Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Love, passion and a melancholy man

By Nicholas Caistor

۲۳ October 2004

It is rare for a publisher to rush forward publication of a novel to try to pre-empt pirate editions. But this week, Norma publishers in Colombia have been forced to bring out the latest book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez after illegal vendors had apparently sold more than 13,000 cheap copies on the streets of his home country of Colombia.

Of course, Garcia Marquez is no ordinary novelist, and his latest book, in Spanish called Memorias de Mis Putas Tristes (in English, Memories of My Melancholy Whores) is his first fictional work to appear in 10 years. Indeed, many people were afraid that his 1994 offering Of Love and Other Demons might be his last, particularly when news got out in 1999 that the writer was suffering from lymphatic cancer and was making regular trips to California for treatment.

At 110 pages long, it is more of a novella than a fully-developed novel, and is said to have started life as the first of a book of three short stories. It tells the narrative of a 90-year-old classics teacher who decides to celebrate his birthday by having sex with a 14-year-old, virgin prostitute. While anticipating his pleasure, he recalls all the other women he has enjoyed over the years – and of course, there is a sting in the tail.

Publishers of the book in the Hispanic world are so confident of its success that the first edition is said to be a million copies – 300,000 of them in the author’s native Colombia alone.

This helps to explain why even the title of Garcia Marquez’s new book has been received with sighs in some quarters. In order to counteract this tendency, the publishers have gone to some lengths to explain the plot of the book. Memories of My Melancholy Whores is apparently based on a work by a Japanese fellow Nobel Prize winner, Yasunari Kawabata. In his 1926 novel, The House of Sleeping Beauties, Kawabata describes an old man being entranced by the beauty of a young geisha, but who was content simply to watch her sleeping naked, without touching her.

The protagonist of Garcia Marquez’s book does something similar. Although intending to make love to the 14-year-old, in the end he is content just to look on her sleeping, while he recalls the importance love and passion have had for him throughout his life. The book is a poetic reflection on the power of love to defy age and time.

Even so, it seems that the 77-year old writer, who recently agreed to the selling of Hollywood film rights to some of his books in order, he said, not to leave his family “penniless”, will almost certainly have another huge money-spinner on his hands.

He says…: “I am one of the most solitary, most melancholy, persons I know.”

They say…: “He likes to be near power, but not to possess it for himself.” – Belisario Betancur, President of Colombia (۱۹۸۲-۸۶).