One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

100 Years Of Solitude - you'd better learn your Aurelianos from your Jose Arcadios

100 Years Of Solitude – you’d better learn your Aurelianos from your Jose Arcadios

One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the epic tale of the Buendia family.  The patriarch, Jose Arcadio treks across Columbia to create the Utopia he has dreamed of, the town of Macondo.  The story follows seven generations of the Buendia family and the extraordinary events that involve them and their town.

Although there is a clear historical time frame for this novel, its magical realism style means that it could quite easily be set any time.  The idea of Macondo is to create an ideal, a town which allows it’s settlers to invent a world according to their own ideals.  However, over the following generations, people leave and then return to the town, bringing the outside world, railways and wars with them.  This is a story of people trying to escape their own history, but throughout the story there is an impending sense of doom.  Somehow, the reader knows that the residents of Macondo will never quite manage the peaceful existence they have dreamed of.

The first three generations of the Buendia family are clear, individual characters.  However, by the time the third and forth generations are introduced, the numbers have increased significantly so it’s difficult to remember who is who, even more so by the seventh generation.  The copy I read had a family tree printed in the front which was invaluable, especially as the Buendia family follows traditions of naming their children after their ancestors.  As a result, there are, I think 5 characters named Jose Arcadio Buendia and 22 characters named Aureliano Buendia.  Admittedly most of these are minor characters, but it can still get very confusing without a family tree.

This is one of the best known novels from Latin America, and deservedly so.  It’s incredibly ambitious yet works really well.  There is humour in here and romance and a whole sweeping history of Macondo.  The reader really gets a sense of how mighty oaks from little acorns grow.  The original Jose Arcadio Buendia had such a heroic ideal for Macondo, but his naivety and idealism were soon squashed by the arrival of the outside world.

Sample Text:

“In that Macondo forgotten even by the birds, where the dust and the heat had become so strong that it was difficult to breathe, secluded by solitude and love and by the solitude of love in a house where it was almost impossible to sleep because of the noise of the red ants, Aureliano, and Amaranta Úrsula were the only happy beings, and the most happy on the face of the earth.”

Further reading:

If you like magical realism you might like The War of Don Emmanuels Nether Parts

If you like this author you might like Love In The Time Of Cholera

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The War Of Don Emmanuels Nether Parts – Louis De Bernieres

The War Of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts - The first instalment in De Bernieres South American trilogy

The War Of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts – The first instalment in De Bernieres South American trilogy

This is the first of De Bernieres’ Latin American Trilogy and focuses primarily on the politics of this fictionalized South American country (generally believed to be based on Colombia).

It begins in Chiriguana, a small town facing drought due to Dona Constanza’s selfishness.  She plans to divert the Mula River in order to feed her swimming pool.  The locals, including Don Emmanuel, who likes to bathe and wash his nether parts in the Mula (hence the title), naturally oppose her plan.  Dona Constanza is the kidnapped by the government’s guerrillas who demand a ransom and the town holds a three day festival to celebrate her disappearance (throughout this story there is a constant threat of violence.  This is set in a lawless country, disappearances are common.  If they are reported by family or journalists, the family and journalists are then ‘disappeared’.) As she is so unpopular, the ransom never gets paid.  The government sends in the army and the residents are forced to fight, and then flee from Chiriguana.

They are led on their exodus by Don Emmanuel and Aurelio, a local brujo (sorcerer) who lead them through the mountains, picking up a pack of mysterious wild cats on their journey.  Eventually, after an avalanche reveals a tribe of long buried Indian slaves and Spanish conquistadors the travellers discover an Inca town in which they settle, naming it Cochadebajo de los Gatos.  Aurelio brings the conquistadors back to life, which initially proves chaotic, but with time, they settle down into their new existence.

So much happens in this book that it’s difficult to sum it up in one quick review.  There is immense violence and fear in this story and yet it remains humorous throughout.  De Bernieres has a great talent in creating and developing eccentric characters who we can warm to, despite their flaws yet it’s clear throughout who the real baddies are and what real danger they pose.

Sample text:

“The camp at that time was run by the second leader; the first leader had organised an extortion campaign throughout the countryside in order to raise funds for the revolution. When a very large sum had been amasses, he had absconded with it to Spain.  The second leader was to do exactly the same thing a year later, but at the time of which we speak he was unpleasantly present, and knocked Father Garcia about with his boots and his rifle butt until the priest was spitting blood and almost unable to cross himself.  He was tied to a tree and left for the night, but in the morning he proved he was a priest by reciting the service for the burial of the dead all the way through, after which he absolved the second leader of any blame for the previous night’s violence.  This left the guerillas with a dilemma; most of them did not want to kill a priest, however lecherous, and on the other hand it seemed unwise to let him go, because he might inform.  the second leader wanted to cut his tongue out so that he could not talk, cut his hands off so that he could not write, pull his eyes out so that he would not recognise them again, and then let him go.  ‘These are small things to lose for your country,’ he told Father Garcia solemnly.”

Further Reading:

If you liked these characters you might like Senor Vivo And The Coca Lord

If you liked the creation of a new town with lots of vivid characters you might like Everything Is Illuminated

A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute

A Town Like Alice - not as mushy as the cover suggests.

A Town Like Alice – not as mushy as the cover suggests.

This story begins with Noel Strachan, a solicitor acting as executor of the estate of a wealthy recluse.  With very little known relatives, the vast estate falls to Jean Paget, his niece – a young secretary who had never met her uncle.  Upon settling the estate, Noel enquires as to what Jean will do with her new found wealth.  From here, the story is told in flashback as we learn her story.

This format is unusual but not unique, with the main story in Malaya being told in flashback, interspersed with the conversations between Noel and Jean.

Raised in Malaya, she was taken prisoner by the Japanese during the occupation.  Separated from the men, who went to work in a camp, the women and children were compelled to a life of enforced wanderings, unable to find a camp to house them.  For two years, under armed guards, the starving women and children wander the countryside of Malaya, looking for food and shelter and a base to live.  Along the way they meet Joe Harman an Australian soldier who steals food for them. Joe and Jean strike up a friendship which is cut short by the violence and anger of the Japanese guards.

With her new found wealth, Jean sets off to Malaya to repay the kindness shown to her by local villagers. From here, she sets off to Australia, settling in Alice Springs, before finding the village and farm where Joe worked.

This village, Willstown, Jean discovers that girls have to leave their homes if they are to find work.  There is little in the way of local amenities and the village is in great need of regeneration and so Jean sets about building, investing and improving life for everyone there.

Ultimately, this is a romance novel, but there’s also history here, and culture too.  It’s a story of repaying kindness, remembering your past and dreaming big.  Despite my description here, it’s not desperately soppy, but it is soppier than I had anticipated.   That’s not necessarily a bad thing, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of romance.  However, before we get to the romance, there’s a lot of suffering, disease and starvation to contend with first.  Perhaps this is why the romance seems like a reward rather than a right.

Sample Text:

“I know you’ve taken risks to do these things. Do please be careful.”
“Don’t worry about me,” he said. “You’ve got enough troubles on your own plate, my word. But we’ll come out all right, so long as we just keep alive, that’s all we got to do. Just keep alive another two years, till the war’s over.”

Further Reading:

If you like the wartime romance you might like The English Patient

If you like the descriptions of a prisoners life you might like One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich

If you like the story of an epic journey you might like The Long Walk