Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Memories of My Melancholy Whores (by Gabriel Garcia Marquez) - A review

Memories of My Melancholy Whores



Location: Bolivia
Author: Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Publisher/Year: Alfred A. Knopf/2005 (In Spanish, Editorial Norma/2004)
Genre: Realistic fiction
Theme: An old journalist, who has just celebrated his 90th birthday, seeks sex with a young prostitute, who is selling her virginity to help her family. Instead of sex, he discovers love for the first time in his life. [Source: Wikipedia]

There isn't really much to say about this novella. Given how short it is, anything beyond the theme outlined above seems like it might reveal too much. Why did I choose it, then? Well, this is also in part a tribute to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, one of the greatest writers of all time, who passed away less than a fortnight ago. Alas, his most famous works I have already read, and wanted to read something I had skipped over a while back. This book fit the bill.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a legend in the world of literature. In many ways, he elevated Latin American literature and the art of 'magical realism' to entirely different levels, and brought them to the outside world. A Nobel Prize winner in 1982, he is largely remembered for his seminal works, notably One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, but has a far greater body of work beyond these epics. He was a keen student of writing/literature in addition to being one of its finest exponents, and experimented with various styles. I mentioned in a previous post how Juan Rulfo's Pedro Paramo served as a major influence on Marquez and others, and Marquez built on the solid foundation laid by Rulfo and others to craft a style that will endure and inspire many for years. In addition, he also produced different types of works, novellas to go with his mammoth novels. The one profiled here is the last of his novellas.

In many ways, this is not classic Marquez. Granted, there is an immediate impact from the beginning, with understated elegance that does not take away from the power. That is very much Marquez. But where some of his other works build up, this launches directly into the thick of it (understandable, for a novella). Where his prose often tends to be elaborate and artistic, this time there's an all too real bluntness to it that serves its more contemporary and real setting well. And in a rare move, this novella relies on a first person narrative from a protagonist who is not particularly likeable (though he does find a cause and a way to become a better person eventually). It is hardly the finest work from Gabriel Garcia Marquez's immense bibliography, but it is certainly a good one nonetheless. It's a tale that perfectly captures the essence of a lecherous old protagonist and the circumstances that shape his changes. The simplicity of the storytelling belies an intrinsic complexity of the sort that comes with real life, and this does well to deal with that. The setting, admittedly, is not captured much. Indeed, there were times when I was unsure whether this was La Paz, Bolivia or the smaller town of La Paz in the author's native Colombia. In the end I let Google suggest it to be Bolivia rather than re-read the book. But there is still a personal touch in terms of what matters to the protagonist.

It's a good book, for sure. Read it, whether or not you are well-versed with Marquez's work. But the focus of this post is not the book itself, as much as the man who wrote it.

RIP Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-2014)

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