Original Title: Memoria de Mis Putas Tristes
Winner: Nobel Prize for Literature (awarded to author, not this particular novel), 1982
Original Language: Spanish
Translation: Edith Grossman, 2005
Author: Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Original Publication: 2004
Genre: Fiction, Romance, Novella
“The year I turned 90, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin.”
So begins the tale of our nameless small-town newspaper columnist and the 14-year old prostitute he dubs “Delgadina.” Lest one think that the ‘ick’ factor is too high before we even begin, I will assure you that it isn’t. This isn’t Lolita. Gabriel Garcia Marquez deals in unlikely romance, and this novella is no exception. Our hero calls local madam and old friend Rosa Cabarcas, who tells him in no uncertain terms that he is out of his mind. “…it can’t be done, she said without the slightest doubt, but it doesn’t matter, it’s more exciting this way, what the hell, I’ll call you in an hour.”
Time and time again when he slips into bed with the sleeping girl, he can’t bring himself to wake her. They are ships passing in the night. Nonetheless, he finds himself falling in love with Delgadina at age 90; an adolescent romance come full circle at the end of his life. He reflects upon his past conquests – hundreds of them – and muses that he has never made love to a woman whom he has not paid. He paints a picture of one too terrified to love for the entirety of his life; even leaving his fiancee at the altar as a young man. It is a comical turn for a man of his age: all his life, he has been offered love which he did not return. How torturous to finally experience love unrequited!
He reflects upon his past romances, turning his newspaper column into a series of “love letters for everyone.” This results in a resurgence of his popularity as finally he isn’t simply a doddering and cranky old man, he is someone everyone can see a bit of themselves in. Without giving anything away, I was particularly fond of the passages where he describes his housekeeper, who pined over him for 22 years, and of the passages describing running into the woman he left at the altar and her revenge. It’s a fun juxtaposition to listen to him recollect them with such fondness; yet these are women whom you know he did not love. One comes to understand that he has never traded love for any of the things he could have had for it – a wife, children, family, companionship, partnership. He has been offered everything, yet has never accepted if there was not love. Despite all of his faults and ridiculous shortcomings, he has a queer sort of integrity.
Fun Fact: A Persian edition of Memories of My Melancholy Whores was published in Iran in October 2007, under the title “Memories of My Melancholy Sweethearts.” The first edition of 5K sold out within three weeks of publication, after which it was banned after the Ministry of Culture received complaints from conservatives who believed the novel was promoting prostitution. The novella can be read online for free in its entirety here.
Bother if: It’s a novella by a man who, up until his death in April 2014, was arguably the world’s greatest living author. It is also short enough to be read in a sitting. What more excuse do you need? I thought that the story was delightfully told, and Edith Grossman’s translation is very accessible. Having read an English translation of Marquez’ Love in the Time of Cholera which was quite difficult, this was refreshing and made me fall in love with his writing all over again. Part of what makes the story such fun is that one rarely has an opportunity to see the world from the point of view of a man his age. Yes, he’s cantankerous and set in his ways, but he’s also a romantic, a poet, a man with a sense of humor, a man with regrets, a sexual being. By the end, I was utterly charmed.
Don’t Bother if: There is sex, although nothing graphically depicted. No character is sexualized to any sort of distasteful degree, but some of the subject matter is a bit questionable. After all, it is the story of a man who has gleefully patronized prostitutes for his entire life, and wishes for his final ‘hurrah’, so to speak, to be a virgin first-time prostitute 76 years his junior. It’s also a romance, if an atypical one, and highly poetic. Lovers of Marquez’ other novels will enjoy it. Those who find his writing style too flowery or the premise offensive should skip this one.