Reading a book called "On Anarchism," comprised of a bunch of quotes from some writings and lectures by Noam Chomsky (previous post), I'm struck that he provides a message about how the world can be a better place. And it's not through the American idea of "anarchism" or "libertarianism," but it is through a system where everyone exercises free agency and develops the talents they want to develop, and where families are important and love and kindness are the guiding principles.
(I'll mention more about this in a future post.)
Then, reading an interview with Jess Walter, at the end of his 2012 novel "Beautiful Ruins," I see this wonderful quote: "I remember reading "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and marveling at all that happened just in the first sentence. ("Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.") There's a whole novel in that sentence.
Two days ago, reading an interview with another author, Mary Morris, I see this one:
But then, one day—I can’t remember why—I started to read One Hundred Years of Solitude. It was a first edition in English, a beautiful hardcover. It was raining, a totally gray day, as I lay with the book in my loft bed. And as I began to read, it was like seeing color again. The grayness went away. Even today, I was looking at the opening words again and I felt that sense of dimensionality and color and richness and aliveness: life. It started with this incredible first sentence: “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.”I had to stop and read that line over and over again. I’d never read a sentence like that one before, one that seemed to encompass an entire world. I’ve always loved traveling and travel writing and that moment when your passport gets stamped. When I read the first line of this novel, I felt like I’d just had my passport stamped. I’d walked into a completely different world, one beyond what I’d ever seen or imagined or knew was possible.How does Márquez achieve the magic of this opening sentence? First, there’s the fact that the character is facing a firing squad—so there’s this threat of imminent death from the very first moment. You have the immediate sense of a dangerous political world, a place fraught with peril. And yet that darkness is juxtaposed against a sense of wonder, thanks to the detail that makes the whole thing so enchanting and unusual: the memory of a childhood journey, one day spent going to “discover ice.” We all know what ice is; it’s utterly familiar. So the sentence leaves you with this question: In what kind of landscape would ice seem like a magical element, something with almost supernatural power? Of course, in much of Latin America at that time, ice was hard to come by, perhaps even exotic. It’s a reminder that Márquez himself always said he did not write “magical” realism, insisting that everything he wrote he had somehow experienced. In that one detail you have that mix of ordinary and extraordinary that is so associated with this writer.
Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who has died at age 87, will be remembered for many things. But one of his most perfect accomplishments may be the legendary opening sentence to his 1967 novel, 100 Years of Solitude. Here it is:"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."The question of what constitutes the greatest first line to any novel in literary history is not something that can ever really be decided. But Marquez's is surely as good a contender as any. It has been repeatedly ranked as one of the best, for example in 2006 by the American Book Review, which declared it the fourth-best opening line in literary history. The other top sentences, by Herman Melville and others, are worthy but ultimately unpersuasive competitors: for inventiveness, for vividness, and for the sheer force by which Marquez's first line compels you to drop everything and go read his novel from beginning to end, there is no real equal.
Back to "Beautiful Ruins": Here's another interview with the author; I found it while I was looking for an easy way to get his quote in the third paragraph, above. I didn't find that same bit in this interview, so I went back to the back of the book "Beautiful Ruins," where I'd found it in the first place. But, meanwhile, here's a great quote from him in the Morning News interview: "I wanted to be a literary novelist. I wanted my name to be up there---that was my dream. And I thought, You can't get there from where I am. You can't get there from Spokane."
Is this even true? I'll read the rest of the interview, later, to find out what else he has to say about being from Spokane. I've never been to Spokane, but I've read fine books by other writers who are from there. And I'll write more about this, too, in a post soon to come.