Wednesday, 29 August 2012

I Should Live so Long: One Hundred Years of Solitude

I learn foreign languages with the aim of reading the literature. The drawback is it takes years. In fact,  the only language with which I feel confident with is French, which I  learned at school. I remember a  holiday in France with  no access to English books when I read 'Madam Bovary'. There must have been lots of words I didn't know, but it helped that I'd already read an English version.
I was pleased when I saw an entry  in the U3A handbook earlier this year : Argentinian Francisco  offered  to lead weekly two-hour sessions of advanced Spanish in his home. It took months to get together enough people of the right level and  agree a class  time but after a launch at the Royal Standard pub in  Blackheath it was settled. Now we get together  at 3pm to 5pm on Wednesdays at Francisco's house in Charlton - six members, including Francisco, but usually only about four or five people at each meeting.

The first half hour  is taken up with translating into Spanish a piece from the freebie Metro Then we do it the other way round with a Spanish freebie, called El Iberico
After a ten minute chat-in-English break we read and translate,  A Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien anos de Soledad) by Columbian  author Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
The extraordinary tale tells the story of human development through the history of a small town and its leading family. Jose Arcadio Bendia has two sons of quite different temperament and abilities -one is serious and interested like his father in new discoveries and inventions, the other is a more sensual individual of great sexual appetite. It's a pattern that's repeated over the generations. The women are subordinate but  strong individuals who  deride the hair-brained schemes of their men,   and who sometimes go AWOL.  
The style is 'magic realism', which means bizarre things happen, sometimes the result of exaggerated reactions and confusing timeshifts. Gypsies pay an annual visit to the isolated town of Macondo, appear each year with some new invention from the outide world, such as a block of ice or a flying carpet. Some events are starting and some are funny but all are recounted in a style that piles on details in  hypnotic sentences. When you read you become fully immersed and convinced by the author's vision of his world .
 We don't go very fast - on average four pages each week, because of the method of taking it in turns to read and translate a passage. It's the sort of thing that was tedious in a school classroom but which works very well with a small group of adults, especially when one is a native Latin American speaker.
Some of the group use dictionaries, and I initially downloaded the text to my Kindle, so I could use the built-in dictionary. It's easier just to position a cursor and click than to search a print dictionary, but the drawback is that the Kindle version doesn't have page numbers. I use a 'parallel text' method instead - I read a page in Spanish, putting pencil crosses over words I don't know, then I read the English version, writing the translation over the crosses.  
So far so good, excpet for a minor setback - Francisco's three sons have clubbed together to buy their father a ticket to Argentina . He'll be away for three weeks. As we 've only reached page 60  of this 500 page novel, I only hope I live long enough to finish it.