Learning From the Great Novels – One Hundred Years of Solitude

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ writing has the depth and force of childhood memories, your own. His endlessly captivating novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude shines with prose so rich and nostalgic you’ll think you’re remembering things instead of hearing them for the first time. What can you learn from this master of the art of fiction?

Have the courage to let your imagination run wild. Garcia Marquez is a wonderful example of unfettered imagination. His ability to get aloft and take you flying with him will remind you of Ray Bradbury. The stories are astonishing but you are drawn in because they are so masterfully told. His grandmother was evidently a great storyteller. She told fantastic stories, he says “… but she told them with complete naturalness. She did not change her expression at all when telling her stories.” While your imagination soars, your feet need to stay on the ground. “I discovered that what I had to do was believe in them myself and write them with the same expression with which my grandmother told them: with a brick face.”

Make the place a character. Macondo grows from a small village of adobe houses by a river to a thriving settlement, and then it falls and finally disappears. Successive generations of the Buendia family are the founding architects and principal residents of the town. And what a town it is! A colorful progression of characters finds their way to this isolated place. Troupes of gypsies demonstrate fascinating trinkets and processes, Arabs with the latest inventions from the wide world over, settlers from Europe bringing their books full of classical culture, a two hundred year old traveling minstrel named Francisco the Man, and more mix with native tribesmen to make the main street of Macondo a parade of delights.

Don’t be afraid of emotion when you write. In fact emotion is absolutely necessary to good writing. You need a mix of the mental process that lets you drive the story forward and strong feelings about what you’re writing. If you don’t feel anything, neither will your reader. The first sentence of One Hundred Years is a good example. “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.” Whoa! You’re in up to your eyeballs right away. You feel distress and want to know how he got into this situation. Then you feel the fascination of a small boy in a tropical village experiencing ice for the first time. You just have to know who this person is and what led him to this point. You are emotionally involved.

If you are a writer One Hundred Years of Solitude is worth your while. We have to note that the book was written in Spanish. If you can read it in the original language, it will surely add to the experience. If you cannot read Spanish, Gregory Rabassa’s translation will do just fine.

Happy reading and writing!

Thirukural – Tamil’s Classical Literature

This book consisting of 133 sections of 10 couplets each which was recognized as a masterpiece of literature in Tamil, has stood the test of history and is accepted by posterity as a seminal work which has influenced the thoughts of man throughout the centuries. It is a work of not only great aesthetic and stylistic literary value, but also a guide to the art of living with nuggets of invaluable wisdom.

The range of these verses covers subjects like ethics, statecraft, citizenship, love, the art of life in its myriad forms. It deals with the three ARAM, PORUL, INBUM which are essential for a life of action.

Thirukural is separated into three sections. The first section deals with Aram doing things, with conscience and principle, for the good of the less privileged, the second one deals with Porul realities or essentials of life, and the third one dwells on Inbam the delights that a man and a woman encounter in the course of their relationship. There you can find 38 chapters in the first section, 70 chapters in the second and 25 chapters in the third section.

The profound thoughts and ideas of this great saint-poet are encapsulated in the shortest possible Tamil metre called “Kural”. Thus the wisdom of Thiru Valluvar (Author) is expressed in unparalleled verses which combine beauty with brevity. The translation of these verses into other languages will enrich the literature of this language as well.

Two thousand years later, we see the same concern for ethical values and the same commitment to expressing these sublime thoughts in a language and an idiom understood by the common man in the Thirukural.

Forget Romeo And Juliet: Hamlet’s Teen-Like Angst a Better Way to Reach Teenager Readers

For high school students, the works of William Shakespeare are not the easiest literature to grasp, much less to get them to care about. The first hurdle, of course, is the language. With all the “LOLs,” “ridics,” and “OMGs” used in a teen’s daily vernacular, Shakespearean verse such as “to be, or not to be: that is the question” can sound a lot like Charlie Brown’s teachers to the ears of adolescents. Wha wha whoamp whoamp.

The next difficulty is seeing how the complex writings of a 400-year-old dead guy with a dog collar are relevant to today’s teenager. So how can teenagers best get down with Shakespeare? One word: Hamlet.

Literary scholars love to expound upon Hamlet’s psychological struggles with mortality and madness, his inability to act or make decisions, or a perennial favorite topic of discussion: whether Hamlet has the hots for his mom. But fancy-pants critics always seem to forget that Hamlet acts a like a typical sullen teenager who has major beef with his parents, his girlfriend, and this whole thing called life. He may or may not be an actual teenager, but the Danish prince certainly wears a teenaged “trappings and the suits of woe” like a boss.

Teens can find many ways to relate to Hamlet and his existential suffering. He could be the gateway character to the score of Shakespeare’s other eternally conflicted and philosophically complex players. Hopefully, teen readers do not find common ground through the whole uncle-killing-the-dad-and-then-marrying-the-mom-thing, but perhaps they can feel comforted by the utter confusion, grief, and angst that incessantly troubles and stalls Hamlet. He’s the Elizabethan Era’s Holden Caufield. While it is such an anachronistic stretch of a comparison, the similarities between the The Catcher in The Rye protoganoist and Hamlet are there. Surely, J.D. Salinger might have had Hamlet’s nasty “Get thee to a Nunnery” speech to his gal-pal Ophelia in mind when Holden flips out over Sally Hayes (rightfully) refusing to run away with him, calling her a “royal pain in the ass.”

Moreover, both protagonists are mired in a sort of limbo in their lives, unsure of who they are and what they should be doing. Should Hamlet try to find out check up on some ghost’s claim that his uncle/stepfather poisoned his dad? Is that ghost even real or is he just going mad? What’s more, should Holden try to be human and reach out to the “phony bastards” or continue feeling lonely and abandoned, just like the ducks in the pond must feel every winter? Decisions, decisions, and neither are quick to take action.

Such similarities point to how valuable Shakespeare’s Hamlet can be to a puberty-stricken teenager grappling with the uncertainty and confusion of growing up. Forget Romeo as the quintessential Shakespearean teen role model. Of course, Romeo and Juliet is a bit more accessible, especially with a 1996 modern film remake with a young Leonardo Dicaprio cast as the dreamy Romeo. Yet, most teens do not have passionately poetic outpourings with their star-crossed lovers and get married within days of meeting each other. Hamlet, on the other hand, tackles the real problems teens face every day: parents, girlfriends, confusion, depression, loss, loneliness, and even mortality. And some also go through the wearing-all-black stage.