I read this novella the first time in 2014 shortly after Boyfie (back then😛) went on some travels. He left me his Kindle with five downloaded novels of Gabriel García Márquez, two of them are novels which got him awarded Nobel Prize in 1982 – A Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. Frankly speaking, I chose to read Memories of My Melancholy Whores first because it’s the one that appeared to be the least intimidating to me. I wrote about my thoughts on this novella in another blog, which now no longer exist, so this is just a repost from previous blog.
“Sex is the consolation you have when you can’t have love.” ― Gabriel García Márquez, Memories of My Melancholy Whores
Shortly before his 90th birthday, an unnamed old journalist of a small town newspaper, decides to give himself “the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin”. No stranger to the town’s brothels, he has established a life-long friendship with the owner of one of the brothels, the infamous Rosa Cabarcas. It was through Rosa that he managed to find himself a 14-year-old girl who is selling her virginity to help her poor family. She was asleep when he first saw her, drugged with a mixture of bromide and valerian, “as naked and helpless as the day she was born”. That is how he prefers her to be and how he continues to court her.
Basically, this is a story of an old man finding himself falling deeply in love for the first time in his life at the age of ninety with a fourteen years old girl who he prefers not knowing anything about, not even her real name. He gives the girl the name Delgadina, the heroine of a medieval ballad that tells a story of a king’s incestuous love for his youngest daughter. Delgadina is usually asleep when he comes to her, they never speak to each other and he does not consummate his physical desire, most probably until the very end. He satisfies his desire by wondering about her, making up her identity and life according to his fantasies. He prefers her asleep and admits that “seeing and touching her in the flesh, she seemed less real to me than in my memory.” To put it bluntly, his passion for the unnamed 14 years old is the stuff dirty old men’s dreams are made of. The rest of the book is a chronicle of his passion for Delgadina which leads him to recall some other women in his life which resulted in him writing a series of ‘love letters’ in his weekly column in the small town newspaper.
As I flipped through the pages, I realized just how aptly titled this novella is. Note the original Spanish-language title is Memoria de mis putas tristes, ‘triste’ literally means ‘sad’ in Spanish which is exactly how the unnamed narrator think of all the women in his life, with the exception of his mother. Women are merely frames that support his life stories. They barely have identity, history or future. Here, only the old, unnamed journalist and his longing for the idealised wholeness of his long gone youth comes to life. Thanks to the elegant English language translation by Edith Grossman, the women in his stories are elevated to a higher, more complex form of beings with identities and characters that go beyond just the care-free, wise whores as the narrator sees them.
I have no doubt that Edith Grossman did a wonderful job in rendering García Márquez’s colourful and inventive writing style into simple English. However, some of his quotable wisdoms are rather incomprehensible to me despite being written in the simplest manner possible. One of them is “peaceful madmen are ahead of the future”.
I supposed the narrator has no other interest but to tell the story of his life, a life he despised, by writing it all down in the most honest of words “the beginning of a new life at an age when most mortals have already died” and shared with his audience a piece of wisdom he finally acquired after living for 90 years. As I’m approaching the twilight of my twenties, this particular piece of wisdom hits home hard.
“When I woke alive on the first morning of my 90′s in the happy bed of Delgadina, I was transfixed by the agreeable idea that life was not something that passes by like Heraclitus’ ever-changing river but a unique opportunity to turn over on the grill and keep broiling on the other side for another 90 years.”
If you’ve read this novella or have any book recommendation, I’d love to hear from you.
Till then, keep on reading & have a blessed day!