Sunday, March 28, 2010

These Three Kings

Okay. A comparison of three meccas in Latin American literature: Leyendas de Guatemala by Asturias, El reino de este mundo by Carpentier, and García Márquez's Cien años de soledad.

First off, I find that Latin American authors have much to critique in their society: religion, military, government, etc... and they do it with gusto. These authors found ways to write historical accounts or myths critiquing these pillars of society, but each in subtley different ways. Asturias' tales, although they were myths, still created a connection of trust between narrator and reader. Carpentier took a more historical perspective, while García Márquez weaved the most engaging story (in my opinion), but at times I could not make heads nor tails of the twisted chronology (not to mention the repetitive names!). But whatever the style, each book finds a way to criticize the struggling societies which birthed these authors, albeit through the symbolic nature of history and it's repeating of itself. Is it less harsh of a critique if the object of insult is placed in the setting of a historical context? I think so, and I also think that it's a cunning way of passing judgement without being directly at fault.....perhaps an important quality when one looks at the way their governements treat such liberal ideas.

Of course, each author spiced up their dishes with magical realism. I suppose with Asturias this magic was obvious: most myths usually invoke a little harmless magic into their me, that is what makes them myths. There is something mysterious and inevitably addictive about them. It's a human condition, I suppose, seeing as all cultures have their own myths to pass down. Carpentier mixed the magic with concrete historical facts; a difficult task not only for the author, but the reader as well. The two contrasting perspectives of the same event often made me discombobulated (good word), but the symbolism within the magical realism was tangible. Gárcia Marquéz throws around the magical realism so much that it almost becomes a joke; nevertheless I still can't get enough. You've probably already guessed that I enjoyed this book the most. I think the man is a genius. The way that he blends "magic'', symbolism, history, and humour is incredible. I'm not saying that he's the best writer out there, but the talent must be recognized. I never really felt attached to any of the characters, or even that I could relate to them; but ironically their stories will stay with me as if they happened to my best friends. Perhaps this lack of character/reader connection adds to the 'solitude' of the book. It was interesting that both El reino de este mundo and Cien años de soledad ended with two characters searching for their place in the world and realizing that they won't get a second chance at living their dreams. Carpe diem?

In sum, the legends of Asturias intrigued me but left me with little interest in the subject; the 'kingdom' of Carpentier was a tad serious for my taste, but it appealed to me enough that I want to read it in English in order to get the full effect; and the solitude of Márquez intoxicated me to the point that yellow flowers clouded my eyelids as I slept.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Y después de un 'Buendía' de tarea.......

First, may I point out that this book extends it's solitude to it's readers....or maybe just to our Spanish class. I have been sitting here for hours trying to finish off the novel while my roommates are out at the Kingshead drinking Winter favorite....this solitude is crushing me. But now that it's over, do I mourn the characters as I'm stricken by solitude? Or do I now look for tiny yellow butterflies?

Okay, enough crazy-talk (I've been doing general homework for a good 12 hours apologies), but as I had expressed, within this story I find that I can relate to many of the going-ons in the Buendía family. The parties that Aureliano Segundo throws where "nadie lamentó los percances, porque la casa se estremeció con un terremoto de buena salud" (p. 327) remind me of the Whitlam family gatherings where we all get good and sloshed while at least 20 children under the age of 6 run wild. No one has tried to climb una cunaña, but I wouldn't write that off just yet ;) Also, when the people of Macondo reject the cinema as an optical illusion it reminded me of my grade 9 Humanities teacher who was convinced that her television was actually little people in a box in her living joke. She called it 'Witchcraft'. As a Humanities teacher, you'd think she'd have known the term Magical Realism :P

My point here (as I get further and further off track) is that GGM invites us into the magic of our own lives in Cien años de soledad. The Buendías are afflicted both with great passion and great solitude; two defining, but not definitive, features of life. This life goes in a circle, as Úrsula has exclaimed countless times throught the novel, and the progress and development around Maconda brings both the good and the bad. Which is why my favorite plot within the book is that of Remedios the Beauty. I find her naïve and care-free view on life analogical to how life really is beautiful when we find moments of clarity in our hearts and listen only to our basic needs, instead of what we 'should' do or how we 'need' to advance in society. The fact that she couldn't stay on this Earth gives us a hint as to how that analogy ends....

And finally, who else is fed up with everyone being named the same f***ing names over and over!!? But then I started to think about this, and came to the conclusion that these repetitive names just add to the feeling of monotony....the feeling of solitude. And the fact that the passing of names from generation to generation allows you to see that same solitude hitching a ride with each condemned soul, time and again. Perhaps this is why Úrsula never wanted her name passed on. What happens when it does? The pig tail curse finds its way back into the family! But this family isn't really cursed by a pig's tail. Such a curse may be shameful, but it doesn't leave a feeling such as this mind-numbing, aching, emotion-draining, all-encompassing solitude; something all of the Buendía's evenutally succumb to.

Hmmm. The 'Buendías'. Ironic.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Themes and scattered thoughts...

It's common for titles to give away certain areas of the plot; there's always some sort of foreshadowing which comes from 'judging a book by its title'. Cien años de soledad is no different as it ventures into the question of time and the sense of solitude. These themes have become principal in this book, whether it's through war or just the magical realism of daily life.

Time is an afterthought in Macondo. There is much reference to it, as well as its passing, but the plot seems to sidestep the issue of actual chronology by, for example, retelling an entire life story and then going back to the critical moment of suspense where the gun is aimed and cocked and ready. What does this do for the reader? Well, I am personally very freed by it. I actually feel like i give more thought to the symbolism (Oh, the symbolism!) of the novel instead of wondering what will happen to its characters: I know Aureliano will die old and gray and not in front of a firing squad, so right now I'll concentrate on the significance of the ice....touché, GGM. There is definitive mention of time: "¿Qué esperabas?...El tiempo pasa." (Úrsula, p. 226) As well there is an obsession with cien años. As Melquíades says: "Nadie debe conocer su sentido mientras no hayan cumplido cien años." I believe that this would have been an long, long time for someone to live in those days; but then again, what is time to magical realism?

La soledad saturates this tale. Someone marries, someone dies, someone goes crazy, someone finds a lover; yet someone always, always is lamenting on their solitude. It comes from the war, from lost loves, from love unsatisfied. From losing a friend, from losing a family member, or from someone close losing their mind. Aureliano is the poster boy for this solitude: locking himself into a laboratory, losing his wife, sacrificing his years to the war, spreading his seed far and wide but still feeling the "inmenso poder" of the solitude. When he finally realizes how satisfying the simplicity of life was and how he can fight for his own liberation, and not alien ideals; we start to see his spark of life again. Even more so when he shoots where he believes his heart to is like he is shooting the solitude out of him. And this solitude follows the family through generations and namesakes. At this point in the novel I find these two themes inter-twined: it is focusing on the passage of time which motivates this solitude. Alternatively, to experience the present is to live in joy. .....if only I could tell Aureliano.

A few afterthoughts with no coherence:

-Why this perverted obsession with incest? Was such a thing so common back then? Is it to keep the joke of the 'pig tail' alive and kickin? I know that small towns have strange habits, but...

-I find it ironic that Úrsula continues to want un hombre in the house, even though she's more stable than any other family member, past or present. Why this dependence when she alone keeps the family out of debt and with a 'good' reputation?

-So I think of Macondo like looney tunes. Y'know those parts where Wile E. Coyote (or any other unfortunate character) runs off a cliff for several steps, looks down, and then falls? This is how I see the magical realism of Macondo. Those who don't acknowledge it as being strange (ie: how the Road Runner never notices the impossibility of walking on thin air), don't ever 'fall'. The goings on in the town are never questioned and so they are part of the daily life. Not like I'm going to try to step off a tight rope any time soon, but the theory itself does make you think ;)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Holy Comparisons, Batman!

I enjoy GGM (to use the efficient footnote abbreviation) not only for his evident clarity and cleverness while telling stories, but also for how he blends 2 different, yet fundamental, aspects of society together; namely, science and religion, and then tops them off with the cherry of magical realism. José Arcadia Buendía is constantly searching for the divine truth. Ironically, his search takes the course of using scientific method to explain the most unscientific feature of human life, even going as far as trying to photograph the existence of God. He eventually states, as he delves further into the mysteries of metallic properties, "Si no temes a Dios, témele a los metales" (p. 125). Úrsula continues to uphold the catholic Colombian culture in the household, often leading the children in prayer after an episode of rants by Melquaídes about the chemical properties of the devil. I believe that it is Melquíades himself who births the initial and overt interest in magical realism to the reader: "Las cosas tienen vida propia....todo es cuestión de despertarles el ánimo" (p. 84), and he then continues to ignite the flame of curiousity by incredible feats of survival and resurrection, and the inventions with which he comes and goes.

On a sidenote, this montage of societys basic foundations reminds me of the work of the artist Fernando Botero (coincidence that these two are both Colombian??) Botero often mixes simbolism of religion, societal class, military, and history into his paintings and sculptures. In fact, as many of you have probably noticed, the painting on the front of our version of Cien años de Soledad is by Botero. His works often fuse the humor of his characters exaggerated bodies with the solemn messages which accompany his perspective of Colombian society. This particular painting on the book cover shows a military official with a wand and sword (power and authority), but also a far-off gaze, which makes one ask if his path is the one which he wanted or if he is forced to do it by the circumstances of his life (as you can see, Ive associated this figure with Aureliano). As you can see it would be quite advantageous to study both the styles of GGM and Botero if one were to want to learn about Colombian culture and history.

Finally, a bizarre little comparison between José Arcadia Buendía and the protagonist, played by Harrison Ford, of a movie called The Mosquite Coast. The basic synopsis of the movie is of a man who moves his family to Central America in order to bring "civilization" to the native peoples in the form of his invention which makes ice from fire. Hmmmmm....could this be based upon the dream of José in Cien años de soledad: "...en el futuro fabricarse bloques de hielo en gran escala" (p. 112)? Interestingly enough, both characters believe that such an invention would immensely help the people of their communities; even though neither man sees that such an invention, or the salvation they believe will come from it, is needed in the towns. As The Mosquito Coast demonstrates the developed worlds obsession with blindly aiding the less fortunate, perhaps both characters authenticate a more human desire to advance civilization, whether it is needed or not.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Why not?

After watching an Oprah episode while I was in middle school which featured Gabriel García Márquez and his masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude, my mother and I rushed out to buy it. After all, it was the Oprah Book Club featured novel ;) I remember enjoying it even at that young age. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that to this day I still recommend it to people. But I've gotta say that this second time around it has gotten even better.

Maybe it's because I'm a little older now and can pick out literary symbolism, or maybe it's because I've lived in Colombia and feel a familial connection to anything which relates to that wonderful country; but truthfully it's probably like it always is: you catch a little bit more every time you experience a piece of art again.

Márquez truly is a master of magical realism. For me, reading Cien años de soledad is kind of like reading a Harry Potter book: there's a magic to it that invites your imagination, but when you put the book down you can't quite put your finger on what made it so special. The actual act of reading his tale is like an enchantment. And so, I've come to the conclusion that Gabriel García Márquez is, like J.K. Rowlings, a sorcerer (or sorceress for the latter). There's no other way to explain it.

So far, for this second reading, I'm at page 154, and the memories are flying back at me. I enjoy how Márquez sets the timeline of the story: jumping back and forth, reminding the reader of events past and characters almost forgotten. And, of course, the magical realism. Whether it's a plague of insomnia sweeping the town of Macondo causing a wave of forgetfulness, or José Arcadia Buendía coming across a Spanish ship filled with flowers in the middle of the dense jungle, or the gypsies coming to town with fabulous inventions and curiousities, or a lonely ghost haunting the dreams of his killer; the magic invades the pages seamlessly. The reader begins questioning what they think of as possible. The story isn't just in the imagination of Márquez, but now it's in my mind as well; and, ultimately, I simply shrug my shoulders, raise my eyebrows and say, "Why not?"