Originally on my Goodreads account: 2010
A response from a writer’s perspective from my MFA program.
Response to One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Reading Marques and Morrison back to back, it is natural to examine the differences in their use of magical realism. Marquez is certainly more famous for his use of magical realism, yet I find Morrison’s more satisfying—causing me to ask why? What is it about Marquez that I am not quite fulfilled by?
First, I generally eliminated the potential that the translation was flawed. Supposedly Marquez has declared that Gregory Rabassa’s translation is superior to his original work (Product Description) and by all accounts Rabassa is a first class translator. Focusing strictly on the magically realism I am struck by two things that bother me the most and I would avoid as a writer.
The first is that I think that the “magic” in Marquez’s work is over the top. It is distracting. I acknowledge that in magical realism the world is such that all characters within simply believe and do not find anything fantastic about the magic, yet I find the sheer quantity of magic within the book boarders on chaos. With Morrison the big theme dominates the book, with the primary magic surrounding the ghost/spirit/incarnation of the dead Beloved. There were minor magic, with Baby and her sense of people and ability to preach, and some even less significant pieces, but it was not overwhelming. With Marquez it permeates every page so that at a certain point I can no longer read without laughing at the absurdity. One, of countless examples, would be:
As soon as Jose Arcadio closed the bedroom door the sound of a shot echoed from the door. A trickle of blood came out under the door, crossed the living room, went out into the street, continued on in a straight line across the uneven terraces, went down steps and climbed over curbs, passed along the Street of the Turks, turned a corner to the right and another to the left, made a right angle at the Buendia house, went in under the closed door, crossed through the parlor, hugging the walls so as not to stain the rugs, went on to the other living room, made a wide curve to avoid the dining room table, went along the porch with the begonias, and passed without being seen under Amarant’s chair as she gave an arithmetic lesson to Aureliano Jose, and went through the pantry and came out in the kitchen, where Ursula, was getting ready to crack thirty-six eggs to make bread. (131-2)
Now there is much to enjoy in this, with the detail and the length, Marquez is employing other techniques, beyond magical realism, but the magnitude of the absurd in the magic is a bit much. I think the reason I find it a bit much is the additional, non-magical, portions that rub me the wrong way. Why 36 eggs for bread? I make bread, even with the enlarged family in the household at this time, it doesn’t make sense. Just as the passage near the beginning of the book, which so many critics love, on discovering ice. What bothered me there was we just went through how they had traveled through mountains to get to the location of the town. So the magic of discovering ice was less magical to me when they should have known ice through the mountains. Thus, even in a world of magical realism, there needs to be a modicum of logic. In mainstream fantasy, that is one of the primary rules.
One aspect of magical realism that both Morrison and Marquez utilize that I find works for both of them is the feeling that we are in the middle of a folktale.
Outside of magical realism, I found the sheer number of characters distracting, similar to some Russian novels. This is probably a cultural weakness on my part, where hundreds of names that sound very similar become distracting, but it is definitely something that I try and remain aware of in my own writing and see it in play here was a reminder. Where this causes further problems, despite being a characteristic of magical realism, is that not only is there no real point of view, but we—reader—never get really close to any of the characters. In Beloved, I felt a closeness to Sethe, Paul D, and Denver. With Marquez I felt very distant.
Time, for the most part, was more linear—which contrasts with Beloved. They both spatially centered on one location, while occasionally wandering. I like this technique of spatial center and the slightly more linear aspect to time in Marquez.
Overall, in considering the writing styles of both Marquez and Morrison, I look to Morrison more for inspiration. I hope that is not purely a cultural bias, as I like to think that as a child of an immigrant with two masters focused on international studies that I am beyond that, but it is certainly within the realm of possibility.
“Product Description: If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents.” Amazon.com. Amazon, Inc. Web. 19 September 2010. <http://www.amazon.com/dp/0811216659>
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 2004. Print.
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. Trans. Gregory Rabassa. One Hundred Years of Solitude. New York: Harper Perennial. 2006