I was 21 when I first encountered Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude, and it was loaned to me by my tennis friend, Joseph O’Dwyer. He’d returned from America, where he was playing tennis on scholarship at North Kentucky University, and all his talk was of Bolivian Marching Powder, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.”
“You’ve got to read this,” he told me, just before he flew back to Highland Heights and another year of college tennis. We’d spent the summer playing marathon games of chess in his back garden, running drills on the courts a hundred yards away at St. Mary’s Tennis Club, and talking books and movies. Before he flew off, a dog-eared copy of Solitude was thrown at me, and a farewell until the following summer. I promised to read the book, let him know what I thought of it.
I read the first sentence, scratched my head, and buried the book under a pile of laundry in my bedroom. Nonsense. Yes, I couldn’t make head nor tail of the thing. Instead, I re-read Stephen King’s It, and Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and forgot about Marquez and Macondo.
Sometime after I broke up with the girlfriend I was seeing at the time, I cleaned out my bedroom and found Joe’s copy of the book, cobweb-covered and more yellowed than when he’d given it to me. Lovelorn, I opened the cover again, read those first sentences, “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.” Whether it was my broken heart, or the chill of an Irish winter, something resonated with me and I ended up turning page after page, through the night, until sometime around 3AM I reached the last sentence and held my breath. Oh, the epiphany of those words, the completion of Marquez’ circular narrative:
Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.
Now, so many years later, I re-read the book every year or two, delving once more into the mad waters of Marquez’ narrative river. There’s a comfort in this novel, a remembrance of a youthful time when tennis and chess and movies and books and pubs was the be-all and end-all of my life. For those reasons I found the news of Marquez’ death today to be devastating, as if a part of my soul had shut down and gone out of business. And in a way it has. But, I’ll always have the words to return to and savor anew. Godspeed, Maestro, Godspeed.
(Quotations from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967; trans. Gregory Rabassa)