Love for stories, rather fairy tales, begins from childhood. The stories of childhood travel by flights of fancy. As we grow up though, they appear to be feats of surreal fancy. The expanse of the imagination is indeed fabulous. A dose of miracles heightens interest in history. Stories of miracles are transmitted from generation to generation. Gabriela Garcia Marquez (“Gabo” to his fellow Colombians) learned many such miraculous stories from his grandmother who lived in Aracataca - a northern coastal town of Colombia. Obviously, the expanse of imagination involved in them was phenomenal. Later, he relived them in the solitude of exile in Mexico.
Thus it was that Cien Anos de Soledad, (One Hundred Years of Solitude in English) was born in 1967. Gabriel Garcia Marquez endowed it with a rural canvas, history, folk culture, politics, war and natural calamities, all spread over one hundred years and involving six generations. It is now regarded as the greatest Spanish literary work after Cervantes's Don Quixote (1605, 1615).
The journey involving hundred years in Marquez's novel begins in Macondo - a town founded by the patriarch Jose Arcadio Buendia and his band of twelve pioneers. They took the challenge of crossing a mountain, believing that it will lead them to the sea. Instead, they reached a river of clear water running over stones. It was thus that the fictional Macondo was founded. Marquez's experience of time spent with his grandparents at Aracataca obviously proved to be handy here.
The patriarch Jose Arcadio Buendia is a robust and massively built man with an unbridled imagination that went beyond nature and defied magic and miracle. He believed, and believed with irresistible conviction, and stubborn tenacity. His imagination was sparked when he came in touch with a family of gypsies that visited his village every year in March.
He bought a magnet, then two magnetic ingots, a telescope and then a magnifying glass. Melquides, an old gypsy with spongy gums, flaccid cheeks and withered lips, came to his rescue when the whole village buzzed with the story of how Buendia had gone crazy. He gave him a gift of the laboratory of an alchemist, along with few Portuguese maps and instruments of navigation. These would have a profound effect on the whole village.
Marquez's Buendia is indeed a mythical figure. Buendia did not confine himself to the laboratory thought; rather, he became a voyager cruising through solitude and absorbed in the wonders of the world. His wife Ursula Iguarian was a small woman, but in a way like him, active and possessing strong nerves. She was everywhere, morning to night, moving around to the rustle of her starched petticoat. But she too had solitude as a companion and did not allow anything to ruffle her. Ursula lived a long life outliving her husband. Later, she would play a profound role in the lives of the next generations.
Marquez has sketched their younger son Col. Aureliano Buendia sublimely too. In fact, he is the hero of One Hundred Years of Solitude. He is a leftist ideologue, a warrior as well as a peacemaker, a man who shapes out to be a romantic revolutionary. Of course, the influence of leftist ideology on Marquez himself brought Aureliano into being. One may find Che Guevara in him too if one wants to. However, Aureliano has a languorous air about him, and as Marquez puts it, clairvoyance as well.
There is certainly a romantic aura about Aurelianao. He writes poetry, plays domino with Don Apolinar Moscote the city magistrate, and loves having his early morning coffee without sugar in the kitchen. All his life he would relax in solitude. His marital choice is uncanny - out of the six beautiful daughters of Don Moscote, Aureliano falls in love with the youngest one, Remedios, although she was still wetting her bed and yet to reach puberty at that point. Nevertheless, she was a beauty about to bloom!
And she does come of age and Remedios and Aureliano are married one March day. Soon she plunges into household chores such as taking care of Senor Buendia. They aroused so much affection in both the families that when Remedios announced she was going to have a baby it seemed that heaven itself was waiting for Remedios. One night though she woke up soaked in hot broth that exploded in her insides. She died within three days. The tragedy endears itself to readers though. Aureliano Buendia will be liked more for his love of Remedios and her tragic death.
In the end Garcia Marquez did not make Col. Aureliano a complete revolutionary hero. Indeed, we see the Colonel opting for the Treaty of Neeranaldia with the conservative government. For that he was awarded the Order of Merit but he refused it. The character of Col. Aureliano loses much of his sheen too because he had organized thirty-two armed uprisings but had lost them all. The halo of a hero, nevertheless, remains since he survived fourteen attempts on his life, seventy- three ambushes, and a firing squad! The influence of the mixed race typical of Latino society is there in Aureliano. Prodigiously, he fathers seventeen male children by seventeen different women!
Marquez's Macondo develops in the course of the novel from a sleepy backwater town to become a prosperous plantation town rife with business developers, that is to say, 'gringos' from America. Electricity soon arrives, a railway network is laid, cinema houses start offering entertainment to the masses. But Marquez being left-leaning, he makes sure that labor unrest follows. Soldiers move in and three thousand workers are killed!
Prior to these events, torrential rain overwhelms the town by creating a deluge. As if in a doomsday scenario, it rains for days... for months. It is all so apocalyptic! The Buendia house comes under threat. There is a pool of standing water in the courtyard−termites, mustiness, scorpions and anrmies of red ants crawling everywhere. The door hinges, windows, floors, the ceiling and the bathtub all crack! The few who were in the building after the demise of the matriarch and the old spinster of the family, wait for the end.
But the rain stops and the sun came out. The end is surrealistic. The last illegitimate offspring of the family, another Aueliano fathers a male child, that too with a lady, and in keeping with the author's liberal philosophy, someone rejecting religion and relationships sanctioned by it!
Syed Maqsud Jamil is an occasional contributor to this page.