world literature

World Literature

As I mentioned in my last blog post about Love in the Time of Cholera, I’ve recently read a bunch of writing from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, my latest edition being 100 Years of Solitude. For those of you who remember my blog post about my New Year’s Resolutions, one of my goals was to read fifteen books. After reading this book, though, I was determined to do something more. I wanted those fifteen books to be World Literature. Meaning, I didn’t want to read just great books, but great books from around the world because after reading books number two and three of my fifteen, I’ve found that world literature has so much value and should be more often explored versus the old, white males of the typical cannon.

I was extremely excited to start reading this book because as I’ve researched novels for my Lit Lovers book club, I’ve seen this book ranked as one of the top books ever worldwide. I wondered why that was. What could I learn from this book and what implications would reading a piece of world literature have on me? Well, I can tell you that the impact was quite profound.

That being said, my first experience with 100 Years of Solitude was tough. In fact, I know many people who have put down this book because the names are rather confusing. To show you what I mean look at the picture below.

Family Tree in 100 Years of Solitude

What do you find interesting about this?

If you answered that the names are all essentially the same—either a Aureliano or Arcadio Buendia—you’ve answered correctly. As much as this is annoying and confusing, this is also necessary for a constant symbol in the book is mirrors. This idea of mirrors plays into the fact that Marquez wants to show people that history often repeats itself, it’s something that we cannot get away from or escape from.

To begin with this symbol, we have to look at the town of Macando, where the story takes places. This city is the city of mirrors, and Jose Arcadio Buendía finds it and establishes it after it appears to him one night in a dream, “Buendía dreamed that night atht right there a noisy city with houses having mirror walls rose up” (p 24). Jose Arcadio Buendía, the founder of this city, has his actions reflected throughout his lineage as you go about the story. As if to make the symbol even more apparent the twins Aureliano Segundo and Jose Arcadio Segundo are twins and mirrors of one another, consistently being mixed up by their family and even by themselves at one point in the novel. Finally, as if it wasn’t already obvious enough, the ending of the novel begins in a similar fashion to how it starts and many of the family members do the same thing as their forefathers.

Like all great pieces of literature, at the end of the day, you have to give Gabriel Marquez credit where it is due. This is a difficult piece of literature to understand and fully interpret, especially only upon reading it once, but like things that get revisited in time, or books where you slow down to really internalize them, it rewards you with a fantastic novel. I remember this also happened to me with To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I didn’t appreciate it when I read it in high school, but after teaching the novel I really did grow to appreciate it and all the themes within the novel.

Upon this reading, I took it slow. I made sure I had a quiet space that I could read in peace and I allocated myself a dedicated amount of time to just focus on the text alone, looking up words here and there as I went along. Also, because his writing style is very long, meaning there isn’t much whitespace on the page, scenes can seemingly go on forever and even have a few perspective changes within each paragraph. To Marquez’s credit, though, his chapters are kept at an average of twenty pages which is much more agreeable than sixty pages in Love in the Time of Cholera. However, it does contain one of the longest sentences in literature at 879 words. If interested, you can find that and other long sentences here.

Summary

You can find my review for the book here. In a nutshell, though, this story tells the rise and fall of the city of Macando and the lineage of the Buendía family who established Macando. It does a good job in bringing in the idea of civilized worlds ruining indigenous tribes (an all too natural modern occurrence) and how capitalism corrupts our soul and desires, for if we always want more we never truly appreciate what we have already. To gain more insight on this novel, or to just hear the “thugnotes” version of it, watch the video below. Having read it, I found it quite amusing, and so I hope you will, too.

Implications of World Literature

1) Worldwide Insight

By reading literature around the world, it is already obvious that we gain new insights about the world. This helps us expand our worldview ever so slightly if we are too stubborn (or, nowadays, too quarantined) to travel. For example, by reading these two pieces from Gabriel Marquez I already can tell that sex is rather common in Colombia. As the Thugnotes guy says at the beginning of his video, “We’re gonna need some freakin’ condoms” when talking about 100 Years of Solitude and the same goes for Love in the Time of Cholera.

Description about love

Of course, one should be cautious making blanket statements such as these and a reader should be cautious taking blanket statements such as these. But, at the same time, there are grains of truth to these conclusions if we also think about other known Latin American identities. Men are usually described as “Latin Lovers” and are masters at seduction, something that appears in both novels by Garcia Marquez. In Paolo Coelho’s book, The Alchemist there is a page that describes love so beautifully that I cannot help but sharing it here.

Furthermore, from my time in South America and just from the experiences that I’ve had there, I do know that there is a sexual openness there that isn’t seen in Asian countries. Without going into too much detail, I’ll just say that I experienced a bunch of firsts in South America that would be difficult to do elsewhere in the world. From my time in Brazil, I know that the culture there revolves around sex and fitness. And, just to be clear, that isn’t a bad thing, it’s culturally different and acceptable to them, and thus, by reading world literature we can further help define our viewpoints of the world and become more culturally understanding and accepting.

It’s not just sexual openness, though. It’s compassion. The tenderness that Latinos and Latinas share for people they love is incredible, and I’ve seen that love first hand. It’s beautiful.

It’s not only cultural identities that we get to find out when reading world literature, but also, events that have happened in the country’s past. The video below explains why everyone should read 100 Years of Solitude. Again, it is a difficult book, but it’s such a rewarding book as well.

Why we should read 100 Years of Solitude

2) Discover New Genres

One of the other reasons to read world literature is a chance to experience new genres. I was excited to read this book, for example, because it the epitome of magical realism. Magical realism is a subgenre of fantasy. Essentially, magical realism paints a realistic view of the modern world, or a world at some period of time, while adding magical elements to it. This is a very popular style of literature in Latin America and the father of this style is no other than Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

From the wandering gypsy Melquíades and his wonderful inventions to magic carpets and tarot reading by Pilar Ternera, magical realism is present all throughout the novel. Some characters are attributed with God-like characteristics, immune to the world around them, other characters leave a trail of butterflies (or something else) as they pass by wherever they go. These types of happenings in the novel make it quite the enjoyable read if you are into fantasy.

And although Gabriel Marquez is the father of this type of genre, there are many other books that also deal with magical realism. One of them being The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho that I mentioned above.  

3) Personal Effects

I mentioned to all of you in an earlier blog post here about my bucket-list that I eventually want to teach creative writing at a college level. For some reason, this book has gotten me to want to do a research paper for fun (who says that? I can’t believe I just typed that). My last research paper on literature was for Moby Dick and it was a ten-page essay on how the characters lose their humanity throughout the novel as they get further and further into the sea. To be honest, I miss that.

I miss engaging with other authors and critics about a novel and then adding my own ideas or making my own points. I cannot wait to continue doing this once I begin a Ph.D. program in the years to come, but first I need to focus on getting my Master’s Career. Regardless, reading this book has definitely given me the push I’ve wanted to go back to school, to continue studying and building my education, and I can see why this book is a recipient of the Nobel Prize in literature.

It is this type of feeling that I want to continue to have, so I’ve decided to now, not only read fifteen new novels this year, but I also want to read books from around the world. Just using what I could find in my own home, it looks like I already have a great start on tackling more pieces of world literature.

world literature
World Literature

From Kamasutra (India) to a Moment in Peking (China) to Sin (Philippines) to even reading a book in Spanish (El León, la Bruja y el Ropero), I want to accomplish and do things I’ve never done before. Currently, although I don’t have the book here, I am listening to the Audiobook of Ulysses which is a novel by Irish author James Joyce and one of the best examples of world literature that there is. I have never tried an audiobook before, so this is another new experience for me and something I can add to my list of new experiences!

While reading world literature may seem like a really novel idea (yes, pun intended), It isn’t. A woman made it her mission to read a book from every country within a year. You can find the TedTalk video down below.

Reading books from around the world

This idea—reading novels from around the world—is something that I want to do slowly but surely and balance it out with writing because as anyone knows, and as I’m about to explain below, reading 100 Years of Literature has had a profound effect on my writing.

4) Writing Effects

Moreover, reading this novel has made me want to experiment with my own novel in Magical Realism, or, at the very least, a short story to begin with. As with all good ideas, I will internalize that and let it ruminate a little more, and perhaps while I read something one day, it will make a “serendipitous connection” with something and the idea of the novel or short story will be formed. That is my hope, anyway, as I currently don’t have an idea for a magical realism piece.

Finally, like with all writing, it has made me conscientious of my own prose and style. As I continue plugging away on the first draft of the fourth novel, I am starting to see that I’m taking more time with my descriptions, my word choice, everything, and I think that is one of the priceless values of reading world literature, especially if you’re an author. It is a source of inspiration to us, and sources of inspiration is something I want to tackle in a future blog post next week, so stay tuned for that!

Like Macando, writing and reading are mirrors of one another. We write what we know about and we read things we like to write about, and during this time while we are trapped between the mirrors of reading and writing, we gain new perspectives on the world, on life, on ourselves, and that, in turn, is reflected in our writing, our perceptions, and how we choose to live.

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