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LITERATURE: Garcia Marquez Gives Another Twist to Love

Constanza Vieira

BOGOTA, Oct 18 2004 (IPS) - "Memories of My Melancholy Whores", a new novel by Colombian Nobel Literature Prize-winner Gabriel García Márquez that is scheduled for release in Spanish on Oct. 20, is an untold page in the life of Florentino Ariza, the central character in "Love in the Time of Cholera", which was published in 1985.

The new novel, his first in over a decade, "is another face and a different aspect of the same character. It is the other face of life, that ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ does not talk about," another prize-winning Colombian writer, Alvaro Mutis, told IPS from Mexico.

It took García Márquez – who is fondly known as "Gabo" by his readers – over three years to write his latest work of fiction. He finished three months ago and, as per his custom, sent the draft to Mutis, one of his closest friends. (Both writers live in Mexico City).

"It seemed to me an extraordinary book," said Mutis. But, he warned in the interview, "Gabo and I have been friends since 1954. And although we have never put it into writing, we made a pact: neither he nor I ever talk about each other’s work."

He did say, however, that "Memories" sticks "very closely to the tradition of Gabo’s books. It is a continuation. You sometimes have the impression, reading Gabo’s books, that he has only written a single book in many chapters, with different titles."

"Like all of his work, this is a classic. It is narrated in a language similar to that spoken in Gabo’s region, in Aracataca (the small town where García Marquez was born), and along" Colombia’s Caribbean coast, he added.

The plot is set in Barranquilla, the main city in Colombia’s Caribbean coastal region, and revolves around "an old 90-year-old man who talks about his experiences with love," said Mutis.

The story "is absolutely delicious. I always really enjoy his books, but I had an especially delightful time with this one," said Mutis, a winner of the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world’s highest literary honour, as well as the prestigious Prince of Asturias award.

"And I’ve already said too much, I’m going to get a scolding," added the writer before putting an end to the interview.

In "Love in the Time of Cholera", a casual meeting of the eyes between two adolescents gives rise to a cataclysm of love that lasts half a century for the boy, Florentino Ariza.

Over the decades, Florentino silently adores his first love, Fermina Daza, who has married another man. As he waits for her, he has hundreds of affairs, which he meticulously keeps track of (the exact total is 622). And he never pays for love.

To "unburden himself of so many words of love that are left unused," he spends his free time helping others write letters to their lovers. And he writes "with such passion, that he makes even official documents sound like love letters."

Florentino demonstrates with his life that nothing in this world is more difficult than love. He also learns that it is possible to be in love with several people at the same time, and with the same pain in each case, without betraying any of them because the heart "has more rooms than a brothel."

Another reader of the draft of García Márquez’s new novel, Colombian poet Juan Gustavo Cobo Borda, remarked to IPS that "the novel has the happy-go-lucky brazenness of old men who no longer have to hide anything and can gloat over everything they have kept secret and hidden, like their vulgarity, weaknesses, the innocence of puppy love, their errors and passions."

Like Florentino, the central character in the new novel counts his trysts (over 500). But unlike Florentino, he never has sex without paying for it.

García Márquez’s novels are set in northern Colombia, where the tropical winter brings torrential downpours and the summer dry season brings invisible dust that penetrates everything, along with winds that blow the rooftops off houses.

In the world of García Márquez, the poor, darker-skinned local residents dance all weekend long, drink themselves to death with home-made liquor, and end the fiesta at midnight on Sunday with bloody free-for-all brawls.

But there are also families whose last names are "so grand" that they do not even fit in the spaces between the arches of their houses.

Meanwhile, a sense of social justice gradually and inevitably fades away.

"Memories of My Melancholy Whores" begins with an epigraph from Japanese Nobel laureate Yasunari Kawabata’s novel "The House of the Sleeping Beauties": "He was not to do anything in bad taste, the woman of the house warned old Eguchi. He was not to put his finger into the mouth of the sleeping girl, or try anything else of that sort."

Several years ago, García Márquez commented that "The House of the Sleeping Beauties" was the book he would have liked to write.

After reading that novel, he wrote "Sleeping Beauty and the Airplane", in June 1982 (just a few months before winning the Nobel Prize), although it was not published until his collection "Strange Pilgrims: Twelve Stories" came out 10 years later.

In Kawabata’s book, rich elderly men from Kyoto pay huge sums to spend the night merely watching beautiful young girls, who sleep drugged and naked by their side.

In his short story "Sleeping Beauty and the Airplane", García Márquez tells of an experience he had on a flight from Paris to New York, when he was completely taken by the woman sitting next to him, who he describes as the most beautiful woman he has ever seen.

But although he longs to talk to her, she sleeps through most of the 12-hour flight, and they do not exchange a single word.

In the story, he writes that while watching the beautiful young woman sleep, he not only understood the "senile" urge expressed in Kawabata’s novel, but fully experienced it himself.

The 114-page "Memories of My Melancholy Whores" is set for release with a record print run of one million copies, to be sold throughout Latin America as well as Spain and the United States. For the first time, the Spanish-language edition will be published in the United States before the translation to English.

The launch in Colombia, originally scheduled for Oct. 27, was bumped up to Oct. 20 after a pirated version began to circulate in the streets of Bogota on Oct. 14, selling for around one-third of the price of the edition to be put out by the book’s Colombian publisher, Norma.

García Márquez, one of the best-known Spanish language writers alive today, is one of the pioneers of magical realism. His works include "100 Years of Solitude", "No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories", "The Autumn of the Patriarch", "Chronicle of a Death Foretold" and "The General in His Labyrinth".

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