Sunday, August 20, 2006

Mystical Transformation; or, Life Begins at Ninety

Memories of My Melancholy Whores
The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin.
And so begins our Book Club selection for this month. I must admit, as a product of a more egalitarian society than that described by Gabriel Garci­a Marquez in his novella Memories of My Melancholy Whores, I was a bit put off by this opening sentence. Is this a tale of child abuse couched within the fantasy of literature? Perhaps. However, we are privileged to witness the lyrically orchestrated self-discovery of the narrator ("the Scholar"), a ninety-year-old newspaper columnist. Whatever you think of old age, this story tells us that people of any age have the ability to find love, even those whose previous intimacies are paid for liaisons. Here is a man with no family and whose only friends seem to be women whose love he has bought. He is certainly loveless. He has squandered his life. Somehow, in spite of himself, in his ninety-first year he finds love. The fact that physical love in this new-found relationship remains unconsummated makes his adoration not unlike a religious veneration. It is with religious zeal of his new love that he transforms his life:

The house rose from its ashes and I sailed on my love of Delgadina with an intensity and happiness I had never known in my former life. Thanks to her I confronted my inner self for the first time as my ninetieth year went by. (p. 64-65)
Besides his own transformation, the Scholar offers up pearls of wisdom on aging, such as

. . . you go on seeing yourself as you always were, from the inside, but others observe you from the outside (p. 7)

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. (p. 10)
Although a translation (by Edith Grossman), the words flow, the prose is rhythmic, and the language is uncomplicated.

We think that this will be about the many women the narrator has known. Yet, really, the story is about the narrator himself: his transformation from loveless to one who loves and is loved, from one who begins life at ninety. He must deal with and overcome adversity. He triumphs. This transformation is his own deflowering. At the end, he leaves us with this forward-looking farewell:
It was, at last, real life, with my heart safe and condemned to die of happy love in the joyful agony of any day after my hundredth birthday. (p. 115)
And Delgadina, the child? We never know what she thinks. Indeed, she is always asleep. She never loses her purity. In the fantasy world of fiction, she loves her Scholar in return. After he and Rosa Carbacas, his loyal procuress, make lasting financial arrangements with each other to secure Delgadina's future, Rosa tells him
"Ah, my sad scholar, . . . That poor creature's head over heels in love with you." (p. 114-115)

Next Entry: Trolley Dodgers at PetCo Park

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