Fifty years of One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, 15 June, 2017

In June 1967, a newly-published novel began with this immortal sentence: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” Since then, more than 50 million copies of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez have been sold and the original Spanish version (Cien años de soledad) has been translated into 37 languages. García Márquez won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982 and his novel became synonymous with Latin America’s “magic realism.”

One Hundred Years of Solitude

Argentina’s Sudamericana Press printed the first edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude, which García Márquez had intended to call The House. The book’s epiphany had occurred two years earlier during a road trip across Mexico. In January 1965, García Márquez was driving to Acapulco and when he reached Cuernavaca — 86 kilometres south of Mexico City — he suddenly stopped the car. Aged 38, he had already written four books, but One Hundred Years of Solitude, which had been simmering in his subconscious since the early 1950s had erupted. The novel was, he said, “so ripe that I could have dictated the first chapter — word by word — to a typist.”

Gripped by a creative fever, he returned at once to Mexico City, sat down in front of his Smith Corona typewriter and wrote for 18 months from 9am to 3pm every day while his wife Mercedes worked to pay the bills. García Márquez had smoked 30,000 cigarettes before he typed the final full stop, and after receiving the first printed copy from Sudamericana, he destroyed his original manuscript so, as he said, “nobody would be able know either the secret tricks or the carpentry of his writing.” He spared the galley proofs, however, on which he had made 1,026 corrections and changes to the text.

The English translation was published 1970 and in his New York Times review, Robert Kiely summed it up like this: “It is not easy to describe the techniques and themes of the book without making it sound absurdly complicated, labored and almost impossible to read. In fact, it is none of these things. Though concocted of quirks, ancient mysteries, family secrets and peculiar contradictions, it makes sense and gives pleasure in dozens of immediate ways.”

Two things: No film has been made of the novel. García Márquez wouldn’t permit it. It’s “unfilmable,” he said. Second: The novel’s last message echoes: “…races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.”

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