Macondo is a fictional settlement somewhere between the mountains to the east and a great swamp to the west. It may or may not resemble Aracataca, Colombia, where its creator was born or Bogotá where he studied or Mexico City where, in the 1960s, Gabriel García Márquez wrote One Hundred Years of Solitude. Macondo is a place unto its own.

In his youth, José Arcadio Buendía and his men, with wives and children, animals and all kinds of domestic implements, had crossed the mountains in search of an outlet to the sea, and after twenty-six months they gave up the expedition and founded Macondo, so they would not have to go back.

Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (Picador 1978)

There is a church, a brothel, and a group of gypsies who visit Macondo when the time is right. Among them travels the magician Melquíades who holds the key to the fortunes of Macondo and, with it, the future of the Buendía family.

The 17 Aurelianos

As befits a magical place, strange things happen in Macondo. A man can shoot himself in the heart and the bullet can pass through his body without damaging a single organ. Yellow butterflies appear when the time for love arrives. The most beautiful woman in the world can ascend into heaven, taking with her sister-in-laws prized [name] sheets.

When war comes to Macondo, brave men heed its call. One such man is Colonel Aureliano Buendía. His bravery is such that women come from far and wide to lie in his hammock and receive his seed. Thus are born the 17 Aurelianos, each one indelibly marked on an ill-fated Ash Wednesday.

With One Hundred Years of Solitude, García Márquez established himself as a master of magic realism. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.

for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent’s life and conflicts.

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1982. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2021. Thu. 23 Dec 2021.

García Márquez the God

It should come as no surprise that García Márquez looms large in most writing handbooks. Francine Prose, for example, praises him for committing the sin of long paragraphs. The very first paragraph of One Hundred Years of Solitude runs on for a page and a half. It starts so:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.

This is clearly an omniscient narrator who knows all that has led up to this moment and all that is yet to come. It is also a very peculiar narrator whose mind leaps across time and from one Aureliano to another. The execution, so boldly announced in the first line, does not appear until midway the novel. Reading One Hundred Years of Solitude feels very much like sitting at the feet of a master storyteller who occasionally drops the thread of his thought.

Gabo on the road

Is this a bad thing? I cannot say that this novel has changed my life as the back cover promised it would. I can’t say that I recognize myself or my hometown in Macondo as Caleb Johnson did. He unearthed the fact that, in the summer of 1961, García Márquez with wife and son traveled across the American South en route to their new home in Mexico City.

It was an arduous journey on a tight budget during which the family was denied accommodation and resorted to eating their baby’s jars rather than the fast food available on the road.

García Márquez must have paid close attention during all those hours—more than three hundred total—spent traveling through my homeland. After all, the superintendent of the banana company that comes to Macondo is a Jack Brown from Prattville, Alabama—a town just outside Montgomery.

Caleb Johnson, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Road Trip Through Alabama, The Paris Review (9 Feb 2018)

If García Márquez can populate his novel with a boy destined to become the Pope or a whore who gives birth to multiple generations of Buendía, why not a banana guy from Alabama?

24 Dec 2021 | Karen Kao