The Connection. Fried plantains (tostones) are one of the most ubiquitous snacks in South America. Because 100 Years of Solitude takes place in some unnamed region of the continent, plantains seemed appropriate. Also, after the death of one character, nothing is eaten but rice and fried plantains for months and months. Which wouldn’t be so bad. They’re delicious.
3–4 green plantains
Vegetable oil for frying
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon ketchup
1/2–1 teaspoon lime juice
2 scallions, chopped fine
Cayenne pepper (or diced chili pepper)
Peel the plantains by chopping off both ends and scouring vertically four or five times, then carefully peeling off each section (see picture). Chop the plantains into 1/2 inch slices.
Fill a large cast iron skillet with about 1/4 inch of vegetable oil and bring to 375 degrees (or “quite hot” if you don’t have a thermometer, but adjust down if the oil starts smoking—canola oil starts at 400 degrees). Carefully add the plantains (I lowered them into the pan with a spatula) and fry until just barely golden (about a minute, but this will vary depending on how hot your oil is), flipping once half way.
Remove from heat and cool slightly, then place on a cutting board and squish with a flat object (I used a metal measuring cup, but anything will do). Return the squished plantains to the pan, fry until a deep golden brown, and remove from heat. Salt and pepper to taste.
To make the dip, mix together the mayonnaise, ketchup, scallions, and lime juice, and add the cayenne pepper to taste. If you happen to have a chili pepper, you can (and probably should) use that instead, seeded and diced.
Eat while the plantains are still hot and crispy. I paired them with rice and beans fried with green peppers and onions for a quick and easy dinner.
(If you wait too long and your plantains ripen, cut them into slightly bigger chunks, toss with brown sugar, fry until just caramelized, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Also yummy.)
“It’s enough for me to be sure that you and I exist at this moment.”
The Plot. On the surface, it’s the story of five generations of the Buendía family who share a limited name pool (they are mostly Arcadios, Aurelianos, and Remedioses, more on that later). Really, it’s about family, love, jealousy, the dangers of isolation, the pursuit of knowledge, the ability to learn from the past, the pitfalls of aristocracy, corporate exploitation of third world countries, the inanity of war, government cover-ups, and the cyclical nature of things.
Who should read it. People with great patience, especially those who like unsolvable puzzles. (I say this with only the greatest affection for the book.) Note that stubbornness is a good substitute for patience.
Why I liked it. It’s clear from the get-go that this is magical realism at its best (or worst): Márquez weaves together fantastically impossible events with mundane details in a casual, folksy way. At one point, it rains for four years straight. I barely read the sentence, processing it as hyperbole, until Márquez started listing the small, realistic ways that the rain affected the village. Suddenly the rain is real, and you can’t write it off without writing off the whole book. It’s an unsettling mental exercise, the suspension of disbelief, but I can only assume it’s good for you. One reviewer suggests that “it is only through the imagination that we transform and humanize what we never really understand.” There might be something to that.
It’s not necessarily an easy book to read and love, especially if you have a firm grasp on reality to begin with. The pace jumps all over the place, and some characters refuse to die while others refuse to stay dead. Worst of all, almost everyone has the same name, so the book would be confusing even if it the narrative were straightforward. But it also touched me in surprising ways. I spent most of the book thinking I didn’t care about the family, but then suddenly Marquez would twist a knife I wasn’t even aware he was holding and I’d be fighting back tears. In the end, it doesn’t matter much who is who, especially since all the characters are reflections of one another, and even they get confused about the family tree. The book gives a home and context to some beautiful moments and universal truths. It’s a lovely, real story if you let yourself get dragged in.
So when you sit down to read, don’t expect that things will happen. They do, but events are so dislocated in time and reality that they don’t have the significance you’d expect. The story cannot be eaten, digested, and understood logically piece by piece. It’s not a book about plot, and it’s not a book about characters—it’s a book about everything else.