Great Literature – 100 Years of Solitude

Every Tuesday, I like to share a learning tidbit on literature. Today, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s greatest work  (in my humble opinion)  100 Years of Solitude struck me as a good choice.

His epic novel follows the complete lineage of one family in a poetic and touching way. His word choice is descriptive, eloquent, and mixes the realms of reality and fantasy so well that it is easy to be lost in the world which he creates. In fact, in an attempt to escape from the burdens of college, I once spent a few days locked in my room reading this novel and eating saltines. It might have been a better choice to actually go to class.

Regardless, published in 1967, translated in over 27 languages, and the biggest best selling novel in Spanish history since Don Quixote, I am not the only one to find the book truly amazing.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Gabriel Garcia Marquez

A very very brief synopsis

As the novel is much better read and I believe about 500 pages long, I think a short summary will do. Marquez, originally from Columbia, sought to portray the circular nature of history  through his book. He attempted to portray time’s overlapping and circular pattern by creating the book in this way as well. The characters in his book all hold relatively the same name or variation thereof which at times can make the book both confusing and compelling.

The first of the family history starts with Jose Arcadio Bueno who is an eternal explorer and inventor at heart. Set in the small town of Macondo, we also see the story of the town unfold from rather untouched by the outside world to facing heavy afflictions and massacres. By the end of the book, after we have followed the tales of  the children and their exploits, Jose (the very first of the lineage) loses his senses and is left tied to a tree. There his wife Ursula visits him until her death. We meet other remarkable characters as well such as Remedios, the hauntingly beautiful daughter who’s looks entrance men. So beautiful, in fact, that eventually she floats up into the sky never to be seen again. There is also Jose Aureliano, who becomes one of the most well-known rebels during the civil war.

Marquez paints each characters’ tale from beginning to end until the complete family lineage of the Buendia’s is complete.

The novel ends with the lines stating that the family lineage will never be again:

“He [Aureliano II ] had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.” ~Last lines of 100 Years of Solitude

Marquez’s novel is in the form of magical realism and so reading it can be an imaginative experience. Throughout the novel he shows the struggle between the old traditions and the new ways through both his characters and the town of Macondo. His novel is able to paint a world with multiple view points and is rich in symbolism.

For those looking to get lost in their reading, 100 Years of Solitude will not disappoint.

Oh Little Lolita

Lolita (1962) - Movie Cover
Lolita (1962) - Movie Cover

Thanks to Stanley Kubrick, every time I see a pair of red heart-shaped sunglasses I think of Lolita. I’ll admit I haven’t seen the movie (it’s on my list though), but I have read the book. At least I get a point for that, most times it’s the other way around.

I’m more familiar with Vladimir Nabokov’s book Lolita (1955), and it is without a doubt one of my all time favorites. It’s rich in clever descriptions,  and his writing style is humorous, addicting, and controversial.


The main character is Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged professor, who becomes obsessed with a 12 year-old girl. His obsession is so strong that he often becomes tormented by his love for her. He moves from Paris to the US and searches for a place to stay. After meeting a widow and seeing her young daughter Dolores (“Lolita”) , Humbert chooses the widow’s place as his home-stay. In order to get closer to the young girl, he even decides to marry the widow who soon passes away after. Humbert and Lolita eventually get involved in a sexual affair together and go off on a trip across the US. Lolita soon loses interest in Humbert while he remains completely in love with her.

What is the significance of Lolita?

The topic no doubt is racy and obscene. Hence, Nabokov had much trouble finding a publisher for his novel. In fact, he could not find one in the US and went to France to have it published. There it was either exalted or despised. Not until 1958 was it allowed to be published in the US and became a bestseller.

The novel is recognized for its perceptive ability to portray sexuality and repression as well as Nabokov’s unique story-telling talents. His character Humbert Humbert often misconstrued the facts, and his narration was unreliable. For example, Humbert would claim that it was  Lolita seducing him rather than the other way around.

Nabokov (1899-1977)  had a true knack for word play.

To wrap-up, I’ll leave you with one of the most well-known quotes from Lolita:

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth, Lo. Lee. Ta.

The Great Books: Beowulf

It seems if a book is touted as a great classic, then it shall be made into a movie. Beowulf is no different, and if you aren’t familiar with this English literature, then you probably recognize it from the 2007 movie version which starred Angelina Jolie. I haven’t seen the movie, but I have read the epic poem. Unfortunately, I barely remember it,  so today we’ll take a brief look at the plot and the significance of Beowulf.


Beowulf is a young prince from Geatland (a place south of Sweden) who arrives unexpectedly with a group of armed men to a Danish town. This town, belonging to King Hrothgar, has been continually terrorized by a monster named Grendel who breaks in at night and devours the King’s warriors. When Beowulf and his men arrive, they fatally injure Grendel who then runs off to his swamp to die. Grendel’s mother tries to avenge her son’s death, but Beowulf is able to find her at her lair and kill her first. There he sees Grendel’s corpse and decapitates it to bring the severed head of the monster back to Hrothgar’s town. The Danish town cheers and celebrates when Beowulf returns with Grendel’s head and rejoice over the fact that their town is now monster-free. Eventually, Beowulf returns his hometown of Geatland as a hero. Soon after, he takes the thrown and rules for fifty years. A hero to the core, Beowulf protects the Geats from a terrorizing dragon, but it is in this same battle that he is fatally wounded. The Geats burn Beowulf’s body in a large funeral pyre and bury him with treasure. Thus, the story of Beowulf ends.

Beowulf wrestles with Grendel, Lynd Ward (1939)
Beowulf wrestles with Grendel, Lynd Ward (1939)

What’s the significance of Beowulf?

So why has Beowulf persisted as one of the great works of literature through the ages? One reason is that the story portrays a mix of pagan and Christian traditions. Set around 500 A.D. in, a more pagan era, the story’s characters often exhibit many Christian thoughts and beliefs yet their action do not always match this.

Beowulf is often introduced as the first great influence on the development of English literature. Although many scholars stand by this, it was not actually wide read until the 1800s.  Regardless, it still holds great historical and literary value. J.R.R. Tolkien, writer of The Lord of the Rings, was heavily influence by Beowulf.

So the next time someone brings up Beowulf or makes an allusion to it (you never know!), you’ll now have the basic idea, and be able to give a smart, little reply back.

That’s a Catch-22!

Have you ever wondered where the phrase “It’s a Catch-22” came from? Most likely you are aware it was termed by American author Joesph Heller in his book Catch-22 (1961), and that it refers to a no-win situation. And the reasoning for the number 22? There is none – other than it sounded the nicest in the opinions of Joseph and his publishers. Joseph’s novel is considered one of America’s finest war novels and is known to be called brilliant, shocking, and offensive.   Just a warning for those who haven’t read it – spoiler alert!


The novel takes place on the small Italian island of Pianosa during WWII. Yossarian, the main character and a US Air Force bombardier, and his squadron are ordered around by inept generals who constantly promise to send them home but never seem to do. The number of missions required to be completed to be sent home constantly gets bumped up. Yossarin is an individual with a strong will to live and is angered by the fact that he must put his life in constant peril through no choice of his own. He fakes illnesses and continually looks for ways to get out of his missions.

The satirical novel is full of odd characters and misfits. The squadron commander named Major Major Major Major receives his title of Major through a computer glitch. Milo Minderbinder, the mess officer, is ruthless and signs an agreement for the Germans to bomb off his squadron in exchange for money. As Yossarian recounts the tale, sub-plots unfold around him as well.

His friend Naterly falls in love with a whore from Rome. At first she is not receptive to his advances, but after sometime decides she likes him as well. Naterly is soon killed off in his next mission, and Yossarin is the one to deliver the news to her. She blames him for Naterly’s death and attacks him every time she sees him from then on.

Yossarin refuses to fly any more missions and leaves to wander the streets of Rome. Eventually, he is arrested for not having a pass, and sent to his commanding officers. He is given a choice for honorable discharge but he must agree to put his squadron mates in danger. In the end, Yossarin decides deserting is his only choice, and he flees to Sweden. Only then does he truly gain back his individual freedom and turns away from the machinery of the military.

So, what is the lesson to be learned?

Heller claimed that the novel was not so much about WWII specifically but about bureaucracy and authority’s absurd ways in the modern world. This can be greatly seen in the circular logic of the military in the novel. The most popular example:

Yossarin learns that pilots evaluated as “unfit” to fly are grounded from combat duty. “Unfit” is any pilot who is willing to fly since the missions are so dangerous, and therefore, one must be crazy to want to fly. At the same time, the squadron doctor must do the evaluation, and one must ask him to do it. But, by asking the doctor to evaluate you, you are then declared “sane” because this is sufficient proof of your sanity. So, if you want to get out of combat duty, you are not crazy. If you are not crazy, then you must fly. This is a Catch-22 since no pilot, sane or not, is able to not fly.

Another not so nice way of putting it, Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Have you ever experienced a Catch-22 situation? What happened?

What was The Great Gatsby about again?

Most likely, you have read this book at some point in your high school education. The Great Gatsby (1925) is considered one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s greatest works if not one the greatest American novels of all time. We’re all familiar with the title, but can you actually remember the storyline? If you’re like me, you get a vague idea of the story: something happens all too late, there’s a woman named Daisy, a gun, something about Gatsby in the pool?, and in the end is tragedy. Sadly, this really is my recollection of the book. And don’t feel bad if my recollection is better than yours, I’m not even sure if my memory serves me right.

So why not take a revisit to The Great Gatsby and see what is was all about as well as why it is such a classic.


Jay Gatsby is a mysterious millionaire who is new rich as opposed to old-money. He throws swanky, lavish parties which draws large crowds of people, referred to as “casual moths”, at his place. At one of these parties, Gatsby meets Nick Carraway – the narrator of the novel. Nick is immediately smitten by Gatsby’s charm and seemingly perfect life.

Soon enough, Nick begins to see that things aren’t as they appear and that Gatsby hides more than he shows. We find out that Gatsby was born into poverty in the Midwest, a self-made millionaire through shady business transactions, and his real intention in moving east is to gain back the love of Daisy Buchannan – who is now married to another man (Tom). Oh, and Gatsby isn’t even his real name. To top it off, Daisy Buchannan is Nick’s cousin, but wait, the plot thickens even more.

Tom, Daisy’s husband, has a mistress Myrtle who Nick finds out about through his current lover Jordan. We’ll come back to this later. Anyways,  Gatsby convinces Nick to introduce him to Daisy, and eventually Daisy and Gatsby reconnect and begin their own secret love affair. Tom finds out and becomes enraged, but Daisy decides her allegiance is to Tom. Regardless, Tom sends her off.

Later, Tom, Nick, and Jordan are driving together when they see Gastby’s car has killed Myrtle (Tom’s lover). Nick rushes back to Gatsby and finds out that it was actually Daisy who did it, but Gatsby has decided to take the blame. The next day Tom tells Mytle’s husband George that Gatsby has killed her. George, obviously upset by the news, then assumes that Gatsby must have also been Myrtle’s lover. He finds Gatsby at his mansion in his pool, shoots him, and then shoots himself. All this drama makes Nick run back to his home in the Midwest and come to the cynical conclusion that the American dream and all dreams are dead.

Phew, and all that in 180 pages.

So what is the big lesson to be learned?

The greatness of the novel The Great Gatsby has a lot to do with the paradoxical nature of Gatsby himself. He is the personification of the American dream – successful, self-made, popular and seemingly confident.  At the same time, he is filled with emotional suffering from placing his values so strongly on climbing the social and economic ladder.   He holds a library of books which have never been opened. He is lonely and longs for someone who ultimately does not want to be with him. His story takes a cutting look at the nouveau rich and their false sense of values. Being part of high society also makes one fall victim to it, and Fitzgerald similarly felt the same way about his own life. The Great Gatsby tells the story of the American Dream and its deterioration.

Hopefully t will help you the next time you hear of Great Gatsby and an allusion to it. Just another interesting tidbit, Benjamin Button is based on a short story of Fitzgerald’s.

Have you heard any allusions to the Great Gatsby and in what ways? What else do you think Fitzgerald is trying to tell us? Why do you personally find The GReat Gatsby to be one of the great classics?