Book: Of Love and Other Demons
Author: Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Translation: Edith Grossman
Critic: Glenville Ashby, PhD
Against a stark, lugubrious backdrop, a riveting and high octane drama unfolds in Peru. It is a time when slavery and autocracy shaped the national ethos and the stench of oppression was rife. Author Gabriel García Marquez moulds well-defined, distinct and complementary characters. ‘Of Love and Other Demons’ is propelled by an intriguing plot that twists and weaves around 12-year old Sierva Maria de Todos, a reticent figure whose life hangs in the balance after her encounter with a rabid dog.
Her parents, Bernada Cabrera and Don Ygnacio de Alfaro y Duenas, are locked in a union bereft of love and nurturance.
Cabrera is tempestuous, self-serving and sexually insatiable; her philandering and licentious candor prove bewildering. She is “an untamed mestiza…seductive, rapacious, brazen, with a hunger in her womb that could have satisfied an entire barrack.” In time, her untamed adventurism derails her psycho-emotional and physical health. In this unfortunate soul, the wages of sin come to life.
Her abrasive interaction with her husband and maternal disinterest are telling.
Conversely, her spouse, Ygnacio, a marquis and a complex and sympathetic figure, is an indefinable man, driven by divers experiences; a man weighed down by an emotionally unforgiving past, a man that “grew up showing signs of mental retardation, was illiterate until he reached his majority, and loved no one.”
Unfortunately, their daughter, Sierva Maria, is given up to their slaves, learned their ways and was initiated in their occult arts. She is unrecognizable to her mother who is by now convinced that her daughter is moved by a dark force.
A foreboding climate hovers over every character, a toxicity and spiritual malaise permeating every crevice of their existence. In this dystopia, every soul struggles for meaning.
The spirit world competes with traditional medicine, each offering their brand of panacea. In some quarters, disease is viewed in phantasmagoric terms, an omen and handiwork of evil. A victim of rabies “was tied to a pillar, an old mulatto with a beard and hair like cotton, his body half paralyzed…the disease having endowed the other half with so much strength that he had to be tied to keep him from smashing himself to pieces against the walls.” Ominously, he had been attacked by the same ash-coloured dog with the white blaze that had bitten Sierva Maria.”
The stricken are shunned, left to die in the most cruel way.
Thirsting for a cure, “Sierva Maria is fed a paste of manaju and placed naked in the onion cellar to counteract the evil spell of the dog.”
The marquis, though, hedges his bet on Abrenuncio, a Jewish medical director whose diagnosis is foreboding, advising that the young girl be treated in Amor de Dios Hospital, “where they had a Senegalese trained to control heretics and raging maniacs.”
The alternative – chaining the girl to the bed until her demise was implausible.But Sierva Maria’s condition takes a threatening turn.
“[S]he had a fiery ulcer on her ankle, her body was scalded by mustard plasters and blistering poultices, and the skin on her stomach was raw. She suffered everything: vertigo, convulsions, spasms, delirium’s, looseness of the bowels and bladder, and rolled on the floor howling in pain and fury. Even the boldest healers left her to her fate, convinced she was mad or possessed by demons.”
The marquis is persuaded by the residing Bishop that demons indeed had possessed his infirm daughter, stating that “one of the demon’s numerous deceptions is to take on the appearance of a foul disease in order to enter an innocent body; and once he is inside, no human body is capable of making him leave.”
She is admitted to Convent of Santa Clara where she is feared and reviled. “Do not touch her, no one is to touch her,” the Abbess shouts. The abuse of Sierva Maria has just begun. Fantastical tales of her supernatural feats are told, setting the stage for an exorcism and the inexorable brutality of the unfortunate girl. She sleeps on a stone bed, her feet and hands bound with leather straps. Her fate, though, shifts with the arrival of Cayetano Delaura, a cleric and bibliothecary-turned-exorcist, invited by the Bishop to address the matter. Delaura challenges the demonic theory, reasoning that she is a product of her upbringing, nothing more. Struck by her innate elegance and “physical brilliance,” his love deepens, conceding in his dreams, “For you was I born, for you I have life, for you I will die, for you I am now dying.”
Delaura’s moments with his young love is complex. Lustful and prayerful thoughts collide, a maddening brew that overwhelms the unlikely couple.
It is a desire that devolves into sexual masochism for which he is punished by ecclesiastic authorities.
Throughout, Marquez’s actors moil to make sense of life. Woefully, they come up short, ever tortuous and wounded.
‘Of Love and Demons’ is a literary tour de force that delivers an unwavering statement on the overarching power of human desire. No one is immune from the compulsions of the heart, not even those that pedal God’s love. Marquez’s protagonists are driven by the flesh. Here, uncontrollable forces roam, transforming the sacred into the profane, tranquillity into maniacal obsession, and life into death.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Feedback: [email protected] or follow him on [email protected]/www.glenvilleashby.com
Publisher: Penguin Books, New York, USA
Available at Amazon
Ratings: Highly recommended
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