"It is a triumph of life that old people lose their memories of inessential things," Garcia Marquez writes in his first novel in ten years, "Though memory does not often fail with regard to things that are of real interest to us."
_Memories of my Melancholy Whores_ begins on the eve of the 90th birthday of the narrator, a journalist and columnist for a local newspaper. Feeling close to death, his birthday present to himself, which will (initially) cost him one month's wages, is a night in the arms of a virgin prostitute, in this case a fourteen-year-old girl he christens Delgadina.
He arrives at the brothel, where the girl has been drugged to calm her nerves. The narrator climbs into bed with her, and falls asleep. From here, he begins a year-long affair with a young woman that he has never spoken to, whose eyes he has never seen. He looks for her in the streets during the day, and then realizes that he would never recognize her awake or dressed. Yet, a change has come over him. Though his trists and the lavish gifts he has bestowed upon his Sleeping Beauty have made him destitute, and he is forgetting the names of his friends, for the first time in his life, he is in love, and happier than he has ever been.
This beautiful, perfectly-wrought novel tells the story of an old man who has never loved anyone, never had a true friend, who has never made love to a woman that he hasn't paid. It is at once a novel about finding love at old age, after a long life ill-spent, and about coming to terms with the ghosts of one's past. What seperates this novel from others that cover these well-worn themes is that it is also about the state of being old itself. We do not waste away with time, Garcia Marquez seems to be saying; time is a tool that carves away our excess, like a chisel chips away marble to reveal a work of art.
Time has been good in this way for the author, as well. The novella, which I have always felt was his best form, is carefully written, each sentence an equal part of the story. There are very few excesses, and because of this, the work reads very quickly. I often, when reading, had to force myself to slow down, so that I could really concentrate on the work, and when the book started to get really good, near the middle, I had to force myself to slow down again in order to catch the tiny nuances in the text that Garcia Marquez throws at the reader. It's a page turner, but if you blink, you'll miss some great humor and irony.
I really have tried to be critical of this work, but having loved Garcia Marquez for so long, I find it hard to find fault with any of his work. I'm sure that other reviewers will find aspects for critique, but I can't. I loved this book. I was moved to laughter and to tears, all in 128 pages, and that, to me, is the sign of a great novel. I think I'll go read it again.
Many of the reviewers here and elsewhere are repulsed by what they see as Gabo's endorsement in this novella of pedophiliac prostitution. But saying that "Memories of My Melancholy Whores" is about sex is as absurd as saying that "Uncle Tom's Cabin" is about architecture.
Love, death, and aging are the (characteristically Marquezian) themes of this book. The 90-year-old protagonist, looking back at his long life, discovers that he's never really quite lived, and that a wasted life is much more fearsome than death. He falls in love for the first time in all his years, and with a young girl who seems to be a symbol for lost youth and innocence in general. In cherishing her, the protagonist lives the bittersweet melancholy of aging, the memory of past joys, sadnesses, and lost opportunities, and the sheer ambiguity of existence.
Gabo's book isn't about sex, although it's intensely erotic. It's about what it means to live, and age, and remember, and to bring those memories into the present as living companions. It took Proust thousands of pages to explore "remembrances of things past." It takes Gabo just a bit more than one hundred pages in this haunting reflection on the human condition. Strongly recommended, especially to anyone over 50.
on November 30, 2005
In a NYT magazine article several years back Marquez spoke of a lifelong fascination and devotion to two areas: prostitution and Fidel Castro. I admire Marquez the author: when I first read ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE in 1979 at the age of 20, the transformation was instant and complete: I would never again be able to accept the face or literal meaning of words and images.
This slim, yet satisfying book, is Marquez's elegy to a lifelong romantic attachment of an ideal form. However, as in most cases, the ideal has very little to do with reality. In today's sex trade children are often bought, sold and indentured to pimps. Violence becomes a normative experience while alcoholism, drug-addiction and illiteracy are common. Perhaps most sadly, children born to prostitutes will most likely end up as prostitutes themselves.
Marquez is not concerned with the reality. He wants us to identify with this profession, with the whole arena, as he believes it should be viewed: prostitutes act as surrogates, confidantes, friends, and lovers. The prostitutes are provided and cared for. Love is conditional on a price, but for a price, and always for a price That is as close to unconditional love as exists in Marquez's world.
Granted this work is slim, yet there is an essential life force at work that will not be denied. Now in his eighties, Marquez is simply running out of steam. However, the man is simply incapable of writing a poorly-constructed sentence. One note: Edith Grossman has been providing english-speaking readers with translations of latin american authors for as many years as I've been alive. This translatation is pure poetry. Without her artful channeling of an author's voice we would be denied the florid prose of Marquez, Amado, and many others. She is a true poet. Brava......
on November 18, 2005
On the surface Gabo's "Memoria de mis putas tristes" (loosely translated as Memories of My Sad Whores) is a story about an old man who upon turning 90 decides to bed (or attempt to would be a better description) a 14-year-old prostitute who, upon entering the old man's room for the first time, promptly falls asleep. And it is at this time that the old man (unnamed) begins a reverie of his life and in particular of the many women he has bedded and for whose affections he has paid.
In barely over 100 pages, Gabo manages to squeeze in a chronicle of some 500 women: not finding Love with any of them. He says:"Sex is the consolation for not finding enough love."
Many will look at this novella as Gabo's attempt to write a piece that would be placed out of reach to anyone under 18 in the Public Library, alongside "The Tropic Of Cancer" or "Lady Chatterley's Lover." And Gabo would probably think that this would be the ultimate in Coolness. But, "Memoria" is much more than this. What it is is a tribute to all women and the mysteries of all things feminine. The Old Man pays for companionship yes, but he adores these women: they are his respite from Life, all that he craves and they fulfill something much more inside of him, than can the mere act of sex.
The Old man calls the 14-year-old virgin Delgadilla (or the little skinny one) and he lavishes her with gifts. Delgadilla becomes the Old Man's savior and avenging angel, for it is through her innocence and love that he is reborn as a writer and as a human being.
"Memoria de mis putas tristes" is Gabo at his most sensual. That these encounters he details are sometimes graphic and often times brutal does not deflect the sheer beauty and majesty of the writing or of this novella in general.
on December 20, 2005
Despite a number of reliable and very positive reviews, I found the premise of this book troubling and of limited appeal. Nonetheless, I picked this small book up at my local library and started to read and found myself captivated.
Much to my delight this is not the prurient or sordid, low brow "sexcapade" I had feared, but rather a beautifully written story about aging and the search for love. Marquez's language, as usual, is both beautiful like music and so densely packed with meaning that it is safe to say that the author says in 115 pages what others would take 500 pages to accomplish. For example is this sentence; "The adolescents of my generation, greedy for life, forgot in body and soul about their hopes for the future until reality taught them that tomorrow was not what they had dreamed, and they discovered nostalgia." Or this; "Blood circulated through her veins with the fluidity of a song that branched off into the most hidden areas of her body and returned to her heart, purified by love." Bravo to Edith Grossman for so skillfully translating that the English is stunning. Imagine it in Spanish!
And so as it turns out, while this will not appeal to everyone, I found it very much worth the read.
on December 8, 2006
I've heard many bad reviews of this book, but I absolutely adored it. For his ninetieth birthday, an unnamed journalist decides to buy himself a virgin prostitute. I think this single act in the first chapter may be offputting to a lot of people who don't move beyond the moral implications. Further into the story it becomes a very interesting look at aging, lust, how we percieve ourselves, "We already are old, she said with a sigh. What happens is that you don't feel it on the inside, but from the outside everybody can see it."
Rosa Cabarcas is a fascinating character. A woman who is found a niche for herself of power and wit in a world where there are few opportunities for her. At the same time that she is doing something that should be frowned upon, her empathy and will is admirable.
Finally at ninety years old the main character lets go of lust and sees the power of loving appreciation.
Much of what I write here will be based on John Updike's outstanding and highly appreciative review of this book in "The New Yorker. Updike opens his review with a scene from " One Hundred Years of Solitude" in which a middle - aged man enters the room of a prostitute who has already been with seventy men during the course of that day. He desists, and instead falls in love with her.
This is similar to the basic situation of the novel. Only now the man is ninety - years old, a journalist living alone whose sexual experience has always been with prostitutes, and who has never known what it is to truly love.
He promises to treat himself with a night of love with a young prostitute even if this means spending a month of his salary on it. But when he comes and sees the worn-out young girl he cannot simply use her as the others have. Instead he contemplates her as she sleeps and falls in love with her. And this love becomes the pleasure and meaning of his life.
Updike says the story is very much about aging, and about morality, about the ' dying of the light' But here the ninety - year old man finds redemption in love, and towards the end of his days appreciates life in a way he has not before.
Parallels come to mind. The seventy- year old Goethe falling impossibly in love with a seventeen year old girl, and being rejected by her.
Or from another world entirely the story in the Gemara ( Talmud) of Eliezer ben Dordaya who has never met a woman he has not ' come into' He in his old age, and at his last minute repents and is granted the world- to - come.
Here the repentance leads only to a mortal reflective 'love'.
In the end the meaning seems to be much in the spirit of Hawthorne's famous dictum " Until we love we do not begin to be".
The question then becomes however " What happens to us even if we live in the most intense and real love in old age" Can that stop the march of Time and Death? Can that be anything but a flickering last moment of painful Beauty before the lights go out?.
on January 8, 2007
This book has some similarities to Yasunari Kawabata's short novel The House Of The Sleeping Beauties, which Marquez even quotes in the epigraph. Kawabata's book is about an old man who watches sleeping young women and feels himself overwhelmed by desire for them. Marquez's book is about an even older man who first desires a sleeping young woman, and then feels himself overwhelmed by platonic love. Thus, Marquez inverts Kawabata's painful yearning into a sentimental fantasy.
And of course he replaces Kawabata's old man with the typical Marquez protagonist. Marquez protagonists are men who invariably possess amazing virility, miraculous longevity, and larger-than-life charisma. They are never good-looking, but they can always get any woman they want. In this book, the protagonist explains that he had been with 514 different women by the age of fifty. It is also typical for Marquez to give the exact number. It's not enough for his character to have had great success with the ladies, he has to have had exactly 514 of them. Marquez did this exact thing in Love In The Time Of Cholera, where his character filled some similarly huge number of notebooks with descriptions of his romantic conquests.
It is even more typical that the man is ninety years old. Marquez poetizes old age more than any other novelist I can think of. His protagonists are all eighty, ninety, or seven hundred, as in Autumn Of The Patriarch. Marquez always glosses over their youth and hurries to their old age, when they are always at their peak as lovers, artists, or villains.
Every single one of Marquez's major works, including One Hundred Years Of Solitude, repeats these tropes. Now Marquez is just coasting on them. For instance, in Kawabata's novel, the old man's desire gives him occasion to vividly remember some romantic encounters from his youth. Marquez does not do this, because he is not interested in his character's youth. The title of the book is misleading. It contains almost no memories. Marquez just states that his protagonist has only been with prostitutes. In this connection, he remembers a few names and anecdotes, but they do not seem to have affected him much.
The female lead is a total blank. Deliberately so. She has no lines in the whole book. Marquez states that she has a difficult job in a sweat-shop, but this does not interest him or his protagonist very much. Even Kawabata's sleeping beauties had more personality, because Kawabata described their body language. And Marquez's heroine is even awake sometimes!
Marquez does introduce a strong woman in the person of the brothel madam, but she's likewise a stamp, a stock character. How do I know she's strong? Because she haggles over prices and says vulgar things. And some people get murdered in her brothel. That is all.
The book runs on such stock characterization. The protagonist writes a weekly newspaper column. When he falls in love, he uses his column as a vehicle for his love letters. Thus, he composes a passionate love letter every week, and all his readers go wild with emotion and admiration. Hey, that's exactly like Florentino Ariza in Love In The Time Of Cholera! He also likes to listen to music. I don't really know why he likes music so much, but I do know the names of the composers he likes, because Marquez replaces the one with the other. Instead of Kawabata's elegant rumination, Marquez has cheap, casual vulgarity, like the bit about the protagonist's, uh, rectal pain.
Which brings me to the point that, unlike Kawabata's book, this one is not sensual at all. Which, I'm sure you'll agree, is a big drawback for a book about sensuality. Marquez has been describing old men for so long that he appears to have forgotten how to describe young women. Actually he has no interest in describing them. Even though Delgadina's sole function is as an object of fantasy, the book's description of her is very short and cursory. Marquez describes her clothes more than her appearance. And she has no lines, so it's not like he loves her for her mind.
I should also note that, while Marquez's earlier works evoked the turbulence of Latin American politics (like the description of the massacre in One Hundred Years Of Solitude), this book is not concerned with any of that in the least. Now politics are just a kind of gentleman's game. There is a conservative newspaper and a liberal newspaper, and their correspondents fraternize with each other, and it's all in good fun and none of it has any effect on anyone's life. Least of all on the protagonist's, which revolves only around a fancy for Delgadina. The protagonist states that he is poor, but it sure doesn't look like that from the description. There is absolutely no danger in his life, and so the fact that his sweetheart works in a sweat-shop is trivial to him.
Basically Marquez says nothing here that he hasn't said many times in the past. Maybe, if one has written one novel that is widely considered to be a masterpiece, one doesn't really have to prove oneself anymore. But it would be nice if one at least tried.
on December 16, 2005
If you are a casual reader who liked One Hundred Years of Solitude, Love in the Times of Cholera, or the memoir Living to Tell the Tale, be forewarned that this novel is dark, thin and unfortunately, not very substantial. Have you ever read "Sleeping Beauty" from García Márquez's book of stories Strange Pilgrims? Well, this novel is a riff on the same subject, but without the humor and the light touch. In fact, García Márquez's latest is self-recycled not only from "Sleeping Beauty" but also from The General in His Labyrinth (also includes decaying protagonist who cannot consummate his desire with young women), and No One Writes to the Colonel (also about eternal postponement and decrepitude.) García Márquez once told an interviewer that most novelists write one novel in their lifetime, over and over again. This novel is an example of how repetition can go wrong when it is not accompanied by anything new to buttress it. But this is an academic complaint-- who cares if it's new or recycled? Is it fun? Is it fulfilling in some way, emotionally or intellectually to the casual reader? Not really. But for hardcore fans and academics who study this author, this novel is an interesting case study of a novelist trapped in his own shadow.
It saddens me to write this because I am an avid fan and student of García Márquez. This author won the hearts of the world with great fiction and thanks to that achievement he is a living legend. But just because he is a legend does not mean that everything he writes is legendary. A novel is still just a novel. It should move us in some way or take us somewhere we haven't been before. And it should be judged on its own merits and not the fame of its author. Even Shakespeare wrote some plays that most modern audiences find uninteresting. In short, chances are most will be disappointed by this novel.
MEMORIES OF MY MELANCHOLY WHORES by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
May 8, 2008
Rating *** 1/2 (3.5/5 Stars)
I really wanted to LOVE this book, but I think again my problem with Gabriel Garcia Marquez (this being the 3rd piece of fiction that I've read by him) is that I am either not focused on the writing, or I'm simply not getting it. When I enjoy a book, I turn the last page with a WOW feeling, or I'm crying, or I wish the book hadn't ended. With MEMORIES OF MY MELANCHOLY WHORES, I didn't have any of these reactions. Yes, I loved the writing - he has a gift for details, and he doesn't hold back. I love that he enjoys writing about illness and bodily fluids, and I'm always laughing out loud during these passages. But when I finished the book, I didn't have the "wow" sensation I expected to have.
The main character, who remains nameless throughout the book, is about to celebrate his 90th birthday, and wants to give himself a present in the form of a virginal prostitute. He has had prostitutes, hundreds of them, but this time he wants something special. She needs to be untouched and young. His old friend, a madam he has gone to for years, promises to obtain what he wants, and she brings him a young girl, virginal, for his birthday. However, for some reason, he never deflowers her. He instead leaves her untouched (as she gives him the sign that she is frightened) and marvels at her body and her beauty.
At the same time, he turns to his memories and his long life, his career as a journalist, and the fact that he never married. And night after night, he does not touch this virginal girl, and the one thing that has never happened to him happens - he falls in love.
I love reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez because his words are so beautiful. But again, I felt that I couldn't grasp what he really wanted to say in this book. I am disappointed that I don't have the capacity to really appreciate his works, and this will be the last time I will attempt to read a fiction book of his. However, I will read his autobiography, which I hope will be a fascinating read.