Thursday, July 22, 2010

Reflections: One Hundred Years Of Solitude

This much glorified piece of epic literature was on my indefinite wish-list for years together, until recently a dear friend of mine was clairvoyant enough to realize that it was about time I read the book, and had it knocking on my door. The last several days with this book have been a very interesting and exasperating experience, as I still try to pull together enough thoughts to cogently convey my reflections. I guess this is what happens when you start a book with high expectations, and mount double the amount of expectations on you to be able to gather every ounce of brilliance that the book has to offer.

The synopsis is seemingly simple - too simple, as a matter of fact. The book traces seven generations of the South-American Beundia clan, through their trials and tribulations, in the mythical village of Macondo. It might seem like just an epic family saga, but no, the idiosyncrasies of the characters and the magical-realism that is threaded throughout their tales, open multiple vistas of thought and wonder. It’s been discussed that the tale’s newly discovered village of Macondo, with its raging civil wars, and its baby steps towards civilization have parallels with Latin-American History. Just as History repeats, the Beundia family traits are inherited and repeated across generations. But unfortunately, I know nothing of Latin-American history to have grasped the underlying symbolism of the characters and the occurrences, which is perhaps one of the reasons I am still beating around the bush trying to define the tale or the book. If I’m begged to not over-think it, I would say it’s a tale which vividly sketches both the intensely mundane and the extremely profound aspects of humanity. The tale is a mixture of everything stark and contradictory about human nature, and the journeys we undertake.

However, my biggest angst with the book is that I couldn’t orient myself to a theme...a nice sturdy one to anchor myself to the tale and let the words guide my exploration. I’m not sure if my lack of historical knowledge or my needless pressure to find a profound theme has left me floundering in the depths of this book. Books dealing with magical realism tend to cause such a reaction in me - I’m never sure if I am reading too much, or too little into the tale, the symbolism, and the metaphors. I’m left nervous like a school kid trying to decipher a cryptic puzzle, which only the smart kids can solve. Surely, a Nobel Prize winning book has much more to say than humanity’s weird afflictions, and repeated patterns? It surely has so many more rich layers which have completely bounced off me? If I had induced myself to forget the book's phenomenal accreditation, I might have simplified the experience of reading this book, and maybe even unraveled more from the tale.

But these are just frustrations with myself, not necessarily with the book. The brilliance of the prose, the beautiful imagination, the creativity of the narration and its psychological preciseness leave one spellbound. The tale’s mysticism and eroticism are bewitching, making the reader hang on to hypnotic words which move in and out of the lulling mundanes of the tale.

Without the fear of being labeled a simpleton, I will venture to say that to me, the book spoke a lot about the significance of solitude (how easy, let me run with a theme that the book’s title has). Every character went through their lives with their flaws, acted rashly on instincts, fed their irrational fires, and kept occupying themselves with ignorance and the desire to evade their inner-self, until the ruins of old-age and loneliness left them to their own solitude. In solitude, understanding dawns, wisdom sprouts. It disconnects people from reality, but keeps them within a safe distance, to judiciously help them understand the boundaries of reality, and their place in it. When solitude is shared between two people, nothing gets them closer - emotionally and mentally. I truly believe that silence conveys more than words. Each character vacillated in and out of solitude, trying to grapple with the illusions in their life, and the realities of their existence. Some choose to stay in their world of illusions, for reality is far too boring and mundane, while others nourish their understanding of themselves by actively seeking solitude.

And while history definitely repeats itself in the Beundia household, so it does in the grand scheme of humanity. For centuries we have done the same things, acted on the same impulses, lost on the same instincts, won on the same shrewd  territorial games, disguised as higher, nobler causes. The cave man ate, drank, mated, reared children, brought home material, fought, made mistakes, and grew up in much the same way as the present generation does - the means maybe different and “sophisticated” now. But we are driven by the same forces, and we act on them just as our ancestors did, eons back. In that sense, what really is progress, from then to now? As the wheels of time circles on, where is the peak, the end? Do we ever break out of the cycle? How dramatic should a change be to reinvent the scales of progress, and the ways we lead our life?

The book has assuredly sparked such interesting questions, but for the most part I’m still disconcerted that I have missed plenty more. If you would care to enlighten me on other aspects of the book, I’ll be much obliged!

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