One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

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Critical Overview

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

Mexican novelist and critic Carlos Fuentes was amazed by the first three chapters of One Hundred Years of Solitude that Garcia Marquez sent him for review. Once published, the novel was snatched up by the public, selling out its first printing within a week. Critics were on their feet, fellow novelists took their caps off, and everyone wanted to talk to Garcia Marquez about the story. Printers could not keep up with the demand for what Chilean poet Pablo Neruda called, in a March 1970 issue of Time, "the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since the Don Quixote of Cervantes." American novelist William Kennedy similarly wrote in the National Observer that the book "is the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race."

Early reviews of the novel were almost uniformly positive, with praise for the author's skill and style. Paul West, in the Chicago Tribune Book World, observed that the novel "feeds the mind's eye non-stop, so much so that you soon begin to feel that never has what we superficially call the surface of life had so many corrugations and configurations. So I find it odd that the blurb points to 'the simplicity' [of the writing]." Paradoxical as it may seem, many commentators agreed. Garcia Marquez's delivery is so elegantly crafted that despite being bombarded by information, the reader simply wants more. For West, the novel is "a verbal Mardi Gras" that is "irresistible." Given this type of exuberance, the crusty review by D. J. Enright, in The Listener, is striking. He found the depiction of civil war and the thud of rifle butts upsetting. He noted that "these are no happy giants or jolly grotesques" and added that "the book is hardly comic." He concluded by calling the novel a "slightly bloated avatar of the austere [Argentinean writer] Jorge Luis Borges."

In contrast, New York Times critic John Leonard stated that the novel is not only delightful, it is relevant. "It is also a recapitulation of our evolutionary and intellectual experience," he observed. "Macondo is Latin America in microcosm." He then compared the author with other great writers, including Russian-American Vladimir Nabokov (author of Lolita) and German Gunter Grass (author of The Tin Drum). Other reviewers have compared Garcia Marquez to a whole range of writers, the most prominent of which is American Nobel laureate William Faulkner. Faulkner's fictional Yoknapatawpha County is similar in scope and depth to Garcia Marquez's Macondo. In addition, the comparison of the Buendias to other famous families started with the Karamazovs of Dostoevsky and Faulkner's Sartoris clan, and moved to the family of black humorist Charles Addams.

In addition to receiving praise for its individual virtues, One Hundred Years of Solitude has been hailed for its role in alerting the world to the literature and culture of Latin America. In reflecting on Latin American enthusiasm for the novel, New York Review of Books contributor Jack Richardson stated that it is "as if to suggest that the style and sensibility of their history had at last been represented by a writer who understands their particular secrets and rhythms."

While attention has been given to the novel's historical relevance, most criticism has focused on its technical aspects. Writing in Diacritics, Ricardo Gullon explained how the novel demonstrates the author's technical mastery: Garcia Marquez's "need to tell a story is so strong that it transcends the devices he uses to satisfy that need. Technique is not a mere game; it is something to be made use of." Another aspect of the author's technique was noted by Gordon Brotherston in his The Emergence of the Latin American Novel. The novel often, and not always in flattering ways, refers to other novels. In doing so, the world of literature is made more real and the real world made literature.

The use of myth in the novel provides another opportunity for critical comment. Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria, in

(The entire section is 1,015 words.)