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.
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?