Saturday, May 02, 2009

[Book Review] Of Love and Other Demons

Love ends tragically. That is the essential point of Gabrial Garcia Marquez’s Of Love and Other Demons. This is only the second book I’ve read of his, the first being Chronicle of a Death Foretold which I read back in high school. I’ve always heard good things about his major two works, One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, and I had high expectations for this book. While I was not disappointed; however, at times, it was difficult read, as it was written in non-stop linear form. The book reminded me of the some of the other Latin American writers I’ve read in times past; in particular, I thought back to Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits and Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Paramo. As the book was a short, quick read, I would recommend it to those interested in the harsher aspects of love, as illustrated through the world of magical realism that Marquez harrowingly paints.

Each character in this novel experiences the burning flames of love, only to have loved destroyed for one reason or another. The protagonist of this piece was Sierva Maria, the daughter of the Marquis and Bernarda. The Marquis had once fallen madly in love with a woman in an insane asylum, but was forbidden from marrying her by a strict father who wanted him to maintain his noble heritage. Consequently the Marquis entered into a loveless arranged—but never consummated—marriage that ended tragically with the death of his wife by a lightning strike, said to caused by the insane woman who he had initially fallen in love with. After the death of his wife, the insane woman wanted to marry him, but he had sworn to himself that he would never marry again. However, a cruel and manipulative commoner forced herself upon the Marquis, stole his virginity and made him marry her, since she had conceived a child allegedly thought to be his. This loveless marriage was a sham and his wife, Bernarda, gave birth to their daughter Sierva Maria. Bernarda herself was inclined towards a hedonistic lifestyle, but fell madly in love with a man she met in the streets. That man was eventually killed and Bernarda, with a broken heart, fell in a downward spiral without her lover until she became a corpulent shell of woman who eventually isolated herself in preparation for her inevitable death from excess.

Then there is the story of Sierva Maria. She was the child of an unhappy couple who ignored her and she was raised amongst the African slaves. Eventually after being attacked by a rabid dog, she was committed to a convent because the Marquis feared she had rabies. She, of course, did not have rabies, but that didn’t stop the church from thinking she was possessed by the devil. This notion was reinforced by the fact that she spoke multiple African languages and was more comfortable with the African slaves than the Hispanics. Eventually she was put in the care of a pedantic 36-year old priest, Cayetano Dealaura. He was supposed to be in charge of her exorcism but instead fell madly in love with the twelve-year old Sierva Maria. The priest, who had spent his entire lifetime accumulating a vast knowledge through both religious and secular books, had never known the pleasures of the flesh. After confessing his carnal desires to the Bishop, Dealaura was stripped of rank and title and put to work in an isolated leper hospital. In spite of this, Dealaura would sneak into Sierva Maria’s cell every night to talk to her and enjoy furtive kisses. Eventually, as with every other love-story in this book, his love affair ends tragically.

All the while, the sole logical—albeit heartless—figure in this book was the Portuguese Atheist Jewish doctor Abrenucio. He represented the realist in the book, who had read widely, particularly in “heritical” (i.e. books banned by the Catholic Church) books and believed in science and reason. He believed that this existence was the end all be all of existence and commented that, “… love was an emotion contra natura that condemned two strangers to a base and unhealthy dependence, and the more intense it was, the more ephemeral.” Well that’s one way to look at things, that is, if the glass is half-empty I suppose.

This book was enjoyable but a rather bleak, if perhaps honest account, of love in this world. Garcia’s writing screams of heartbreak and the un-fulfillment of love. It was a sad reflection on the agonizing aspects of love. Love can be so passionate, so fierce, and yet be as transitory as the passing wind. I believe that one must seize love, however and whenever it finds you, and enjoy it for as long as it lasts. Love long, love deeply, and love the one you’re with, because who knows what tomorrow will bring.

-Nausherwan Hafeez, 5-2-09