Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Books Read - Measuring the World, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann, 2005

Someone called this Germany's first Latin American novel (those who read Gabriel Garcia Marquez books will know what this means). I've read the English translation by Carol Brown Janeway published in 2006.

The story starts off with Carl Friedrich Gauss and Alexander von Humbolt, two great German scientists, meeting for the first time. The year is 1828. The book then goes on to trace their lives and the great feats they accomplished, starting from their individual childhoods, focussing on each one's adventures in alternating chapters until we come again to their present meeting and the story concludes soon after. It may sound biographical but it's not. The historical content that the book deals with has been fictionalised to entertain us. For example, a visit by Humbolt to the Orinoco really happened, but the conversations he had with his colleague and friend while he travelled there is a fabrication, invented to tell us more about the man rather than just the plain facts.

As the author said:

"It has the tone of a non-fiction book. But it keeps slipping into fiction and mock-historical monography".

"It's very sincere, but not sincere at all."

I enjoyed the book tremendously, my only grouse is that it's too short, at a little over 300 pages. Other reviews are here, here, and here.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1967

The book details the lives of seven generations of the Buendia family in the fictional village of Macondo. Along with the events in the lives of the family members, we also get to see the changing social and political structures in a Latin American setting. The book though, is not completely realistic, making use of Magical Realism for the most part, such that most events appear quite surreal. Time itself is unsure of it's role in this book, and the absence of any dates makes you use your imagination to put the events and their durations in context with each other.

Apparently Daniel Kehlmann was influenced by this book to a large degree and tried to write a German version of it, which is why his own book, Measuring the World, has moments that can also be described as surreal and irrelevant, though within the context of history and real life characters.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is nothing short of a literary epic.


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