Tournament of Books 2015

Wednesday, October 5th, 2005


Memories of My Melancholy Whores: A Novel

by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Building the Magic

A review by Scott Raab

A year before winning the 1982 Nobel prize, Gabriel García Márquez remarked, "Ultimately, literature is nothing but carpentry.... Very little magic and a lot of hard work are involved."

Gabo, nearing 80 now, still busts his hump. Memories of My Melancholy Whores is told by a nameless newspaper columnist who, at age 90, after a bachelorhood spent fucking in brothels, finds his first love: a virgin prostitute, 14 years old.

No doubt the work will be clucked at severely by reviewers of a tender age and gender—although perhaps not so severely as they peck at Messrs. Mailer and Roth and other old cocksmen who lack the protection of Third World cachet. But any actual sin would be committed only if they failed to see that Memories is an elegant, sturdy meditation on regret, isolation, decay, and the inevitable perversity of redemption.

It also is hilarious. Poor García Márquez never gets props for the comedy chops that mark him as a true heir of Kafka and Faulkner. Here, the narrator's libertine need is sublimated into his columns, while his beloved, her flower unplucked, sleeps -- literally -- through their affair. The old man never even knows her true name; he calls her Delgadina, after the daughter of an incestuous king in an old song.

"That isn't her name," protests her madam.

"Don't tell me," says the narrator. "For me she's Delgadina."

"All right, after all, she's yours, but to me it sounds like a diuretic."

Ah, perfect love.

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.

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