Rereading Cien años de soledad

I just finished reading Cien años de soledad for the second time, and as I was reading it I realized that I was doing something I’d never done before: rereading in Spanish. Sad to say, but I haven’t even done much reading in Spanish. And, despite having been an English major in college, the past few years I wasn’t doing much reading at all. What can I say? I disappointed myself. The other day, as I was flipping through the agenda book I kept in 2010, I saw that I had penciled I miss reading at the top of one of the pages, and I’d underlined “miss” twice. Maybe I scribbled that while in some parent-teacher meeting, maybe secretly at church, maybe on the bus. This year I’ve been reading a lot, and now I miss other things.

If I continue to reread Cien años de soledad every year, I’ll be stealing the idea from someone I know. I think the theft might be necessary. I loved the book the first time I read it, but I took so long to read it that the effect was extremely diluted. This time, I read it in a week, and the emotions were much more intense. I definitely cried at one point. And whereas last time I struggled to keep all the characters straight, this time there were clear favorites–Úrsula, Aureliano, Amaranta, Petra Cotes, and Fernanda–each of them the spitting image of certain people I know, myself included. It was so reassuring to find them exactly as I had left them, never mind how much my life has changed in the meantime.

Even though my level of Spanish last year was sufficient to read Cien años de soledad, the language was still a formidable barrier. The characters felt far away, as if I were reading through a telescope, and I was always hyper-aware that I was reading in Spanish. Lift my eyes from the page for a second to cast a weary glance out the window and I’d come back to a papery, inky mess of Spanish words baring their unfriendly teeth at me. As much as I liked the story, it still took a great deal of resolve to keep plodding along.

This time, though, it was infinitely easier. I was barely aware of the Spanishness, and the story was much more vivid, much more heartfelt. It helped that I knew the basics of the story (although I had forgotten as much as I remembered), that I had another year of experience with Spanish under my belt, and that I had the confidence that I could read it, the assurance that the book would not get the best of me. The very first time I tried to read it, two years ago, I didn’t know that, and I eventually had to give up. Rereading Cien años de soledad was wonderful, and it reminded me of the distinct pleasures of rereading. Read so you can reread, so you can reread, so you can reread. Qué delicia.

My to-read list is miles long, but another Spanish masterpiece that I must read urgently is Don Quijote. I suspect that it will also become a book to reread over and over. Faulkner read it annually, and so did the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes. “If I don’t read Don Quijote once a year,” the novelist once said, “I’m not going to be able to write, or to breathe, or to make love, or to think even. All of my emotions are caught up somehow in the magic of this book.” Mm, that is exactly how I feel about Cien años de soledad.

Freud learned Spanish, supposedly to read Don Quijote. Now people study Spanish the world over to read Cien años de soledad. Here’s a bit I translated from an interview with Conrado Zuluaga, an expert on García Márquez: “In Japan, in Portugal, in India, and all over the world they keep reading García Márquez. In Calcutta, for example, I spoke to an audience of 600 people, most of whom spoke Spanish. When I asked them why they had learned the language, almost all of them would answer, ‘to read Cien años de soledad.'”  Isn’t that marvelous? This knowledge makes me so happy. They will definitely be rewarded for their efforts and then some. And so will you.

If you were a little lacking in the motivation department lately in regards to your Spanish, maybe this reminder will help reinvigorate you. It’s not an easy read, but it’s well worth the challenge. Read easier books and work your way up to the harder ones. Of course, if you don’t like to read, all of this will fall on deaf ears. Reading this book is a magical experience, though, and it doesn’t appear to be coming to a theater near you anytime soon. However, there is a great song about Cien años de soledad you can listen to. (Typically played and danced to in December) It’s no substitute for the book, but maybe the infectious cumbia beat will get your hips shaking and the lyrics will intrigue you.


Besides a little Carlos Fuentes and Julio Cortázar this year, I’ve mostly been focused on García Márquez Spanish-wise because, sadly, I know he won’t be around much longer. I feel very motivated to read as much of him as I can while he is still alive. I’ve read five of his books this year (plus the reread), and I think I can squeeze in a few more. If only there were more people here I could talk with about these books! Or maybe there are and I’m just not giving them a chance. The other night I was reading Cien años de soledad for a few hours at a café, and this guy started talking to me. It turned out he was a García Márquez fan too, and he commented on the beauty of the end of Love in the Time of Cholera, his eyes practically misting. We chatted briefly, and he peppered me with questions. Where are you from? Are you Colombian? Oh, but I detected an accent. Is English your first language? When I left, he invited me to join him to go somewhere and talk more about García Márquez. And . . . I predictably declined. I mean, I do want what Aureliano Segundo and Petra Cotes had, that “paraíso de la soledad compartida,” but I didn’t really feel like sharing my solitude at that moment. Oh well. In general, I really do love to talk about books and whatnot, so hit me up with your thoughts on literature, Spanish, love, loneliness, and everything else. Les regalo mi soledad, que aprovechen pues.

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Read anything good in Spanish lately? I want to know all about it. Have you read Cien años de soledad or anything else by García Márquez? What did you think? Regardless of whether or not your current level of Spanish is adequate to read them, what are the books you dream of reading one day? What do you recommend?

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18 responses to “Rereading Cien años de soledad

  1. loopingstateofmind

    I’ve read Cien años de soledad but to be honest I didn’t enjoy it very much. I got confused with the repetition of most of the character’s names, but perhaps I need to reread it and give it another go!
    My favourite Spanish book is La Sombra del Viento by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, such a good book! I also enjoyed La Casa de los espíritus by Isabel Allende.

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    • Well, it’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. Beyond the confusion of names (which gets easier with a reread, plus there are family trees online to help you keep track), I guess it just depends on how much you liked the story and storytelling style. I loved it, but there are also many sentimental and nostalgic reasons for me to do so beyond the story in and of itself. Thanks for the recommendations! I know that both of those books are very popular.

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  2. I have never read Cien Ańos de Soledad and I’m not planning to. Generally, I don’t think I’ve read more than 10 books by Spanish-speaking writers in my whole life so far, let alone books_in_Spanish. Not much has changed since I have last commented on that subject on your blog: the only foreign language I read novels in is English. Having a British Council library around in a cool thing ;) I keep visiting the place every week or two checking out stuff (mostly mystery/crime novels).

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    • OK. Different strokes for different folks. It’s really good, though. That’s great that you read so much in English. Who are your favorite authors?

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      • The unchallanged no.1 as far as English-language writers are concerned would be Stephen King. I read most of his books a few times each, in many cases both in Polish and in English ;) As to the stuff that I check out from British Council, I guess that Ruth Rendell wins, though recently I’ve discovered Val MacDiarmid and I really like her stuff so far.

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        • Nice. I only recently learned of Ruth Rendell, and she sounds very good. I was listening to a radio interview with John Grisham recently– it sounds like his books are very popular overseas. I thought of you.

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  3. Funny you mention that – I’ve got 100 years of solitude in English, and someone recently gifted me the Spanish version. I struggled enough with the English version as it has a very confusing timeline, and the repetition of names doesn’t help… Fantastic book though, and I’m looking forward to cracking on with the Spanish version.

    Otherwise, I’ve read a few books by Eduardo Mendoza – he’s a Spanish author. I’d definitely recommend these to someone looking for a book to read in Spanish, he’s got a kind of wit that sits well with an English sense of humour.

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  4. Me gustó mucho esté breve artículo tuyo. ¿Artículo es la palabra? No lo sé. Sólo sé que me dejó con muchas ideas. Generalmente no escribo sobre las cosas que leo: obligo a mis amigos a que las lean y nos drogamos juntos, nos emborrachamos por meses hasta que la fiesta se acaba o ellos encuentran otro libro y va la cuenta de nuevo. El último de estos casos fue una borrachera a tres, estaba primero, y siempre estuvo, el doctor KyeongMin, de corea del Sur, quien a su vez me pasó la idea y las ganas de leer a Bolaño, luego llegó una amiga mía que tenía nociones del tema, pero no se sentía muy ávida por leer al Chileno. Entonces leí “Los detectives salvajes” y empezó la fiesta, molesté a uno y a la otra para que compartieran ideas conmigo, o sólo sonrisas de complicidad. Es.. un libro extraordinario. Antes de eso asistí a una mega peda de “City” de Alessandro Barico (es un escritor italiano, el original no lo he leído jamás, excepto pedacitos aquí y allá). También leí Cien años de soleda en una semana. Es una experiencia muy chevere :) Me pasa lo mismo que a tí, pero en lugar de subrayar “miss”, yo subrayo “escribir”. Me voy, debo escribir algo el día de hoy. Gracias por escribir y recordarme.

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    • Muchísimas gracias por tus palabras tan amables y poéticas. Sí, artículo, entrada, post, como sea. Me encanta cómo describes esa borrachera de literatura entre tú y tus amigos, qué imagen más linda. Ahora se me está antojando mucho ese libro, hay que leerlo. Espero que escribas, amigo mío, además que me digas dónde encontrar esos escritos magníficos.

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  5. Have you ever checked out audiobooks in Spanish? There’s this site called Librivox where volunteers record works that have passed into Public Domain. Here’s what they have in Spanish: https://librivox.org/search?title=&author=&reader=&keywords=&genre_id=0&status=all&project_type=either&recorded_language=5&sort_order=catalog_date&search_page=1&search_form=advanced
    (click on a title and from there you will see clear instructions what to do next, there are also often links to texts on Project Gutenberg or other similar sites)

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  6. hablaespanolconmigo

    I can relate to thispost. Im currently reading a spanish version of “el viejo y el mar” and its taking forever. I often think i cant wait to reread this one day when my spanish doesnt stink and im not looking up evry ffth word in el dictionario and i can actually enjoy the story……btw. great blog.aidios T

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    • Hi, thanks for the comment. I’m sorry you’re struggling with the book. I really don’t recommend reading Spanish translations (especially when it’s of English books–books you can and probably should just enjoy in the original) as they are often awkward and full of strange, unnatural words. Have you ever thought of reading a children’s book in Spanish? I’ve done this before, and I really enjoyed it. I plan to blog about it soon. Best of luck! Keep at it.

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  7. Catching up on my emails, and found this entry… Cien Anos de Soledad… Never read it, but I first heard about it and Marquez–through a Russian colleague of mine, last year. They’d read Russian translations of it, and loved the book. A few weeks later, I read an article that mentioned Cien Anos de Soledad as a theme for a traffic light box mural commissioned by a local library. I can’t say that I’ve been convinced by the concept (history repeating itself through generations/geneology) to invest the time to read the story, but who knows?? Maybe fate is trying to tell me something…

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    • Catching up on my comments– sorry about the long delay, Cesar! How interesting that you’ve been exposed to the book in such diverse ways. Let me know if you ever read it. And if not that, tell me what you do read. I love talking about books.

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