Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who has died at age 87, will be remembered for many things. But one of his most perfect accomplishments may be the legendary opening sentence to his 1967 novel, 100 Years of Solitude. Here it is:
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
The question of what constitutes the greatest first line to any novel in literary history is not something that can ever really be decided. But Marquez's is surely as good a contender as any. It has been repeatedly ranked as one of the best, for example in 2006 by the American Book Review, which declared it the fourth-best opening line in literary history. The other top sentences, by Herman Melville and others, are worthy but ultimately unpersuasive competitors: for inventiveness, for vividness, and for the sheer force by which Marquez's first line compels you to drop everything and go read his novel from beginning to end, there is no real equal.