February 24, 2005

One Hundred Years of Solitude

I finally got around to reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 1967. Fabulous. I can't believe its been sitting on my shelf unread for so long. When it comes to human nature and political maneuvering, it could have been written yesterday.

As a parable of banana republics the world over, the opening salvo of the conflict that first sweeps the mythical village of Macondo and the country in which it's situated is a stolen election:

...On one occasion on the eve of the elections, Don Apolinar Moscote returned from one of his frequent trips worried about the political stiuation it the country. The Liberals were determined to go to war. Since Aureliano at that time had very confused notions about the difference between Conservatives and Liberals, his father-in-law gave him some schematic lessons.

The Liberals, he said, were Freemasons, bad people, wanting to hang priests, to institute civil marriage and divorce, to recognize the rights of illegitimate children as equal to those of legitimate ones, and to cut the country up into a federal system that would take power away from the supreme authority. The Conservatives, on the other hand, who had received their power directly form God, proposed the establishment of public order and family morality. They were the defenders of the faith of Christ, of the principle of authority, and were not prepared to permit the country to be broken down into autonomous entities.

Because of his humanitarian feelings Aureliano sympathized with the Liberal attitude with respect to the rights of natural children, but in any case, he could not understand how people arrived at the extreme of waging war over things that could not be touched with the hand. It seemed an exaggeration to him that for the elections his father-in-law had them send six soldiers armed with rifles under the command of a sergeant to a town with no political passions. They not only arrived, but they went from house to house confiscating hunting weapons, machetes, and even kitchen knives before they distributed among males over thewty-one the blue ballots with the names of the Conservative candidates and the red ballots with the names of the Liberal candidates.

On the eve of the elections Don Apolinar Moscote himself read a decree that prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages and the gathering together of more than three people who were not of the same family. The elections took place without incident. The elections took place without incident. At eight o'clock on Sunday morning a wooden ballot box was set up in the square, which was watched over by the six soldiers. The voting was absolutely free, as Aureliano himself was able to attest since he spent almost the entire day with his father-in-law seeing that no one voted more than once. At four in the afternoon a roll of drums in the square announced the closing of the polls and Don Apolinar Moscote sealed the ballot box with a label crossed by his signature.

That night, while he played dominoes with Aureliano, he ordered the sergeant to break the seal in order to count the votes. There were almost as many red ballots as blue, but the sergeant left only ten red ones and made up the difference with blue ones. Then they sealed the box again with a new label and the first thing on the following day it was taken to the capital of the province.

"The Liberals will go to war," Aureliano said. Don Apolinar concentrated on his domino pieces. "if you're saying that because of the switch in ballots, they won't," he said. "We left a few red ones in so there won't be any complaints." Aureliano understood the disadvantages of being in the opposition. "If I were a Liberal," he said, "I'd go to war because of those ballots." His father-in-law looked at him over his glasses.

"Come now, Aurelito," he said, "if you were a Liberal, even though you're my son-in-law, you wouldn't have seen the switching of the ballots."

What really caused indignation in the town was not the results of the elections but the fact that the soldiers had not returned the weapons. A group of women spoke with Aureliano so that he could obtain the return of their kitchen knives from his father-in-law. Don Apolinar Moscote explained to him, in strictest confidence, that the soldiers had taken the weapons off as proof that the Liberals were preparing for war. ...

[Ed. The Aureliano mentioned above does indeed go to war, becoming Colonel Aureliano Buendia, who "organized thirty-two armed uprisings and... lost them all." A couple generations and many years pass. Another Aureliano Buendia grows up.]

...Although Aureliano felt himself linked to the four friends by a common affection and a common solidarity, even to the point where he thought of them as if they were one person, he was closer to Gabriel than to the others. The link was born on the night when he casually mentioned Colonel Aureliano Buendia and Gabriel was the only one who did not think that he was making fun of somebody. even the proprietress, who normally did not take part in the conversations, argued with a madam's wrathful passion that Colonel Aureliano Buendia, of whom she had indeed heard speak at some time, was a figure invented by the government as a pretext for killing Liberals. Gabriel, on the other hand, did not doubt the reality of Colonel Aureliano Buendia because he had been a companion in arms and inseperable friend of his great-great-grandfather Colonel Gerineldo Marquez.

...Aureliano and Gabriel were linked by a kind of complicity based on real facts that no one believed in, and which had affected their lives to the point that both of them found themselves off course in the tide of a world that had ended and of which only the nostalgia remained. ...

Some additional paragraph breaks have been added, Marquez' paragraphs tend towards the hefty.

Posted by natasha at February 24, 2005 11:06 PM | Entertainment | Technorati links |

It's been a long time since I read that book - I'll have to do it again.

I recommend Eduardo Galeano's Memory of Fire trilogy as well - shorter, pithier stories, but also an excellent breakdown of how Central and South America came to be what they are today.

Posted by: palamedes at February 25, 2005 06:15 PM

Marquez has an eye for magical realism that cuts reality like a knife. For one of the most authentic love stories, give 'Love in the Time of Cholera' a try as well - but 100 Years remains one of my all time favorites. Only wish I could read it in Spanish. Enjoy!

Posted by: donzelion at February 26, 2005 01:31 AM

For some reason I couldn't make it all the way through this book. Very unusual for me. Two recommendations here: Mikhail Bulgakov's 'Master and Margarita', considered one of the 20th century classics of Russian Magic Realism (although it's a bit more magic than real) and Mario Vargas Llosa's 'Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter', which was eventually turned into a movie with Peter Falk and Keanu Reeves called 'Tune in Tomorrow'

Posted by: Chris at February 26, 2005 08:17 AM

I've actually read The Master and Margarita. It was recommended to me by the same friend who recommended 100 Years.... Enjoyed it quite a bit.

Thanks for all the other suggestions, all :)

Posted by: natasha at February 26, 2005 10:59 AM