on January 28, 2004
I couldn't put this down, read it in one afternoon on a bench by the bay. Marquez has created a world entirely of his own, this isn't Columbia in the 17th Century, nor is it some dreamscape stalked by nightmarish figures. This is a tale of robust power, dealing with lust, love, sickness, transgression, madness, faith, frailty, flesh and loss. In this world presented to us, each of them swirl together until you can't distinguish them from each other. The lives of the people in the pages: the rotting, resigned father; the impassioned atheist doctor; the brilliant, doomed and tormented priest; the deluded sex-crazed mother; the drooping slaves; the vindictive nuns... and at the heart- the crimson-haired little girl as a primal force of nature- incomprehensible, vibrant, fierce... A resounding laugh in the faces of the Stoics who intoned- "Live According to Nature." The writing bursts with energy, with poetry, with blood and bile and pale venom- you can almost smell the pages sweat. Few books evoke so much with so little (it's very short, after all). This is a fine novel, an abundant and wretched dream that will possess you for as long as you immerse yourself in it.
on September 18, 2002
Whilst `Of Love and other Demons' deals with an extraordinarily driven yet inherently sad love story, it includes none of the subtle, gentle comedy of `Love in the Time of Cholera', nor does it include the lengthy, dense atmosphere present in 'One Hundred years of solitude'. The bones of this tale are simple. At the centre of the story is Sierva Maria, daughter of Don Ygnacio de alfaro y Duenas, Lord of Darien, and Bernarda Cabrera, wealthy Lord and Lady of a Colonial Colombian seaport. Sierva Maria leads a bizarre home life. Her father is introduced as a man who `lives in fear of being alive' whilst her mother is an addict of violent sex, cacao and fermented honey who similarly describes herself as `a dead woman'. As both estranged parents shun their child because they hate what they see of one another in her, Sierva Maria is essentially raised by the household slaves. Strangely it appears that the only people in the novel not enslaved to the hardship, convention and routine in society are those enslaved to slavery itself. Due to this, Sierva Maria leads a relatively happy childhood, albeit in bizzare and unconventional fashion. However, Sierva Maria's lifestyle is brought to an abrupt end when she is bitten by a rabid dog, introducing the possibility of disgrace falling upon her family. Though there is absolutely nothing to indicate she has actually contracted rabies, her lifestyle is finally noticed by higher authorities and it is believed this seemingly bizarre behaviour (mixing with African slaves) must constitute demonic possession. Hence she is delivered to the convent of Santa Clara, to the 'Pavilion of those interred in life'.
It is here that the love promised by the book's title, an emotion practically extinct in the first part of the novel where Sierva Maria's family is introduced, comes to light. Cayetano Delaura, the chief exorcist, an intellectual and promising young priest, promptly falls madly in love with the young girl.
Primarily, Marquez makes a subtle attack on religious hypocrisy, asking with this novel that if the church, an institution grounded in miracle and mystery, cannot find a way of tolerating what it does not immediately understand, how does society as a whole intend to deal with that which is unusual?
This novel is an undisputed classic, as we have come to expect from Marquez. Not only does he find time to weave a wonderful atmosphere and colourful characters during the novel's fairly short length, he also makes us think upon issues like the role and place of the family unit, childhood innocence, religion and it failings, and of course true love, 'The most terrible demon of them all'.
on November 1, 2000
Of Love and Other Demons opens with a description of the author/narrator, in 1949, reporting the excavation of a convent of Clarissan nuns, and seeing "a stream of living hair the intense color of copper" spill out of the crypt. The hair belongs to Sierva Maria de Todos los Angeles, a marquise who is now two hundred years dead, the protagonist of this grotesque, terrible and gloomy story.
This book is pure Garcia Marquez, so you know it has to be good. The world inhabited by the characters is an incredible one; one whose truths are as strange as its demonic magic. Although a love story of sorts, Of Love and Other Demons has none of the comic antics of Love in the Time of Cholera; it reminds one more of the spare and grim Chronicle of a Death Foretold.
Sierva Maria is the only child of Don Ygnacio de Alfaro y Duenas, the second Marquis de Casalduero and Lord of Darien. Garcia Marquez describes him as "a funereal, effeminate man, as pale as a lily because the bats drained his blood while he slept." Don Ygnacio really doesn't do much with his time other than lie in a hammock and look at the world with fear and gloom in his heart.
Bernarda Cabrera, the Marquis's second wife, is Sierva Maria's mother. She is as addict of violent sex, cacao and fermented honey; a woman from the merchant class who had formerly been in love with a slave named Judas Iscariote. Filled with hatred for her own child, Sierva Maria was brought up by black slaves and learned to worship Yoruban gods, sing African songs, speak African languages. Sierva, in fact, prefers the vital, alive slaves to the decadent and perverted Spaniards.
Despite her odd parentage, Sierva is a happy child until the day she is bitten on the ankle by a strange dog. Even though the wound heals with no problem, her father, along with the religious authorities decides that she may be rabid, possessed by demons, and their barbarous attempts to exorcise her form the crux of this story.
The chief exorcist, Cayetano Delaura, an intellectual priest whose secret passion is books of courtly romance, falls in love with the young Sierva and with her coppery hair and it is their love that will chart the course of Sierva's life. Father Delaura's opponent regarding Sierva is a Jewish doctor named Abrenuncio de Sa Pereira Cao. This man is the voice of reason in a world where sanity and reason become wild and twisted. His is the lone voice crying in the wilderness.
There are many demons in this wonderful story of the fantastic, including love. The Bishop (a wonderful character) sees rabies as a manifestation of a demon-possessed body; a superstitious abbess finds a supernatural portent in every ordinary event. When Sierva asks her father if it is true that love conquers all, he answers, "It is true, but you would do well not to believe it."
The real demons, however, are the beliefs held by both the Spanish and the Christians, a theme that has been explored my Garcia Marquez in other books. This is only heightened by the clash of cultures between them and the Africans with whom Sierva Maria has been growing up. Father Delaura believes "that what seems demonic to us are the customs of the blacks, learned by the girl as a consequence of the neglected condition in which her parents kept her." The Jewish doctor, Abrenuncio, believes the real danger for Sierva lies in the exorcism which she is undergoing.
A fear of animals also dominates in this bleak and sad story. As a young boy, Ygnacio was terrified of all animals except chickens. But one day he observed a chicken at close quarters and "imagined it grown to the size of a cow, and realized it was a monster much more fearsome than any other on land or sea." He even tells himself, "I live in fear of being alive." The only animals left on his estate are mastiffs, which, strangely, he loves. Dogs play an important role in Of Love and Other Demons. Abrenuncio's name, Cao is Portuguese for "dog," and one of the characters meets a mysterious and watery death across a bridge "where they had just hung the carcass of a large, sinister dog so that everyone would know it had died of rabies. The air carried the scent of roses, and the sky was the most diaphanous in the world." Heady stuff? Maybe. But not for someone as talented as Garcia Marquez.
Ultimately, Of Love and Other Demons asks the questions: What is body and what survives the death of the body? What is flesh and what is spirit? What is demonic? This isn't Garcia Marquez's very best book, but that doesn't matter; it is yet another tour de force from one of the century's most brilliant and original authors.
on November 28, 2003
No one can fuse logic and magic like marquez. In "Of love and other demons", a beautifully lush and colourful book, marquez seeks to examine the blured relationship between love and logic.
It is about a young girl who is bitten by a rabid dog on her birthday. Subsequently, after failed attempts to cure her, she is suspected of infact being possessed. As a measure, she is sent to a nearby convent, and Priest Delaura (relatively young but dynamic) is sent to take charge of this matter. However, he falls deeply in love with her, and comes to believe that she is infact not at all possessed. He is a voice of reason, in an otherwise ignorant and paranoid world.
This may sound dry on one level, but that is what makes marquez such a phenomenon. The prose is bursting with life. You read as if mesmerised by all the dreams, motivations and love. It is a passionate love story, but also "tragic" in a sense. MArquez portrays love as a demon of sorts, in that it can take over a seemingly controlled individual (in the case of Delaura) much like demonic possession. Love is undeniably and incomparably fulfilling, yet heart breaking all at once. Read this short parable, and be enchanted by its utter beauty.
on March 19, 1998
Book Review Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, edited by Edith Grossman As usual, Marquez weaves a fantastic tale, one filled with magic and miracles. And, as usual, I am captivated, putting aside my scientific beliefs, my rational analysis for a tale that sweeps me up in the history of the times by bathing the tragic illness and death of the child Sierva Maria De Todos Los Angeles in love, mysticism and seduction. This tale hinges on very usual circumstances for the times: in 1949 the author worked for a newspaper in Columbia and, on a slow news day, the editor asked him to take a trip to the Convent of Santa Clara to watch the emptying of tombs in an effort to scare up some news. Upon his arrival, Marquez was dumbfounded to find a small crypt above the altar filed to overflowing with red hair which, when stretched out on the floor, measured 22 meters, eleven centimeters. This hair, the remnants of Sierva Maria De Todos, was the mark of her beauty when the twelve year old child was alive and the mark of her sainthood after she died from rabies soon after her twelfth birthday. Many came to pray to the niche, hoping for blessings from the young saint and from this tale Marquez constructed his story of her life. We meet Marquez's Sierva Maria on her twelfth birthday when she is roaming the market with her servant and, upon roaming too far, gets bitten by a dog above her ankle. Later, when that dog is found dead, Sierva Maria's downfall begins as every unusual trait of hers is attributed at first to the illness and later to demonic possession when she does not actually fall ill from the bite. Added to this central drama is the negligence of her parents, Bernarda Cabera and the Marquis de Casalduero, due to her mother's drug addiction and her father's apathy. Sierva Maria, however, is not totally without guidance, for her servant has taken her in, raising her in the slave quarters amongst the African slaves. It is to this family that Sierva feels a kinship, a bond which makes her want to sleep on her surrogate mother's floor rather than in the sumptuous quarters laid out for her in the mansion. It is behavior gleaned form these surroundings--stealth, silence and `invisibility'--that cause those in the town to believe in her possession. Once Sierva Maria is believed to be possessed the rest of the story unfolds in the Convent to which she is taken to determine her spiritual state. She is entrusted to the ministrations of a priest, haunted with his own phantoms, who ceases to reason when he is struck with her beauty. Through his humanity, and her otherworldliness, tragedy strikes. Although this story is about a young girl accused of possession, I really see it as a story of the `other' in society. Since Sierva Maria is raised by the slaves of the mansion she is different, appearing wholly other. With her father's fear of being murdered in his sleep by the slaves, and her mother's deep obsession for a slave man she bought for her sexual pleasure and lost in a brawl, Sierva Maria is a bridge between the worlds of black and white, captive and master, earth and God. She functions as the reader's direct line outside the system of her society which included the possibility of demonic possession, the acceptability of owning slaves, the chastity of priests and the cruelty of nuns. I found this book to be a window into passions and fears that still haunt me as I write about it. Of course, I am an avid Marquez fan, having read almost all of his novels, but this most recent one strikes me as the most mythic, blending fact and fantasy seamlessly into one believable reality. And I, for one, am convinced.
on March 14, 2006
In this novella, Marquez explores magical realism--he fuses elements of ordinary events with dreamlike, mythical qualities. The novel's setting is Colonial South America amidst the backdrop of the Inquisition. Sierva Maria, the only child of Marquis de Casalduero, is primarily reared by her housekeeper, Dominga de Adviento "a formidable black woman who ruled the house with an iron fist." Sierva is raised amongst the slaves and becomes vested in their languages and customs.
On her twelfth birthday she is bitten by a dog infected with rabies. Her father, believing Sierva to be possessed by the devil, sends her to the Convent of Santa Clara at the behest of the Bishop. There she is confined to a "solitary pavilion" that had been used as a prison for years. Father Cayetano, a protege and confidante of the Bishop is vested with the mission of "exorcising" the demons from Sierva Maria. He instead becomes possessed with a deep love for her and "burn[s] with the revelation that something immense and irreparable had begun to occur in his life."
One of the central themes Marquez artfully develops is the oppressive and unbending nature of the Catholic Church and how it uses religion to wield its power and stifle any dissension within its realm. Marquez develops this theme by showing how anyone even remotely different from the canons of the Church's perceived notions of propriety such as Sierca and Abernucio (the Jewish physician) is automatically clouded with suspicion and distrust. After spending time observing Sierva at the convent, Father Cayetano,embracing the dictates of reason, suggests that what seems demonic about Sierva--her expertise in multiple African dialects, eating goat testicles, etc. was simply a product of her upbringing with the slaves. The Bishop immediately discounts his rational explanation and warns "The Enemy makes better use of our intelligence than of our errors." Marquez masterfully uses the tale of a simple love story with a basic plot to reflect and meditate on larger questions regarding the hierarchy of power, class, and religion in society.
on November 9, 2005
This small piece of gem by Gabo is one of the most fascinating books as far as I'm concerned. To me, the most fascinating character in this book is that of Abrenuncio, a Portuguese Jewish physician, hated by the church and loved by his patients. A man who knows where he stands ("Sex is a talent, and I do not have it."), a man with his feet firmly planted on the ground ("Books are worthless; life has helped me to cure diseases that other doctors cause with their medicines"), and one who understands the fundamentals of healing ("No medicine cures what happiness cannot.". Without a second thought, I would sell my soul to Devil twice over to achieve his qualiities.
Over the years I have met many pompous, wise people, whose unlimited arrogance (because they read some books) and feeling of intellectual superiority have often made me wonder if they know that the world is more than just books. Gabo tells us in this book that the only real source of wisdom that lies in front of us is our life, not books.
This book also highlights the issue of the animosity suffered by a learned man, when his views and actions are in contrast to the interests of the section of the society that controls it. This is a very real situation anyday anywhere in the world.
However, the major theme of the book is (either presence or absense of) love. Can love conquer everything? Gabo's answer is direct, honest and simple: Yes, it can; but it will do you more good if you don't believe in it.
Can one deny love? Or can one evade it? Perhaps not. To drive this point home, the ever irreverent persona in Gabo makes his presence felt, when he makes the exorcist, one of the most knowledgeable and favorable priests, finally fall in love with the victim, whom he comes to exorcise!
on October 27, 2015
I guess it goes without saying that Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a modern master and Of Love And Other Demons (1994) reflects this mastery. It reads like a classic, it is a story of love, faith, ignorance, and reflects the history of the new world in the shadow of Europe. As I read it, it felt as if it was a classic text passed down from generation to generation-it seems curious that such a novel could have been written in modern times. Marquez creates a time machine that takes us back to a time that was more focused on religion and heresy than science, but also creates a timeless love story in the process. Stylistically it is such a pleasure to make one's way through the prose. Another classic form a modern master.
on October 16, 1997
Even if you are like me and do not tolerate most love stories, you will savor this one. The author coaxes the reader into the book with a preface describing the excavation of an ancient nunnery during which is found the skull of a young girl whose copper hair continues to grow. The novel itself concerns the somewhat sickly, neglected child, Sierva Maria who is considered to be possessed by demons after having been bitten by a rabid dog. At her birth, her father, the Marquis, makes a deal with the Virgin Mary that if the child lives, her hair will not be cut until she is married. Her demonic possession, however, makes it unlikely that her hair will ever be cut. [The book's preface creates a curiosity within the reader to discover what happens to Sierva Maria.] As a result of her dog-bite/demonic possession, she is sent to a convent that is to prepare her for exorcism. Here, she falls in love with the priest who is to perform the task, and he with her. The story is touching and humorous, especially when dealing with interchurch squabbles. But the plot is somewhat incidental when compared with the magic of the words themselves. Even in translation, Marquez' writing is sublime and velvety, a treat for the sweet-tooth of the mind. It is the writing itself, rather than the action of the story, that propels the reader to the novel's conclusion. And it is only at the novel's end that the reader realizes that she/he does care about the fate of the characters; which makes the outcome moving and emotional, even for the least sentimental among us. Find out what happens to Sierva Maria and her flowing copper hair, and enjoy rich, sweet language that drips down your mind's chin like the juice of a fat ripe mango. mmm.
on February 5, 2012
This is a beautifully written book that exemplifies all the best of the magical realist style. The narrative is more briskly paced (and I found it more engaging) than that of Love in the Time of Cholera, but the descriptions are haunting and evocative. In particular, the various characters that populate the story are delightful. I found myself surprised at every turn by Garcia Marquez' ingenuity and creativity in imagining the life stories of these people, and their relationships with each other. I read this book years ago, and still find myself thinking (positively) of it frequently, which is about the best thing I can say about a book.