Thursday, March 02, 2017

One Hundred Years of Solitude

It's not a hundred years but one hundred years of solitude. The word one gives a sense of certainly to it. So it is that the fate of Macando is certain as well. It does not matter that there is such a long story through generations on and on, only history repeats itself. It does not matter how many times the matriarch Ursula tries to change the course of the future to stop history from repeating, to save Macando from its fate. The fate is certain and it will be so.
It's a long story and a very long one, and so densely packed that every page is oozing with detail and the story just keeps going on and on. Yet you know the end is coming, soon. Yet you are never bored, not for once. Yes, you occasionally wonder where it's all going and why it's so repetitive but that is what it is. You see, history repeats itself.
A man and his wife, escape their village because the man murdered another and they travel far and wide and finally settle down in a place and that's how the Buendias establish Macando. There they have sons and daughters who have sons and daughters who have sons and daughters. Most of the sons are named either Aureliano or Arcadio and the daughters are few and have a few different names. The repetitive nature of the names adds to the confusion while reading the book but when you follow the story it helps in setting the similarities of every generation. Ursula sees it too, especially when a pair of twins named these two names get swapped at birth and spend their whole lives being called by the other name. Yet traits tell Ursula that they were probably swapped. Aurelianos are supposed to be pensive and poetic while Arcadios impulsive. Talk of magical realism, the twins die at the same time and mistakenly get swapped when they are buried, ensuring that each went to the grave with their birth name.
Through out the story, it seems like many ills befall this little settlement and yet it was meant to be. Eventually the settlement is destroyed and just before it is, the last of the family decodes an ancient parchment that had been with the family for generations. And when the fate of his family dawns on him, it is also the end of it. And when it has all ended, a passerby would never know Macando once existed there...
They say Gabriel Garcia modelled this story on Colombia. I don't know enough about Colombia to know. All I know is the beauty of his magical realism that I had understood when I read the obituary of Gabriel Garcia Marquez on The Economist and I knew that I had to read this book.

The Girl with Seven Names

I've read many books, more than many people I know. However, I had never been able to complete any form of lengthy non-fiction. This book is the first piece of non fiction that I've read fully. (Of course it helps that it is a story.)
It's the true story of a North Korean defector who went to China and then eventually sought asylum in South Korea. She later helped her mother and brother come to South Korea.
While I love to read about books set in different cultures woven into the normal stories of every day people, reading about terrible odysseys in horrifying detail is not something I seek out. I feel that many of these sad stories (fiction) from outside the developed western world are made so to sell the poverty or suffering to the Western audience. For example, Aravind Adiga's White Tiger. However, what made me pick up this book was an article in The Financial Times of a lunch with her. I knew that her book would be very different.
The Girl with Seven names is different. It's not a sob story but a story of hope. Truly this is how I believe most stories of hardship would be. The story is not about the hardships but about what keeps one going. Most of the difficulties she faces are written in a very matter-of-fact manner without delving into detail. What is in clear detail is the pain of missing her family with the knowledge of what it means to have a North Korean defector for a family member when living inside that country.
She was born and brought up in a well-to-do resourceful family in North Korea and hence spent most of her life there believing North Korea is the greatest country in the world and that South Korea is full of beggars. She truly believed it like most others who were in the good books of the Party. What this book opens our eyes to is the happiness of living in North Korea and that brainwashing and lack of access to the outside world makes you accept whatever you are told to be true without questioning.
All the misfortune that befalls her is just that, she does not curse. But even the littlest of lucky instances happen to her and she would praise them with the kindest words. Sometimes you think she was lucky and the suffering of others was much larger but then again she makes a statement that catches you off guard and you realise what she had gone through had changed her so much and had just decided not to talk about it. But it's true however, that there were so many kind strangers,  acquaintances, friends, distant family, that supported her at every juncture. It restores your faith in humanity. It made me cry when a complete stranger in Laos helped her with not just money but physically being present along her side during visits to a prison.
The most striking sense you get from her is her courage and her bubbling warmth. Aptly, her chosen seventh name is Hyeon-seo which means sunshine and good-luck.