Reviews of a couple of books I've read recently. Both authors have won the Nobel Prize for literature. 1. "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel García Márquez <http://www.amazon.com/One-Hundred-Years-Solitude/dp/0060883286> This is an epic novel by Columbian writer Gabriel García Márquez. Unlike most novels, there doesn't appear to be a central plot. Instead it is the chronicle of the lives and times of several generations of a pioneering family, the Buendías, and the town where they lived. There are too many subplots to give justice in a brief review. However, I will set up the start of the story. The patriarch and matriarch of the family, José Arcadio Buendía and Úrsula Iguarán, are forced to flee their home. Together with some other pioneers, they help found the town of Macondo. This secluded town is visited annually by gypsies who bring news from the outside world and the latest innovations. One of the gypsies, Melquíades, becomes an important influence on the family. Among other things, he introduces them to alchemy. Across several generations of the family there are many intriguing characters. The town itself can be considered a protagonist: it evolves, through periods of novelty, war, industrialisation and decadence. The following Wikipedia page provides a reasonably good and brief overview of the major characters and episodes in the novel: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_Hundred_Years_of_Solitude> More comprehensive details are provided by Spark Notes: <http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/solitude/> The family lineage is rather complicated. This is in part due to the repetitive use of certain first names. It doesn't help when adoptions, affairs and illegitimate children enter the mix. Fortunately, the book provides a family tree, which helps remind the reader who begat whom. Several ideas recur throughout the novel. Solitude, as mentioned in the title, is represented not only at the big-picture level by the isolation of the town, but also by its inhabitants. Throughout the novel various characters experience solitude, often deliberately, even when apparently surrounded by other people. The book is also concerned with the flow of time. Flashbacks and premonitions blur past, present and future. While the history of Macondo is mostly presented in a linear way, repeated traits across the generations suggest a cyclical nature of time. I don't want to give away too much about the ending, but it also emphasises the idea of circularity. The novel's style is often described as an example of "magical realism": supernatural events are treated as normal occurrences by the characters. For example, talking to ghosts is accepted as part of everyday life. There is some debate about how this style differs from fantasy, but proponents argue a distinction, however subtle, does exist. Overall, this was a very enjoyable book. I look forward to reading some of the author's other work. 2. "The White Castle" by Orhan Pamuk <http://www.amazon.com/White-Castle/dp/0375701613> This semi-historical novel, by Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, is set in the 17th Century. The narrator, a Venetian sailor, is captured after his ship is involved in a skirmish with Turkish pirates. He is taken to Istanbul, and thanks to a timely display of basic medical skills, his life is spared. He becomes the slave of an ambitious intellectual referred to as the Hoja (master). The Hoja wants to learn as much as he can from his Italian slave. Intriguingly, the two men look very similar. After some initial suspicion, they begin to gain each other's trust. They start working together on projects in various fields, including medicine, science and philosophy. The pair gains prestige from a series of achievements. However, beneath the surface, there is tension between the two men. Eventually, after several attempts, the Sultan agrees to the Hoja's ambitious proposal to build the ultimate war machine. Unfortunately, this project is the beginning of the end of the pair's long streak of successes. The book covers the changing nature of the relationship between the two men. The end of the story is ambiguous. There is a strong suspicion that the two men have actually swapped identities. If this is the case, was it by mutual consent? How did it happen? I found the basic story quite intriguing. I liked the East-meets-West backdrop, the psychological aspects of the relationship, and the investigation into identity. But somehow I felt the execution didn't quite work. Having said that, it's a relatively short novel, so I may revisit it in the future.