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On her twelfth birthday, Sierva Maria – the only child of a decaying noble family in an eighteenth-century South American seaport – is bitten by a rabid dog. Believed to be possessed, she is brought to a convent for observation. And into her cell stumbles Father Cayetano Delaura, who has already dreamed about a girl with hair trailing after her like a bridal train. As he tends to her with holy water and sacramental oils, Delaura feels something shocking begin to occur. He has fallen in love – and it is not long ...
On her twelfth birthday, Sierva Maria – the only child of a decaying noble family in an eighteenth-century South American seaport – is bitten by a rabid dog. Believed to be possessed, she is brought to a convent for observation. And into her cell stumbles Father Cayetano Delaura, who has already dreamed about a girl with hair trailing after her like a bridal train. As he tends to her with holy water and sacramental oils, Delaura feels something shocking begin to occur. He has fallen in love – and it is not long until Sierva Maria joins him in his fevered misery. Unsettling and indelible, Of Love and Other Demons is an evocative, majestic tale of the most universal experiences known to woman and man.
AN ASH-GRAY DOG with a white blaze on its forehead burst onto the rough terrain of the market on the first Sunday in December, knocked down tables of fried food, overturned Indians' stalls and lottery kiosks, and bit four people who happened to cross its path. Three of them were black slaves. The fourth, Sierva Maria de Todos los Angeles, the only child of the Marquis de Casalduero, had come there with a mulatta servant to buy a string of bells for the celebration of her twelfth birthday.
They had been instructed not to go beyond the Arcade of the Merchants, but the maid ventured as far as the drawbridge in the slum of Getsemani, attracted by the crowd at the slavers' port where a shipment of blacks from Guinea was being sold at a discount. For the past week a ship belonging to the Compania Gaditana de Negros had been awaited with dismay because of an unexplainable series of deaths on board. In an attempt at concealment, the unweighted corpses were thrown into the water. The tide brought them to the surface and washed the bodies, disfigured by swelling and a strange magenta coloring, up on the beach. The vessel lay anchored outside the bay, for everyone feared an outbreak of some African plague, until it was verified that the cause of death was food poisoning.
At the time the dog ran through the market, the surviving cargo had already been sold at reduced prices on account of poor health, and the owners were attempting to compensate for the loss with a single article worth all the rest: an Abyssinian female almost two meters tall, who was smeared with cane molasses instead of the usual commercial oil, and whose beauty was so unsettling it seemed untrue. She had a slender nose, a rounded skull, slanted eyes, all her teeth, and the equivocal bearing of a Roman gladiator. She had not been branded in the slave pen, and they did not call out her age and the state of her health. Instead, she was put on sale for the simple fact of her beauty. The price the Governor paid, without bargaining and in cash, was her weight in gold.
It was a common occurrence for a stray dog to bite people as it chased after cats or fought turkey buzzards for the carrion in the streets, and it was even more common during the times of prosperity and crowds when the Galleon Fleet stopped on its way to the Portobelo Fair. No one lost sleep over four or five dog bites in a single day, least of all over an almost invisible wound like the one on Sierva Maria's left ankle. And therefore the maid was not alarmed. She treated the bite herself with lemon and sulfur, and washed the bloodstain from the girl's petticoats, and no one gave a thought to anything but the festivities for her twelfth birthday.
Earlier that morning, Bernarda Cabrera, the girl's mother and the untitled spouse of the Marquis de Casalduero, had taken a dramatic purge: seven grains of antimony in a glass of sugared rosewater. She had been an untamed mestiza of the so-called shopkeeper aristocracy: seductive, rapacious, brazen, with a hunger in her womb that could have satisfied an entire barracks. In a few short years, however, she had been erased from the world by her abuse of fermented honey and cacao tablets. Her Gypsy eyes were extinguished and her wits dulled, she shat blood and vomited bile, her siren's body became as bloated and coppery as a three-day-old corpse, and she broke wind in pestilential explosions that startled the mastiffs. She almost never left her bedroom, and when she did she was nude or wearing a silk tunic with nothing underneath, which made her seem more naked than if she wore nothing at all.
She had already moved her bowels seven times when the maid who had accompanied Sierva Maria returned but told her nothing about the dog bite. She did, however, comment on the scandal at the port caused by the sale of the slave woman. "If she's as beautiful as you claim, she might be Abyssinian," said Bernarda. But even if she were the Queen of Sheba, it did not seem possible that anyone would pay her weight in gold.
"They must have meant in weighed gold pesos," she said.
"No, as much gold as the black woman weighs," the maid explained.
"A slave two meters tall weighs at least one hundred twenty pounds," said Bernarda. "And no woman, white or black, is worth one hundred twenty pounds of gold, unless she shits diamonds."
No one had been more astute than Bernarda in the slave trade, and she knew that if the Governor had bought the Abyssinian it could not be for something as sublime as serving in his kitchen. Just then she heard the first hornpipes and firecrackers of a fiesta, followed by the furious barking of the mastiffs in their cages. She went out to the orange grove to see what it could be.
Don Ygnacio de Alfaro y Duenas, the second Marquis de Casalduero and Lord of Darien, had also heard the music from his siesta hammock hanging between two orange trees in the grove. He was a funereal, effeminate man, as pale as a lily because the bats drained his blood while he slept. He wore a Bedouin djellaba in the house, and a Toledan biretta that increased his forlorn appearance. When he saw his wife as naked as the day God brought her into the world, he anticipated her question and asked:
"What music is that?"
"I don't know," she said. "What's the date?"
The Marquis did not know. He really must have felt quite puzzled to ask his wife anything, and she must have felt complete relief from her bilious attack to reply with no sarcasm. He had sat up in the hammock, intrigued, when the firecrackers exploded again.
"Good Lord!" he exclaimed. "Can it be that date already?"
The house adjoined the Divina Pastora Asylum for Female Lunatics. Agitated by the music and fireworks, the patients had appeared on the terrace that overlooked the orange grove, and they celebrated each explosion with ovations. The Marquis called up to them, asking where the fiesta was, and they cleared away his doubts. It was December seventh, the Feast of Saint Ambrose the Bishop, and the music and fireworks thundering in the slaves' courtyard were in honor of Sierva Maria. The Marquis slapped his forehead.
"Of course," he said. "How old is she?"
"Twelve," replied Bernarda.
"Only twelve?" he said, lying down again in the hammock. "How slow life is!"
The house had been the pride of the city until the beginning of the century. Now it was a melancholy ruin, and the large empty spaces and the many objects out of place made it seem as if the occupants were in the process of moving. The drawing rooms had kept their checkerboard marble floors and teardrop chandeliers draped in cobwebs. The rooms still in use were cool in any weather because of their thick masonry walls and many years of enclosure, and even more because of the December breezes that came whistling through the cracks. Everything was saturated with the oppressive damp of neglect and gloom. All that remained of the seignorial dignities of the first Marquis were the five hunting mastiffs that guarded the nights.
The resounding courtyard of the slaves, where Sierva Maria's birthday was being celebrated, had been another city within the city in the time of the first Marquis. This continued under his heir for as long as the illicit traffic in slaves and flour, directed in secret by Bernarda from the Mahates sugar plantation, had lasted. Now all that splendor was a thing of the past. Bernarda had been extinguished by her insatiable vices, and the slave yard reduced to two wooden shacks with roofs of bitter palm, where the last scraps of greatness had already been consumed.
Dominga de Adviento, a formidable black woman who ruled the house with an iron fist until the night before her death, was the link between these two worlds. Tall and bony, and possessed of an almost clairvoyant intelligence, it was she who had reared Sierva Maria. Dominga de Adviento became a Catholic without renouncing her Yoruban beliefs, and she practiced both religions at the same time, and at random. Her soul was healthy and at peace, she said, because what she did not find in one faith was there in the other. She was also the only human being with the authority to mediate between the Marquis and his wife, and they both accommodated her. Only she could drive the slaves out with a broom when she discovered them in the vacant rooms committing calamitous acts of sodomy or fornicating with bartered women. But after she died they would flee the shacks to escape the midday heat and stretch out on the floor in every corner, or scrape the crust out of the rice pots and eat it, or play with the macuco and the tarabilla in the cool corridors. In that oppressive world where no one was free, Sierva Maria was: she alone, and there alone. And so that was where her birthday was celebrated, in her true home and with her true family.
In the midst of so much music it was difficult to imagine dancing more silent than that of the Marquis's slaves and a few blacks from other distinguished households, who brought whatever they could. The girl displayed just who she was. She could dance with more grace and fire than the Africans, sing in voices different from her own in the various languages of Africa, agitate the birds and animals when she imitated their voices. By order of Dominga de Adviento, the younger slave girls would blacken her face with soot. They hung Santeria necklaces over her baptism scapular and looked after her hair, which had never been cut and would have interfered with her walking if they had not braided it into loops every day.
She had begun to blossom under a combination of contradictory influences. She inherited very little from her mother. She had her father's thin body, however, and his irremediable shyness, pale skin, eyes of taciturn blue, and the pure copper of her radiant hair. Her movements were so stealthy that she seemed an invisible creature. Frightened by her strange nature, her mother had hung a cowbell around the girl's wrist so she would not lose track of her in the shadows of the house.
Two days after the fiesta, the maid mentioned in passing to Bernarda that a dog had bitten Sierva Maria. Bernarda thought about it as she took her sixth hot bath of the day with perfumed soaps before going to bed, and by the time she returned to her room she had forgotten it. She did not remember it again until the following night, when the mastiffs barked until dawn for no reason and she was afraid they had rabies. Then she took a candlestick to the shacks in the courtyard and found Sierva Maria asleep in the hammock of Indian royal palm she had inherited from Dominga de Adviento. Since the maid had not told her where the bite was located, Bernarda raised the girl's chemise and examined her inch by inch, using the light to follow the penitential braid that curled around her body like a lion's tail. At last she found it: a little break in the skin on her left ankle, with a scab of dried blood and some almost invisible abrasions on the heel.
Cases of rabies were neither limited nor insignificant in the history of the city. The most notorious was that of a street peddler who plied his trade with a trained monkey whose actions were almost indistinguishable from those of humans. The animal contracted rabies during the naval siege by the English, bit its owner on the face, and escaped to the nearby hills. The unfortunate man was clubbed to death while suffering fearful hallucinations, which mothers still sang about many years later in popular ballads meant to frighten children. Before two weeks had passed, a horde of satanic macaque monkeys descended from the hills in the full light of day. They devastated pigsties and henhouses and then, howling and choking on their own frothing blood, burst into the cathedral during a Te Deum celebrating the defeat of the English fleet. Yet the most terrible dramas did not pass into the annals of history, for they occurred among the population of blacks, who spirited away the victims to cure them by African magic in the settlements of runaway slaves.
Despite so many dreadful portents, no one, white, black, or Indian, even gave a thought to rabies or any other disease that was slow to incubate, until the first irreparable symptoms made their appearance. Bernarda Cabrera proceeded according to the same criterion. She thought that the gossip of slaves traveled faster and farther than the inventions of Christians, and that even a simple dog bite might damage the family's honor. She was so certain of her reasoning that she did not mention the matter to her husband or think about it again until the following Sunday, when the maid went to the market alone and saw the carcass of a dog that had been hung from an almond tree to let everyone know it had died of rabies. One glance was all she needed to recognize the blaze on the forehead and the ash-gray coat of the dog that had bitten Sierva Maria. But Bernarda was not concerned when she heard the news. There was no reason to be: The wound was dry and not even a trace of the abrasions remained.
DECEMBER HAD BEGUN with foul weather but soon recovered its amethyst afternoons and nights of antic breezes. Christmas was more joyous than in other years because of the good news from Spain. But the city was not what it had once been. The principal slave market had been moved to Havana, and the miners and ranchers in these kingdoms of Terra Firma preferred to buy contraband labor at lower prices in the English Antilles. And so there were two cities: one busy and crowded for the six months the galleons remained in port, and the other that drowsed for the rest of the year as it waited for them to return.
Nothing more was known about those who had been bitten until the beginning of January, when a vagabond Indian woman called Sagunta knocked on the Marquis's door at the sacred hour of siesta. She was very old, and she walked barefoot in the full sun, leaning on a staff of carreto wood and wrapped from head to toe in a white sheet. She was notorious for being a mender of maidenheads and an abortionist, although this was balanced by her admirable reputation for knowing Indian secrets that could heal the incurable.
Gabriel García Márquez's fiction is rooted in magical realism, and to read his work is to enter a world of fanciful occurrences and illusory images. Magical realism refers to fiction in which the realistic and the fantastic are mingled with the same intensity, and García Márquez is often described as a master of this technique. In fact, he has always insisted that the fantasy in his writing is derived from his journalistic approach to real life, saying, "Surrealism comes from the reality of Latin America:" Like many of García Márquez's earlier works, magical realism colors Of Love and Other Demons throughout. It provides the novella's framework as it unfolds the tale of a haunting, bittersweet romance between an unruly young girl and a bookish priest.
ABOUT THE TITLE
Of Love and Other Demons opens with a letter from the author explaining the genesis of the story. As a young cub reporter working in Cartagena, Colombia in 1949, García Márquez was asked to cover the emptying of the burial crypts of a historic convent called Santa Clara, where generations of bishops and abbesses had been laid to rest. While witnessing this event, García Márquez recalls, "the stone shattered at the first blow of the pickax, and a stream of living hair the intense color of copper spilled out of the crypt...attached to the skull of a young girl." Startled by the discovery, he remembers the legend his grandmother told him as boy about "a little twelve-year-old marquise with hair that trailed behind her like a bridal train, who had died of rabies caused by a dog bite and was venerated in the towns along the Caribbean coast for the many miracles she had performed."
Against the background of the lush, coastal tropics, García Márquez creates the story of an impossible, yet undeniable, love. Of Love and Other Demons is set in a South American seaport during the colonial era, the home of bishops and viceroys, enlightened thinkers and Inquisitors, lepers and pirates. Sierva María de Todos los &AACUTE;ngeles, the rebellious only child of a decaying noble family, has been raised by her father's slaves in their quarters behind his mansion. On her twelfth birthday she is bitten by a rabid dog and made to withstand therapies indistinguishable from tortures. Believed to be possessed, Sierva María is imprisoned in a convent, where she meets Father Cayetano Delaura, who has been sent to oversee her exorcism. Father Delaura, a protégé of the bishop, is unprepared for the transfiguring passion that Sierva María awakens in his soul. Of Love and Other Demons is the story of their love: improbable, deeply moving, and defying - even in death - the constraints of reason and faith.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The oldest of twelve children, Gabriel García Márquez was born on March 6, 1928, in the small, banana-growing town of Aracataca, Colombia. Like Fermina and Florentino, the protagonists of his novel Love in the Time of Cholera, his mother went to high school and studied piano, and his father, too poor to complete his medical studies, became a telegrapher. He grew up in the great, gloomy house of his maternal grandparents, raised on his grandmother's tales of spirits and dead ancestors, and the civil war stories of his grandfather, a retired colonel.
With a new baby born every year, there was no money for school tuition, and at thirteen García Márquez applied for and received a scholarship to a boarding school outside Bogotá. His teachers recognized a natural storyteller, a gift García Márquez believes some people are born with. "Some people have a sense of timing, of organization of facts," he told the Los Angeles Times Magazine in 1990. "After that, it is a long way to becoming a writer. You have to learn to write well. It is a technical process, a process of elaboration and a capacity to elaborate experiences." Though he would have preferred to study philosophy and letters, García Márquez studied law at the National University in Bogotá, because the degree was more practical and the schedule permitted him an afternoon job. He nonetheless made his way through the great works of literature. Influenced by Marxist professors and the desperate economic straits of many Latin Americans, García Márquez became a radical socialist.
By the time the university closed down in 1948 because of political unrest, García Márquez had sold several stories to the local newspaper, El Espectador. He left for Cartagena on the Caribbean coast, where he knew he could find work on a newspaper. In 1954 he returned to Bogotá to work again for El Espectador, establishing himself as a well-known journalist. The next year García Márquez's first book, Leaf Storm, was published after a seven-year search for a publisher. When his account of the true story behind the shipwreck of a Colombian naval destroyer displeased Rojas Pinilla, the Colombian dictator, the newspaper prudently sent him abroad. Writing short stories all the while, García Márquez worked as a freelance journalist in Paris, London, and Caracas, and in 1959 opened the Bogotá office of the Prensa Latina, the newly-created official press agency of Castro's Cuba. In 1958 he married his childhood sweetheart, Mercedes Barcha. His first child, Rodrigo, was born in 1959 and his second, Gonsalvo, in 1962.
A move to Mexico City was followed by four years in which García Márquez wrote no fiction at all. Then, one day in January 1965, as he was driving to Acapulco, the complete first chapter of One Hundred Years of Solitude suddenly came to him. He devoted eight to ten hours a day for eighteen months to his writing, emerging with a family saga that mirrors the history of Colombia. Published in 1967, One Hundred Years of Solitude became an international bestseller and is considered by many to be his masterpiece.
In 1982 García Márquez won the Nobel Prize for literature. His other works include four collections of short stories (No One Writes to the Colonel, Leaf Storm, Innocent Eréndira, and Strange Pilgrims), the novella Chronicle of a Death Foretold, and the novels The Autumn of the Patriarch, In Evil Hour, Love in the Time of Cholera, and The General in His Labyrinth.
García Márquez lives on the southern edge of Mexico City, and spends time in Bogotá, Cartagena, Barcelona, Cuernavaca, and Paris. He tries to write a page a day, declaring it "terribly hard work, more so all the time. Every letter I write weighs me down, you can't imagine how much" (Seven Voices). García Márquez credits the computer for rescuing him from his perfectionist tendencies; he once went through an entire ream of paper typing the final, letter-perfect manuscript of a fifteen-page short story.
His leftist beliefs and close friendship with Fidel Castro have not endeared García Márquez to the U.S. State Department, which allows him to visit the United States only by special dispensation. He remains a devoted advocate of human freedom and is insistent that Europe and the United States should allow Latin America to develop its own identity - and make its own mistakes - at its own pace and without intervention. "Why is the originality so readily granted us in literature so mistrustfully denied us in our difficult attempts at social change?" he demands.
Always looking for the story, García Márquez still writes occasional pieces of nonfiction. "When I write journalism, some people think I am writing literature. And I am very rigorous when I write journalism, very careful of reality," he told the Los Angeles Times Magazine. "But I have a way of selecting and seeing reality that is very literary.... I see things others don't." His interest lies in describing and storytelling rather than in making moral judgments or grand statements. "The writer is not here to make declarations," he once told his friend Mario Vargas Llosa, "but to tell about things."
In an illuminating 1981 interview with The Paris Review, Mr. García Márquez revealed some of the early influences on his writing. He also discussed inspiration, intuition, imagination, and the relationship between journalism and fiction. Here is an excerpt from that conversation.
Q: How did you start writing?
A: By drawing. By drawing cartoons. Before I could read or write I used to draw comics at school and at home. The funny thing is that I now realize that when I was in high school I had the reputation of being a writer, though I never in fact wrote anything. If there was a pamphlet to be written or a letter of petition, I was the one to do it because I was supposedly the writer. When I entered college I happened to have a very good literary background in general, considerably above the average of my friends. At the university in Bogotá, I started making new friends and acquaintances, who introduced me to contemporary writers. One night a friend lent me a book of short stories by Franz Kafka: I went back to the pension where I was staying and began to read The Metamorphosis. The first line almost knocked me off the bed. I was so surprised. The first line reads, "As Gregor Samsa awoke that morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect...." When I read the line I thought to myself that I didn't know anyone was allowed to write things like that. If I had known, I would have started writing a long time ago. So I immediately started writing short stories. They are totally intellectual short stories because I was writing them on the basis of my literary experience and had not yet found the link between literature and life. The stories were published in the literary supplement of the newspaper El Espectador in Bogotá and they did have a certain success at the time - probably because nobody in Colombia was writing intellectual short stories. What was being written then was mostly about life in the countryside and social life. When I wrote my first short stories I was told they had Joycean influences.
Q: Had you read Joyce at that time?
A: I had never read Joyce, so I started reading Ulysses. I read it in the only Spanish edition available. Since then, after having read Ulysses in English as well as a very good French translation, I can see that the original Spanish translation was very bad. But I did learn something that was to be very useful to me in my future writing - the technique of the interior monologue. I later found this in Virginia Woolf, and I like the way she uses it better than Joyce. Although I later realized that the person who invented this interior monologue was the anonymous writer of the Lazarillo de Tormes.
Q: Are dreams ever important as a source of inspiration?
A: In the very beginning I paid a good deal of attention to them. But then I realized that life itself is the greatest source of inspiration and that dreams are only a very small part of that torrent that is life. What is very true about my writing is that I'm quite interested in different concepts of dreams and interpretations of them. I see dreams as part of life in general, but reality is much richer. But maybe I just have very poor dreams.
Q: Can you distinguish between inspiration and intuition?
A: Inspiration is when you find the right theme, one you really like; that makes the work much easier. Intuition, which is also fundamental to writing fiction, is a special quality which helps you to decipher what is real without needing scientific knowledge, or any other special kind of learning. The laws of gravity can be figured out much more easily with intuition than anything else. It's a way of having experience without having to struggle through it. For a novelist, intuition is essential. Basically it's contrary to intellectualism, which is probably the thing that I detest most in the world - in the sense that the real world is turned into a kind of immovable theory. Intuition has the advantage that either it is, or it isn't. You don't struggle to try to put a round peg into a square hole.
Q: Do you think the novel can do certain things that journalism can't?
A: Nothing. I don't think there is any difference. The sources are the same, the material is the same, the resources and the language are the same. The Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe is a great novel and Hiroshima is a great work of journalism.
Q: Do the journalist and the novelist have different responsibilities in balancing truth versus the imagination?
A: In journalism just one fact that is false prejudices the entire work. In contrast, in fiction one single fact that is true gives legitimacy to the entire work. That's the only difference, and it lies in the commitment of the writer. A novelist can do anything he wants so long as he makes people believe in it.
"Gabriel García Márquez" by Peter H. Stone, from Writers at Work, Sixth Series by George A Plimpton, editor. Copyright (c) 1984 by The Paris Review, Inc. Used by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc.
"Luminous...demonstrates that one of the masters of the form is still working at the height of his powers." - The New York Times
"A work of considerable beguilement and edge.... García Márquez retains a vital and remarkable voice, and the pen of an angel." - The Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Captivating.... Of Love and Other Demons evokes the texture of a civilization, while its emotional range, from the comic to the mystical, exhibits a reach rarely found in fictions on a larger scale." - The Boston Globe
"The novel is continuing proof that García Márquez is the master of putting a lot of story into a small space.... [He] tells a story of forbidden love, but demonstrates once again the vigor of his own passion: the daring and irresistible coupling of history and imagination." - Time
"Dense and complex within the confines of its simplicity, Of Love and Other Demons offers a rich platter of food for thought. If the criteria for great literature has to do with gripping our attention with the bizarre or the unusual, and then adding new dimensions to our understanding of the familiar, Of Love and Other Demons qualifies." - USA Today
"With exquisite prose, García Márquez brings the magic, superstition and imposing power of the church to vivid life in a wondrous story of doomed and forbidden love." - People
Posted July 28, 2007
This may be one of Garcia Marquez' little known books, but it is a gem to read! The story line has a magical, forbidden allure that will pull you in. The avid reader will relish the characters and the story plot till the very last page. Only problem, it is a short, fast paced read, but all in all, a jewel of a book!
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Posted January 2, 2003
i was so left speechless by this story, that i decided to write a story myself, without having written anything in my life,which won a national contest of writing talents.i am to publish mu first book soon, in magical realism style.Gabriel Garcia Marquez is like a Father to me, the King of People in the vast and unexplored realm of Imagination.
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