On May 5, 1967, Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s Cien años de soledad, or One Hundred Years of Solitude, is first published. The book, often referred to as a defining work of Latin American literature, made Márquez a prime candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he was awarded in 1982.
One Hundred Years of Solitude follows seven generations of the Buendía family, fictional founders of the fictional town of Macondo in Márquez’s native Colombia. The town and the family remain isolated from the outside world for much of the novel, but new technologies, political upheavals, and foreign businesses (the novel’s American Fruit Company is a clear reference to the real-life United Fruit Company) encroach upon them and shape the narrative.
Some events in the novel, such as the Thousand Days’ War, really happened, while others, such as the massacre of striking workers, were based on true moments in Colombian history. One of the novel’s defining features, however, is Marquez’s magical realism. Bizarre things happen frequently and are treated by the author and his characters as if they are completely ordinary. One of the Buendías goes mad and spends his final years tied to a tree by his family, another sires 17 illegitimate sons with inexplicably permanent Ash Wednesday crosses on their foreheads, and another ascends into the sky while folding laundry. Marquez’s tendency to treat these events as mundane is a hallmark of magical realism, a fantastical style of storytelling that was popular with the major Latin American authors of his generation.
The novel was an immediate and enduring success. Many critics saw the emergence of a distinctively Latin American style in Marquez’s fatalism and cyclical view of history. His work drew comparisons to that of William Faulkner and Vladimir Nabokov, while Chilean poet Pablo Neruda called it “the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since Don Quijote.” As he accepted his Nobel Prize, Marquez eloquently explained what magical realism meant to him: “I dare to think that it is this outsized reality, and not just its literary expression, that has deserved the attention of the Swedish Academy of Letters,” he said. “A reality not of paper, but one that lives within us … full of sorrow and beauty, of which this roving and nostalgic Colombian is but one cipher more.”