BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel García Márquez, translated by Edith Grossman

Memories of My Melancholy WhoresOkay, so let’s start with the first line (which, I admit, was almost the last line for me): “The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin.” Given my other life involved with Girl Rising – educating girls will break the cycle of poverty which includes saving them from child marriage, slavery, sex trafficking, and so many other tragic abuses – I confess, I balked. And yet I succumbed: this is the legendary Gabo’s final fiction to be published [thus far – the promise of posthumous publication occasionally resurfaces].

More a novella than not (it’s just over 100 pages, or three hours if you choose to listen to Thom Rivera‘s soothing, lulling narration), Memories seems to be an homage to fellow Nobel Prized Yasunari Kawabata‘s classic short fiction about old men entangled with soporific young virgins, House of the Sleeping Beauties, originally published in 1961 (1969 in English translation). The audible version of Memories actually begins with a quote from the older novella, although the hardcover appears without the epigraph.

As prurient as Memories initially seems, what you’ll discover if you continue is a quiet tragedy about an isolated old man who has seen much, but has enjoyed little, especially in terms of human(e) connections. He’s “never gone to bed with a woman [he] didn’t pay,” which included some 514 purchases by the time he was 50, after which he stopped keeping track. He thought his notes about his transactions might “serve as a good foundation for a narration of the miseries of [his] misguided life” to which he gave the title of this novel. But he eventually concluded that his life “was lacking in interest.” He can do little more than offer this short summary: “both parents dead, a bachelor without a future, a mediocre journalist … and a favorite of caricaturists because of my exemplary ugliness. In short, a wasted life …”

And yet some spark of hope for first-ever true love – untimely, misguided, not a little disturbing no matter how you consider it – awakes when he meets the sleeping form of a young girl his local brothel owner has managed to secure on his behalf. The girl – put to sleep with “a mixture of bromide and valerian” because she was “dying of fear” after hearing about a friend who “bled to death” – becomes his obsession, even as she never opens her eyes to him.

Memories is, of course, an international bestseller. The language (thanks to Edith Grossman for her always pristine English distillation) is expectedly mellifluous and effective, gorgeous and sublime. And yet without intending any disrespect, I have to wonder that if the cover lacked “Gabriel García Márquez,” would it/could it have found the success it has? Might I have hit ‘stop’ or put the book aside? All I know is that my reaction is Pavlovian in seeing that tri-part moniker: in the words of the Borg – “Resistance is futile.”

Readers: Adult

Published: 2004 (Spain), 2005 (United States)


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