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Memories of My Melancholy Whores

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Written by Gabriel García MárquezAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Gabriel García Márquez
Translated by Edith GrossmanAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Edith Grossman

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List Price: $9.99

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On Sale: October 15, 2014
Pages: 128 | ISBN: 978-1-101-91116-7
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

A New York Times Notable Book

On the eve of his ninetieth birthday a bachelor decides to give himself a wild night of love with a virgin. As is his habit–he has purchased hundreds of women–he asks a madam for her assistance. The fourteen-year-old girl who is procured for him is enchanting, but exhausted as she is from caring for siblings and her job sewing buttons, she can do little but sleep. Yet with this sleeping beauty at his side, it is he who awakens to a romance he has never known.

Tender, knowing, and slyly comic, Memories of My Melancholy Whores is an exquisite addition to the master’s work.

Excerpt

1 The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin. I thought of Rosa Cabarcas, the owner of an illicit house who would inform her good clients when she had a new girl available. I never succumbed to that or to any of her many other lewd temptations, but she did not believe in the purity of my principles. Morality, too, is a question of time, she would say with a malevolent smile, you’ll see. She was a little younger than I, and I hadn’t heard anything about her for so many years that she very well might have died. But after the first ring I recognized the voice on the phone, and with no preambles I fired at her: “Today’s the day.” She sighed: Ah, my sad scholar, you disappear for twenty years and come back only to ask for the impossible. She regained mastery of her art at once and offered me half a dozen delectable options, but all of them, to be frank, were used. I said no, insisting the girl had to be a virgin and available that very night. She asked in alarm: What are you trying to prove? Nothing, I replied, wounded to the core, I know very well what I can and cannot do. Unmoved, she said that scholars may know it all, but they don’t know everything: The only Virgos left in the world are people like you who were born in August. Why didn’t you give me more time? Inspiration gives no warnings, I said. But perhaps it can wait, she said, always more knowledgeable than any man, and she asked for just two days to make a thorough investigation of the market. I replied in all seriousness that in an affair such as this, at my age, each hour is like a year. Then 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. I don’t have to say it because people can see it from leagues away: I’m ugly, shy, and anachronistic. But by dint of not wanting to be those things I have pretended to be just the opposite. Until today, when I have resolved to tell of my own free will just what I’m like, if only to ease my conscience. I have begun with my unusual call to Rosa Cabarcas because, seen from the vantage point of today, that was the beginning of a new life at an age when most mortals have already died. I live in a colonial house, on the sunny side of San Nicolás Park, where I have spent all the days of my life without wife or fortune, where my parents lived and died, and where I have proposed to die alone, in the same bed in which I was born and on a day that I hope will be distant and painless. My father bought the house at public auction at the end of the nineteenth century, rented the ground floor for luxury shops to a consortium of Italians, and reserved for himself the second floor, where he would live in happiness with one of their daughters, Florina de Dios Cargamantos, a notable interpreter of Mozart, a multilingual Garibaldian, and the most beautiful and talented woman who ever lived in the city: my mother. The house is spacious and bright, with stucco arches and floors tiled in Florentine mosaics, and four glass doors leading to a wraparound balcony where my mother would sit on March nights to sing love arias with other girls, her cousins. From there you can see San Nicolás Park, the cathedral, and the statue of Christopher Columbus, and beyond that the warehouses on the river wharf and the vast horizon of the Great Magdalena River twenty leagues distant from its estuary. The only unpleasant aspect of the house is that the sun keeps changing windows in the course of the day, and all of them have to be closed when you try to take a siesta in the torrid half-light. When I was left on my own, at the age of thirty-two, I moved into what had been my parents’ bedroom, opened a doorway between that room and the library, and began to auction off whatever I didn’t need to live, which turned out to be almost everything but the books and the Pianola rolls. For forty years I was the cable editor at El Diario de La Paz, which meant reconstructing and completing in indigenous prose the news of the world that we caught as it flew through sidereal space on shortwaves or in Morse code. Today I scrape by on my pension from that extinct profession, get by even less on the one I receive for having taught Spanish and Latin grammar, earn almost nothing from the Sunday column I’ve written without flagging for more than half a century, and nothing at all from the music and theater pieces published as a favor to me on the many occasions when notable performers come to town. I have never done anything except write, but I don’t possess the vocation or talents of a narrator, have no knowledge at all of the laws of dramatic composition, and if I have embarked upon this enterprise it is because I trust in the light shed by how much I have read in my life. In plain language, I am the end of a line, without merit or brilliance, who would have nothing to leave his descendants if not for the events I am prepared to recount, to the best of my ability, in these memories of my great love. On my ninetieth birthday I woke, as always, at five in the morning. Since it was Friday, my only obli- gation was to write the signed column published on Sundays in El Diario de La Paz. My symptoms at dawn were perfect for not feeling happy: my bones had been aching since the small hours, my asshole burned, and thunder threatened a storm after three months of drought. I bathed while the coffee was brewing, drank a large cup sweetened with honey, had two pieces of cassava bread, and put on the linen coverall I wear in the house. The subject of that day’s column, of course, was my ninetieth birthday. I never have thought about age as a leak in the roof indicating the quantity of life one has left to live. When I was very young I heard someone say that when people die the lice nesting in their hair escape in terror onto the pillows, to the shame of the family. That was so harsh a warning to me that I let my hair be shorn for school, and the few strands I have left I still wash with the soap you would use on a grateful fleabitten dog. This means, I tell myself now, that ever since I was little my sense of social decency has been more developed than my sense of death. For months I had anticipated that my birthday column would not be the usual lament for the years that were gone, but just the opposite: a glorification of old age. I began by wondering when I had become aware of being old, and I believe it was only a short time before that day. At the age of forty-two I had gone to see the doctor about a pain in my back that interfered with my breathing. He attributed no importance to it: That kind of pain is natural at your age, he said. “In that case,” I said, “what isn’t natural is my age.” The doctor gave me a pitying smile. I see that you’re a philosopher, he said. It was the first time I thought about my age in terms of being old, but it didn’t take me long to forget about it. I became accustomed to waking every day with a different pain that kept changing location and form as the years passed. At times it seemed to be the clawing of death, and the next day it would disappear. This was when I heard that the first symptom of old age is when you begin to resemble your father. I must be condemned to eternal youth, I thought, because my equine profile will never look like my father’s raw Caribbean features or my mother’s imperial Roman ones. The truth is that the first changes are so slow they pass almost unnoticed, and you go on seeing yourself as you always were, from the inside, but others observe you from the outside. In my fifth decade I had begun to imagine what old age was like when I noticed the first lapses of memory. I would turn the house upside down looking for my glasses until I discovered that I had them on, or I’d wear them into the shower, or I’d put on my reading glasses over the ones I used for distance. One day I had breakfast twice because I forgot about the first time, and I learned to recognize the alarm in my friends when they didn’t have the courage to tell me I was recounting the same story I had told them a week earlier. By then I had a mental list of faces I knew and another list of the names that went with each one, but at the moment of greeting I didn’t always succeed in matching the faces to the names. My sexual age never worried me because my powers did not depend so much on me as on women, and they know the how and the why when they want to. Today I laugh at the eighty-year-old youngsters who consult the doctor, alarmed by these sudden shocks, not knowing that in your nineties they’re worse but don’t matter anymore: they are the risks of being alive. On the other hand, it is a triumph of life that old people lose their memories of inessential things, though memory does not often fail with regard to things that are of real interest to us. Cicero illustrated this with the stroke of a pen: No old man forgets where he has hidden his treasure. With these reflections, and several others, I had finished a first draft of my column when the August sun exploded among the almond trees in the park, and the riverboat that carried the mail, a week late because of the drought, came bellowing into the port canal. I thought: My ninetieth birthday is arriving. I’ll never know why, and don’t pretend to, but it was under the magical effect of that devastating evocation that I decided to call Rosa Cabarcas for help in celebrating my birthday with a libertine night. I’d spent years at holy peace with my body, devoting my time to the erratic rereading of my classics and to my private programs of concert music, but my desire that day was so urgent it seemed like a message from God. After the call I couldn’t go on writing. I hung the hammock in a corner of the library where the sun doesn’t shine in the morning, and I lay down in it, my chest heavy with the anxiety of waiting.
Gabriel García Márquez|Edith Grossman

About Gabriel García Márquez

Gabriel García Márquez - Memories of My Melancholy Whores

Gabriel García Márquez, nacido en Colombia, fue una de las figuras más importantes e influyentes de la literatura universal. Ganador del Premio Nobel de Literatura, fue además cuentista, ensayista, crítico cinematográfico, autor de guiones y, sobre todo, intelectual comprometido con los grandes problemas de nuestro tiempo, en primer término con los que afectaban a su amada Colombia y a Hispanoamérica en general. Máxima figura del realismo mágico, fue en definitiva el hacedor de uno de los mundos narrativos más densos de significados que ha dado la lengua española en el siglo xx. Entre sus obras más importantes se encuentran las novelas Cien años de soledad, El coronel no tiene quien le escriba, Crónica de una muerte anunciada, La mala hora, El general en su laberinto, El amor en los tiempos del cólera, Memoria de mis putas tristes, el libro de relatos Doce cuentos peregrinos, la primera parte de su autobiografía, Vivir para contarla, y sus discursos reunidos, Yo no vengo a decir un discurso. Falleció en 2014.

About Edith Grossman

Edith Grossman - Memories of My Melancholy Whores
Edith Grossman, the winner of a number of translating awards, most notably the 2006 PEN Ralph Manheim Medal, is the distinguished translator of works by major Spanish-language authors, including Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Mayra Montero, and Alvaro Mutis, as well as Carlos Fuentes. Her translation of Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote was published to great acclaim in 2003.
Praise | Awards

Praise

"Unforgettable. . . . Classic Márquez. " –The Washington Post“García Marquez has composed, with his usual sensual gravity and Olympian humor, a love letter to the dying light.” –John Updike, The New Yorker“Luminous. . . . The cunning of Memories lies in the utter–and utterly unexpected-- reliability of its narrator” –The New York Times Book Review he cunning of Memories of My Melancholy Whores lies in the utter--and utterly unexpected--reliability of its narrator.“Masterful. Erotic. As hypnotizing as it is disturbing.” –Los Angeles Times“As accomplished a piece of storytelling as you are likely to find on the shelves today.”–Chicago Tribune“Profoundly haunting. . . . Fiction of the very highest order." The Times Literary Supplement

Awards

WINNER 1982 Nobel Prize
SUBMITTED 2005 L.A. Times Book Prize (Fiction)
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

“García Márquez has composed, with his usual sensual gravity and Olympian humor, a love letter to the dying light.” –John Updike, The New Yorker

The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Memories of My Melancholy Whores, the first work of fiction in ten years from Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Márquez.

About the Guide

On the eve of his ninetieth birthday, the unnamed narrator of Memories of My Melancholy Whores is seized by an inspiration: to give himself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin. An undistinguished journalist and author of a weekly column for a provincial newspaper, he describes himself as “ugly, shy, and anachronistic” [p. 4]. All his life, beginning at the tender age of eleven, he has gone to bed only with prostitutes, and many of them, so many in fact that he has twice been awarded the dubious honor of client of the year by the town brothels. But age has diminished his desire, if not his amorous powers. For twenty years he has stayed away from Rosa Cabarcas’s brothel, but on the momentous occasion of turning ninety, he phones her to say: “Today’s the day” [p. 4]. And though she finds for him a fourteen-year-old virgin–so frightened she must be given a heavy dose of valerian to relax–his night with her turns out far differently than he anticipated. Instead of wild love he discovers “the improbable pleasure of contemplating the body of a sleeping woman without the urgencies of desire or the obstacles of modesty” [p. 29]. Looking back on this moment, he finds in it “the beginning of a new life at an age when most mortals have already died” [p. 5]. From the girl whose sleeping presence exerts a powerful hold on him, he learns the many ways he has deceived himself about his true nature, his real motives, and the no-longer-deniable consequences of a life lived without love. He “opens his heart to change,” buries himself in romantic writings he had long ago repudiated, and turns his columns into thinly veiled love letters to the girl he calls “Delgadina.” He finds, at last, after ninety years, “real life.”

Displaying all the alchemical powers that have made Gabriel García Márquez one of the world’s most admired and acclaimed novelists, Memories of My Melancholy Whores is a tour de force, one of the most unusual and mesmerizing accounts of love in Western literature.

About the Author

Gabriel García Márquez was born in 1928 near Aracataca, Colombia. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.

Discussion Guides

1. The unnamed narrator of Memories of My Melancholy Whores says that he has “resolved to tell of my own free will just what I’m like, if only to ease my conscience” [p. 5]. Why does he have a troubled conscience? Why would the act of telling his story ease it? Does he succeed in this goal?

2. The narrator wants to give himself a “night of wild love with an adolescent virgin” [p. 5] to celebrate his ninetieth birthday. What is it, both physically and spiritually, that he gets instead?

3. What is the significance of the narrator falling in love with Delgadina while she sleeps? Why is he so taken by the “improbable pleasure of contemplating the body of a sleeping woman without the urgencies of desire or the obstacles of modesty” [p. 29]?

4. The narrator says that thanks to Delgadina, he “confronted [his] inner self for the first time as [his] ninetieth year went by” [p. 65]. What does he discover about himself? How has his experience with Delgadina led him to this knowledge?

5. When Rosa Cabarcas is about to tell him the young girl’s name, the narrator cuts her off: “Don’t tell me . . . for me she’s Delgadina” [p. 68]. Why doesn’t he want to know her real name?

6. The narrator says that he has never gone to bed with a woman he didn’t pay and that by the time he was fifty he had been with over 500 women. Why does he choose to have sex only with prostitutes? How might his own first sexual experience–being “initiated by force into the arts of love” [p. 109] by a prostitute when he was not yet twelve–be related to this choice?

7. A North American novelist celebrating love between a ninety-year-old man and a fourteen-year-old girl would very likely be condemned for endorsing child sexual abuse. What cultural or literary factors allow García Márquez to write such a story without provoking a firestorm of criticism?

8. In what ways is Memories of My Melancholy Whores like a fable or fairy tale? How does it combine the elements of magic and realism that are trademarks of García Márquez’s style?

9. What is the meaning of the sentence the narrator finds written in lipstick on the mirror: “The tiger does not eat far away” [p. 56]? Who left this message?

10. The narrator at times doubts the reality of Delgadina. “It troubles me,” he remarks, “that she was real enough to have birthdays” [p. 71]. Is his love for her simply a projection onto the blank screen of her sleeping body, or is he in fact responding to her on some primal, transformative level?

11. At the very end of the novel, the narrator says, “It was, at last, real life” [p. 115]. Why does he feel he is finally experiencing real life? In what ways has his life up to this point been unreal?

12. Love is a central theme in Gabriel García Márquez’s fiction. If you have read any of his other work, in what ways is the experience of love treated differently in Memories of My Melancholy Whores than in his earlier writing? In what ways are such works as One Hundred Years of Solitude, Innocent Erendira, Love in the Time of Cholera, and Of Love and Other Demons similar to Memories of My Melancholy Whores in their treatment of love, sex, and sexual exploitation?

Suggested Readings

Saul Bellow, The Actual; Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking; Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground; William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying; Antonia Machado de Asis, The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas; Philip Roth, Everyman.

  • Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez Translated by Edith Grossman
  • November 14, 2006
  • Fiction - Magical Realism; Fiction - Literary
  • Vintage
  • $13.95
  • 9781400095940

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