Tuesday, March 06, 2007


"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."

It must have been September 1986. At some point that month, I picked up One Hundred Years of Solitude (whose author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, turns 80 today), read the first sentence, and stopped when I got to the word "ice": I wanted to savor that sentence. So I memorized it, and for a few days, I walked around quoting it to people.

This led to two distinct responses. Some people said, "Oh, you're reading One Hundred Years of Solitude." I always said that no, I was not reading it; I had only read the first sentence and stopped. To which they always said, "You're weird, Andrew."

Others said, "Wow, what's that?" When I told them it was the first sentence of One Hundred Years of Solitude, they said, "Are you reading that? Is it as good as people say it is?" I always said that I did not know, as I had only read the first sentence and stopped. To which they always said, "You're weird, Andrew."

I did go on to read the whole book (and again a few years later). That opening sentence is still my favorite opening sentence of a novel, but the first sentence of Love in the Time of Cholera (which I have read three times) is almost as good:

"It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love."

It does not end with a little bomb like the word "ice," but otherwise it's great. And that novel has a final sentence that I could only agree with when I read it:

"'Forever,' he said."

That's how long I wanted the book to go on when I finished it.


Anonymous said...

What follows is another series of my awful ramblings (if that's even a word):

"Er starb früh am Morgen, noch bevor man einen schwarzen von einem weißen Faden hätte unterscheiden können." How is that for a first sentence of a novel?

I started Cien Años de Soledad a couple years ago, but didn't get too far. My attention span wasn't very good at the time, plus I didn't like the particular edition I was reading. The first sentence struck me, though, and the book is still on my ever-growing to-read list.

It is nice knowing that Márquez is still around, although he doesn't write as much anymore (as far as I know). I bet he's a good writer — he didn't get the Nobel Prize just for funsies — but I'd still prefer Jorge Luis even if his novels blew me away. He can't possibly be smarter than Borges, as a writer that is.

Your anecdote is really nice, but how the hell can you not read on after that first sentence, especially when it startles you like that? You are weird, Andrew. (o:

Your experience of wanting the book to go on forever is a phenomenon I encounter quite often, actually. I don't know why this is, though. It could be that I just read fantastic books all the time, or it's bad ability of judgement on my side. Frankly, the latter would upset me.

Since you were talking about what's going on today: while Márquez was partying in Colombia, or Mexico, or wherever he is right now, Jean Baudrillard died in Paris (no connection between the incidents).

Anonymous said...

That opening sentence was read by Garrison Keillor on "Writer's Almanac" this morning ... so I had hoped to SURPRISE you about today's being GGM's birthday! But your other sources for important literary biographical "news" seem to have beaten me to the punch.
-- dhsh :D))

Andrew Shields said...

Garcia Marquez has definitely not stopped writing. Check out the bibliography on the Wikipedia page. — And his sentences are as stunning as Borges's, though perhaps JLB's brilliance is always more noticeable because his stories are so short (no novels!). (See if you can dig up Tim Parks on Borges: brilliant.)

I did not want to read further because I wanted to SAVOR that first sentence for a little while. And the THIRD sentence has got to be the best THIRD sentence ever! :-)

I'll take Garcia Marquez over Baudrillard any day (even though Baudrillard can be fun).

Donald Brown said...

It is an all-time great opening. Thanks for the note -- I didn't know it was GGM's birthday. And didn't know about Baudrillard either. Boy, this thing is informative!

Anonymous said...

Here's the cite for Tim Parks on Borges:

NY Review of Books,
Volume 48, Number 7
April 26, 2001
Borges and His Ghosts
By Tim Parks

-- dhsh

Andrew Shields said...

The Tim Parks essay on Borges is also in his book "Hell and Back."

Anonymous said...

In Hell and Back the essay is not called "Borges and His Ghosts" but "The Universal Gentleman," although it's the same piece. Just got the book from the library. ;-) It's in perfect condition. Looks like nobody has ever borrowed it so far.

Fun fact: Did you know that García Márquez thought the year of his birth was 1928? Only when he did some research for his autobiography did he find out that he was acutally born in 1927.

btw, what about Calvin & Hobbes...?