Magic Realism: On “One Hundred Years of Solitude”

mensah headerNo new sightings of ghosts on the subway trains today. Only the typical crumbs of music dribbling from the earbuds worn by the passengers, myself included, on an unseasonably warm day. Seventy degree sunlight truncated the red and yellow leaves; businessmen whistled with the cliched easiness of their sports coats draped over their shoulders like capes, held in place by their left hands, wedding bands spangling in the bright afternoon. Back underground, where nothing is easy, and everything comes with some kind of cost, some price to pay for the littlest dignities, like space, like a seat to sit and read, I sat down this morning, and this evening, to read while the train raced me to and from work.

I am reading “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” the classic masterpiece by Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez. This is my first reading. I am on page ninety-four. To date, I’ve lived only one year containing the number ninety-four, during the late 1900s, the year my parents separated, or the year my mother left for greener pastures in Georgia, I can’t remember. Something occurred in that year—perhaps the premonition that my last surviving grandfather would die three years later, on the Ides of March, on my brother’s birthday, and his ghost would never haunt me, because I can barely remember him, but I remember the way his presence affected my grandmother, his wife, who would die of a heart attack, slumped beside her car while pumping gas, in 2003.

In any case, I am on page ninety-four, where I left off as I got off the L train, creaking and screaming. It stopped in front of the cemetery seen from the train windows as the tracks elevate from the underground. Here, from page ninety-four, I already know I will need to read “One Hundred Years of Solitude” a second time. A third time. A fourth and fifth time.

The language is lush and dense, but inviting. The voice is even, like that of a sober grandparent recollecting better days, but the story is old, so old, with so many ghosts, so many corpses reanimated into lively, imperfect souls. It is hard to keep up. Only ninety-four pages in and at times, I whisper into the pages, “slow down, please. To a crawl. Let me absorb.” But my grandfather, God bless him, was always difficult to follow——southern vernacular slurred by drink, gray and gravely voice—

With so far to go, so many pages before I sleep, I know so little about the Buendía family that I invoke my own family, and the scattered childhood memories I have of them. Too many gaps in between moments; my recollection is pockmarked with black holes, with one memory to the next connected by fog or overcast clouds floating from left to right; this inability to recall my childhood is the result of trauma, to be sure. What trauma, I don’t know, and if I knew, I wouldn’t write it here, and if I were to share it with anyone, it would be with my lover or the therapist, but most likely I would say it to myself as I’m wont to talk to myself, or to ghosts, like my grandfather (should he ever visit me).

I must say, for the record, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover my secret trauma within “One Hundred Years of Solitude” because, I should admit now, the title of the novel has quietly haunted me for years, and I’m facing my fears by reading it. One hundred years of solitude sounds like death, or a century of unrequited love (worse than death), but ninety-four pages in, I trust García Márquez. I trust literature more than I trust my memories. I am, in that sense, not completely lost. I am home, in Bushwick, thinking of ghosts; life is wondrous, if traumatic, sometimes.

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