30 novels, day 10: The power of a perfect opening sentence

30 novels, day 10: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

The power of a perfect opening sentence:

“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 was a sweltering summer in Edmonton. Sharon and I were living in a small one-bedroom apartment near Whyte Avenue, without air conditioning. I had just discovered Garcia Marquez’ novel set in the steaming Colombian jungle, and it seemed to me I wasn’t just reading the book, I was living it. 

One afternoon the apartment was so unbearably stifling that I filled the bathtub with cold water, added all the ice cubes from every ice cube tray we had in the freezer, and climbed in. Brief but blessed relief.

One Hundred Years of Solitude was an astonishing book on every single page, but I kept coming back to that effortless, unforgettable opening sentence, and to the scene, postponed for several pages, when Aureliano finally sees and touches ice for the first time as a boy and says, "It's boiling."

I kept coming back to that block of ice encountered in a tropical jungle, the very first wonder in a book teeming with wonders. Anything in the world, the novel taught me, could be magical when placed in stark contrast, when transformed by a visionary way of seeing.

Around that time I was working on what eventually became my first novel, Icefields, a somewhat magical realist tale set in the Canadian Rockies. In one scene I had my characters sipping tea from delicate china cups while looking out the window of a resort hotel at an avalanche thundering down the mountainside. That moment of contrast, the teacup and the avalanche, I owe to Garcia Marquez.

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