Synopses & Reviews
1 The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin. I thought of Rosa Cabarcas, the owner of an illicit house who would inform her good clients when she had a new girl available. I never succumbed to that or to any of her many other lewd temptations, but she did not believe in the purity of my principles. Morality, too, is a question of time, she would say with a malevolent smile, youll see. She was a little younger than I, and I hadnt heard anything about her for so many years that she very well might have died. But after the first ring I recognized the voice on the phone, and with no preambles I fired at her: “Todays the day.” She sighed: Ah, my sad scholar, you disappear for twenty years and come back only to ask for the impossible. She regained mastery of her art at once and offered me half a dozen delectable options, but all of them, to be frank, were used. I said no, insisting the girl had to be a virgin and available that very night. She asked in alarm: What are you trying to prove? Nothing, I replied, wounded to the core, I know very well what I can and cannot do. Unmoved, she said that scholars may know it all, but they dont know everything: The only Virgos left in the world are people like you who were born in August. Why didnt you give me more time? Inspiration gives no warnings, I said. But perhaps it can wait, she said, always more knowledgeable than any man, and she asked for just two days to make a thorough investigation of the market. I replied in all seriousness that in an affair such as this, at my age, each hour is like a year. Then it cant be done, she said without the slightest doubt, but it doesnt matter, its more exciting this way, what the hell, Ill call you in an hour. I dont have to say it because people can see it from leagues away: Im ugly, shy, and anachronistic. But by dint of not wanting to be those things I have pretended to be just the opposite. Until today, when I have resolved to tell of my own free will just what Im like, if only to ease my conscience. I have begun with my unusual call to Rosa Cabarcas because, seen from the vantage point of today, that was the beginning of a new life at an age when most mortals have already died. I live in a colonial house, on the sunny side of San Nicolás Park, where I have spent all the days of my life without wife or fortune, where my parents lived and died, and where I have proposed to die alone, in the same bed in which I was born and on a day that I hope will be distant and painless. My father bought the house at public auction at the end of the nineteenth century, rented the ground floor for luxury shops to a consortium of Italians, and reserved for himself the second floor, where he would live in happiness with one of their daughters, Florina de Dios Cargamantos, a notable interpreter of Mozart, a multilingual Garibaldian, and the most beautiful and talented woman who ever lived in the city: my mother. The house is spacious and bright, with stucco arches and floors tiled in Florentine mosaics, and four glass doors leading to a wraparound balcony where my mother would sit on March nights to sing love arias with other girls, her cousins. From there you can see San Nicolás Park, the cathedral, and the statue of Christopher Columbus, and beyond that the warehouses on the river wharf and the vast horizon of the Great Magdalena River twenty leagues distant from its estuary. The only unpleasant aspect of the house is that the sun keeps changing windows in the course of the day, and all of them have to be closed when you try to take a siesta in the torrid half-light. When I was left on my own, at the age of thirty-two, I moved into what had been my parents bedroom, opened a doorway between that room and the library, and began to auction off whatever I didnt need to live, which turned out to be almost everything but the books and the Pianola rolls. For forty years I was the cable editor at El Diario de La Paz, which meant reconstructing and completing in indigenous prose the news of the world that we caught as it flew through sidereal space on shortwaves or in Morse code. Today I scrape by on my pension from that extinct profession, get by even less on the one I receive for having taught Spanish and Latin grammar, earn almost nothing from the Sunday column Ive written without flagging for more than half a century, and nothing at all from the music and theater pieces published as a favor to me on the many occasions when notable performers come to town. I have never done anything except write, but I dont possess the vocation or talents of a narrator, have no knowledge at all of the laws of dramatic composition, and if I have embarked upon this enterprise it is because I trust in the light shed by how much I have read in my life. In plain language, I am the end of a line, without merit or brilliance, who would have nothing to leave his descendants if not for the events I am prepared to recount, to the best of my ability, in these memories of my great love. On my ninetieth birthday I woke, as always, at five in the morning. Since it was Friday, my only obli- gation was to write the signed column published on Sundays in El Diario de La Paz. My symptoms at dawn were perfect for not feeling happy: my bones had been aching since the small hours, my asshole burned, and thunder threatened a storm after three months of drought. I bathed while the coffee was brewing, drank a large cup sweetened with honey, had two pieces of cassava bread, and put on the linen coverall I wear in the house. The subject of that days column, of course, was my ninetieth birthday. I never have thought about age as a leak in the roof indicating the quantity of life one has left to live. When I was very young I heard someone say that when people die the lice nesting in their hair escape in terror onto the pillows, to the shame of the family. That was so harsh a warning to me that I let my hair be shorn for school, and the few strands I have left I still wash with the soap you would use on a grateful fleabitten dog. This means, I tell myself now, that ever since I was little my sense of social decency has been more developed than my sense of death. For months I had anticipated that my birthday column would not be the usual lament for the years that were gone, but just the opposite: a glorification of old age. I began by wondering when I had become aware of being old, and I believe it was only a short time before that day. At the age of forty-two I had gone to see the doctor about a pain in my back that interfered with my breathing. He attributed no importance to it: That kind of pain is natural at your age, he said. “In that case,” I said, “what isnt natural is my age.” The doctor gave me a pitying smile. I see that youre a philosopher, he said. It was the first time I thought about my age in terms of being old, but it didnt take me long to forget about it. I became accustomed to waking every day with a different pain that kept changing location and form as the years passed. At times it seemed to be the clawing of death, and the next day it would disappear. This was when I heard that the first symptom of old age is when you begin to resemble your father. I must be condemned to eternal youth, I thought, because my equine profile will never look like my fathers raw Caribbean features or my mothers imperial Roman ones. The truth is that the first changes are so slow they pass almost unnoticed, and you go on seeing yourself as you always were, from the inside, but others observe you from the outside. In my fifth decade I had begun to imagine what old age was like when I noticed the first lapses of memory. I would turn the house upside down looking for my glasses until I discovered that I had them on, or Id wear them into the shower, or Id put on my reading glasses over the ones I used for distance. One day I had breakfast twice because I forgot about the first time, and I learned to recognize the alarm in my friends when they didnt have the courage to tell me I was recounting the same story I had told them a week earlier. By then I had a mental list of faces I knew and another list of the names that went with each one, but at the moment of greeting I didnt always succeed in matching the faces to the names. My sexual age never worried me because my powers did not depend so much on me as on women, and they know the how and the why when they want to. Today I laugh at the eighty-year-old youngsters who consult the doctor, alarmed by these sudden shocks, not knowing that in your nineties theyre worse but dont matter anymore: they are the risks of being alive. On the other hand, it is a triumph of life that old people lose their memories of inessential things, though memory does not often fail with regard to things that are of real interest to us. Cicero illustrated this with the stroke of a pen: No old man forgets where he has hidden his treasure. With these reflections, and several others, I had finished a first draft of my column when the August sun exploded among the almond trees in the park, and the riverboat that carried the mail, a week late because of the drought, came bellowing into the port canal. I thought: My ninetieth birthday is arriving. Ill never know why, and dont pretend to, but it was under the magical effect of that devastating evocation that I decided to call Rosa Cabarcas for help in celebrating my birthday with a libertine night. Id spent years at holy peace with my body, devoting my time to the erratic rereading of my classics and to my private programs of concert music, but my desire that day was so urgent it seemed like a message from God. After the call I couldnt go on writing. I hung the hammock in a corner of the library where the sun doesnt shine in the morning, and I lay down in it, my chest heavy with the anxiety of waiting.
"Garcia Marquez's slim, reflective contribution to the romance of the brothel, his first book-length fiction in a decade, is narrated by perhaps the greatest connoisseur ever of girls for hire. After a lifetime spent in the arms of prostitutes (514 when he loses count at age 50), the unnamed journalist protagonist decides that his gift to himself on his 90th birthday will be a night with an adolescent virgin. But age, followed by the unexpected blossoming of love, disrupts his plans, and he finds himself wooing the allotted 14-year-old in silence for a year, sitting beside her as she sleeps and contemplating a life idly spent. Flashes of Garcia Marquez's brilliant imagery the sleeping girl is 'drenched in phosphorescent perspiration' illuminate the novella, and there are striking insights into the euphoria that is the flip side of the fear of death. The narrator's wit and charm, however, are not enough to counterbalance the monotony of his aimlessness. Though enough grace notes are struck to produce echoes of eloquence, this flatness keeps the memories as melancholy as the women themselves. 250,000 first printing." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The Colombian master storyteller's latest novel is grounded in the steamy atmosphere and gamey politics of his native country; at the same time, in the universality of its theme, it transcends the peculiar traits of his bougainvillea-filled homeland....Garcia Marquez's beautiful, poignant story both avoids sentimentality and escapes salaciousness." Booklist (Starred Review)
"[A] fictional memoir to join the first volume of his true memoirs." Library Journal
"It is an existential riff on the many qualities of love and a skillfully controlled and disciplined work of literature." San Francisco Chronicle
"The novel is nimble and brief, and it uses the transformational power of love to rise above moralism." Oregonian
"This is an exquisitely wrought tale, and Edith Grossman's translation ably captures its autumnal beauty." Los Angeles Times
"As in One Hundred Years of Solitude
, his masterpiece, the clarity, precision, and unblinking authority of his voice make García Márquez one of the finest storytellers ever born. A table, too, can sometimes be a miracle." Scott Raab, Esquire
(read the complete Esquire review
Having decided to celebrate his ninetieth birthday by spending the night with a young virgin, an old man falls deeply in love for the first time in his life when he spots the girl at a local brothel. Reader's Guide available. Reprint. 150,000 first printing.
Memories of My Melancholy Whores
is Gabriel García Márquez's first work of fiction in ten years, written at the height of his powers, the Spanish edition of which Ilan Stavans called, "Masterful. Erotic. As hypnotizing as it is disturbing" (Los Angeles Times
On the eve of his ninetieth birthday, our unnamed protagonistan undistinguished journalist and lifelong bachelordecides to give himself "the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin."
The virgin, whom an old madam procures for him, is splendidly young, with the silent power of a sleeping beauty. The night of love blossoms into a transforming year. It is a year in which he relives, in a rush of memories, his lifetime of (paid-for) sexual adventures and experiences a revelation that brings him to the edge of dyingnot of old age, but, at long last, of uncorrupted love.
Memories of My Melancholy Whores is a brilliant gem by the master storyteller.
A New York Times
On the eve of his ninetieth birthday a bachelor decides to give himself a wild night of love with a virgin. As is his habit-he has purchased hundreds of women-he asks a madam for her assistance. The fourteen-year-old girl who is procured for him is enchanting, but exhausted as she is from caring for siblings and her job sewing buttons, she can do little but sleep. Yet with this sleeping beauty at his side, it is he who awakens to a romance he has never known.
Tender, knowing, and slyly comic, Memories of My Melancholy Whores is an exquisite addition to the masters work.
About the Author
Gabriel García Márquez was born in 1927 near Aracataca, Colombia. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. He is the author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, Love in the Time of Cholera, Living to Tell the Tale, among other works of fiction and nonfiction. This book is translated by Edith Grossman, widely recognized as the preeminent Spanish to English translator of our time.
Reading Group Guide
1. The unnamed narrator of Memories of My Melancholy Whores
says that he has “resolved to tell of my own free will just what Im like, if only to ease my conscience” [p. 5]. Why does he have a troubled conscience? Why would the act of telling his story ease it? Does he succeed in this goal?
2. The narrator wants to give himself a “night of wild love with an adolescent virgin” [p. 5] to celebrate his ninetieth birthday. What is it, both physically and spiritually, that he gets instead?
3. What is the significance of the narrator falling in love with Delgadina while she sleeps? Why is he so taken by the “improbable pleasure of contemplating the body of a sleeping woman without the urgencies of desire or the obstacles of modesty” [p. 29]?
4. The narrator says that thanks to Delgadina, he “confronted [his] inner self for the first time as [his] ninetieth year went by” [p. 65]. What does he discover about himself? How has his experience with Delgadina led him to this knowledge?
5. When Rosa Cabarcas is about to tell him the young girls name, the narrator cuts her off: “Dont tell me . . . for me shes Delgadina” [p. 68]. Why doesnt he want to know her real name?
6. The narrator says that he has never gone to bed with a woman he didnt pay and that by the time he was fifty he had been with over 500 women. Why does he choose to have sex only with prostitutes? How might his own first sexual experience-being “initiated by force into the arts of love” [p. 109] by a prostitute when he was not yet twelve-be related to this choice?
7. A North American novelist celebrating love between a ninety-year-old man and a fourteen-year-old girl would very likely be condemned for endorsing child sexual abuse. What cultural or literary factors allow García Márquez to write such a story without provoking a firestorm of criticism?
8. In what ways is Memories of My Melancholy Whores like a fable or fairy tale? How does it combine the elements of magic and realism that are trademarks of García Márquezs style?
9. What is the meaning of the sentence the narrator finds written in lipstick on the mirror: “The tiger does not eat far away” [p. 56]? Who left this message?
10. The narrator at times doubts the reality of Delgadina. “It troubles me,” he remarks, “that she was real enough to have birthdays” [p. 71]. Is his love for her simply a projection onto the blank screen of her sleeping body, or is he in fact responding to her on some primal, transformative level?
11. At the very end of the novel, the narrator says, “It was, at last, real life” [p. 115]. Why does he feel he is finally experiencing real life? In what ways has his life up to this point been unreal?
12. Love is a central theme in Gabriel García Márquezs fiction. If you have read any of his other work, in what ways is the experience of love treated differently in Memories of My Melancholy Whores than in his earlier writing? In what ways are such works as One Hundred Years of Solitude, Innocent Erendira, Love in the Time of Cholera, and Of Love and Other Demons similar to Memories of My Melancholy Whores in their treatment of love, sex, and sexual exploitation?
“García Márquez has composed, with his usual sensual gravity and Olympian humor, a love letter to the dying light.” -John Updike, The New Yorker
The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your groups discussion of Memories of My Melancholy Whores, the first work of fiction in ten years from Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Márquez.