It never reclaims back the history that goes untold and put down to the grave of oblivion by the machinery of government and cunning political hypocrisy.And with the memories that are by-gone, goes away the very sanity of the society and its inhabitants.
To reduce this work as a ‘historical fiction’ is an injustice for all the beauty it beholds. And so is the way to label it as ‘Magical Realism’ and pooh-pooh its technical operational part. Every invention brought by science is like a magic. And so is every joy brought by a lover’s kiss and the monsoon. For those who miss the imaginations within their head and take the reality with no wonder, the magic around could never be explained; let alone reality. Moreover, it is a miracle in itself that a human brain could write such a story where each sense is brought to life; each sentence remaining so exquisite; that a hundred years time could be captured in a few hundred pages, not in a chronological manner, but “had concentrated a century of daily episodes in such a way that they coexisted in one instant”, like the very parchments of Melquiades that held the fate of a family.
If history is to be told again, of a society that has lost his beauty and direction, let it be told in the way how Garcia told this story. With a warmth that overflowed, a violent imagination that bombarded the icy soul, with an empathy which encompassed the whole humanity, and with the magic that brought the eternity perched upon the edge of its book leaves.
P.S: * The last in the lineage, Amaranta, wanted to name her children, Rodrigo, and Gonzalo, if they were sons, and Virginia, if she had been a daughter. Upon a little wiki search, I learnt that Garcia’s own sons are named as Rodrigo and Gonzalo. And I wonder, whether he wanted to name a daughter, if he had one, as Virginia after the famous writer Ms.Virginia Woolf who left a tremendous impact on Garcia and also on this particular work.
* I am eagerly searching for a wonderful book cover for this work. A book cover that could encompass all the mystery this book is laden with (If you, reader, come across any, please let me know).