100 Years of Solitude

2016 seems to have been a year of unfinished books. The latest to join the list is 100 years of solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The book has a fantastic premise and plot- an imaginary village Macondo, populated by a group of young adventurers led by Jose Arcadio Buendia. Jose Arecado’s family is the foreground of this book, while in the background there is a running commentary of how governments, religion and external influences impact this isolated village over time. The observations in the latter theme are astute and relatable. The former is interesting, with varied characters and their unique, often idiosyncratic personalities.

I have left the book a third into it, because it started to become more of a chore than a pleasure. And there is something to learn from that. The characters were many- already three generations of fully grown characters while one-third into the book. Most of the male characters had names which either sounded similar, or in fact were the same except a prefix or suffix. Perhaps the author’s intention was that the reader pay attention (or to emphasize a certain cultural context), but unless this is all one is doing all day, it became difficult to pick up the book where one left off, after a few days.

From a time perspective, there were often references to future events, and then retraction immediately into the present. I found this distracting, and in fact thwarting the reader’s involvement rather than augmenting it. When the future events are not already laid out as one is reading, there is more involvement and investment as a reader because you can imagine different ways things may go, as you are receiving more and more information. When you already know a major event X in the future of a character, you do not participate as much anymore.

Lastly and most importantly, the characters in most cases are not intimately known to the reader- the story narrates their actions, and often radical choices, without giving the reader much of a peek into the inner world of the characters. It’s like a 10,000 feet view of the on-goings of the life of the characters- you witness the external events without dwelling much on their mental/ emotional landscapes.

It is universally recognized as a great book, and I am sure it is. It’s not necessarily my kind of book. So I’m on to something else. Something more involved in the lives of the characters, simple, relatable yet wise and insightful.


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