This afternoon I decided to read Memoirs of my Melancholy Whores by Columbian author Gabriel García Márquez. Interestingly, he wrote this when he was 77, obviously at a ripe old age by when he had got to see quite a bit of life. A book of a mere 115 pages, shorter than an anthology of poems, the book really stirred me up. Firstly, it did not traumatize me as I had expected, a book on the relationship between a 91-year-old and a 14-year-old would. I just seemed to get it. Secondly, I felt the book is not at all about the two main characters – the scholar/maestro/narrator and the young girl who he calls Delgadina but, it is his comment about the concept of love and its boundaries. Thirdly, it’s the narrative style which reads almost like a college student’s diary, without the dates but with enough details to explain the chronology. It’s an easy read like maybe a John Green and yet it tells a story that verges on a fantasy. A story of finding love between the ages of 90 and 100, somewhere in strife-torn Columbia.
Very early on in the book, its the narrator’s 90th birthday and he wants to gift himself a night of love with a virgin and sets about looking for a box of treasures and says, “No old man forgets where he has hidden his treasure.” The treasure that he refers to is his book full of the names and addresses of the prostitutes he has slept with in his past life. Although I felt I should be shocked, I wasn’t. Instead, I realized that “treasure” could actually refer to anything – a gift, something personal, an expensive inheritance but in this case, it’s a list of whores which means that illicit/paid relationships can also be precious. The narrator is a man who seeks a paid night out as a way to feel the power that he doesn’t have as a low-wage, aged journalist who is obviously at the end of his career and life. This is why Rosa, the brothel manager asks, “What are you trying to prove?”. Frankly, it is slightly pathetic that on his 90th birthday the only thing that appears “magical” to him is the idea of having paid sex with a young virginal girl. And the ironical part of it is, he decides to call her Delgadina which refers to a Mexican folk song about a young lady who disobeys her father’s wish to be his wife, ending with her tragic death. This implies that he is aware of the drastic age difference and the perversion of it all. And yet, he falls inexplicably and obsessively in love with her. But despite his love, does he really get over his solitude? He says on page 71, when they are quite deeply involved in the relationship, “Dear girl, we’re alone in the world.” This could work in both ways – he could be referring to the fact that society would ostracise them for their illicit love but also that despite the love and a relationship, every individual remains alone. Whereas the narrator puts in so much effort into the relationship and takes so much care of Delgadina, she just seems to sleep through it all. Even on the day of her birthday when he visits her, he describes her beauty in sleep. It seems just as the narrator does not want to know her real name, he doesn’t want to get to really know her either. Maybe, he doesn’t want her to lose her innocence and maybe he is more in love with the idea of love than he is with her. By the end of the 10 years though, he is finally ready for death, having experienced love, “It was, at last, real life, with my heart safe and condemned to die of happy love in the joyful agony of any day after my hundredth birthday”
I liked the book because it cancelled every stereotype that I could think of. While in Lolita which I had read last year, the author Vladimir Nabokov seeks to create a new stereotype of a pedophile with a love interest in his own stepdaughter, in this book, Garcia Márquez is actually destroying every hierarchy and archetype that controls our mind. This includes age boundaries, society’s perception of prostitutes, the whole idea of not living your life till it is too late and the play of power between genders – whereas the narrator is the one with the power as Delgadina’s customer, it is actually she who has the power as he is almost willing to do anything to keep her in his life.
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