Photo Courtesy Vintage and Anchor BooksIf I released book after book detailing trysts between grown men and pubescent girls, the only award I'd receive is NAMBLA's emerging author prize. When Gabriel García Márquez does it, though, critics deem him Latin America's preeminent man of letters and one of the great authors of our time—a Woody Allen for the literary set, if you will.
Over the past three decades, Márquez has revisited the theme of magical pedophilia in works ranging from classics (One Hundred Years of Solitude) to lesser-known tales (Innocent Eréndira, the story of a 13-year-old prostitute). But critics have yet to heap scorn and scandal on the Nobel laureate the way they did to Vladimir Nabokov after Lolita, Allen with Manhattan, or other artists whose works highlight kiddie-fiddling.
The latest free-pervert pass for Márquez is Memoria de mis Putas Tristes (A Memory of my Melancholy Whores), a 109-page novella that won't be released in English until fall of 2005. "The year of my 90th birthday," the book's first sentence states, "I wanted to give myself as a present a night of crazy love with an adolescent virgin." The nonagenarian finds it with a 14-year-old. He reads children's classics like The Little Prince to the girl while buying her bicycles and falling in love. No one looks down on the man—indeed, the señor, a journalist, becomes a modern-day bard for his Colombian town as enthralled readers post his columns and recite them over the radio.
It's understandable why Márquez returns to the theme of elderly men breaking in not-even-legal girls. By stealing their virginal powers, Márquez's protagonists—almost always past-their-prime or long-suffering hombres—revitalize their lives in a sort of sexual vampirism, reaching the heights they either once inhabited or always aspired to. As for the deflowered maidens? They usually die. An easy way to discard characters!
Such literary machismo is rather disgusting, really. But Márquez's unparalleled diablerie in coaxing beauty from words means that readers and critics get so enthralled with metaphors and style that the issue of child rape transforms into a literary butterfly.
As far back as 1969, the year Márquez wrote the masterful One Hundred Years of Solitude, he was already wistfully detailing grown men's infatuation with little ladies by focusing on the ill-fated courtship between Colonel Aureliano Buendía and the seven-year-old Remedios Moscote. "Aureliano could not answer Remedios because he was seized with a sudden attack of asthma," Márquez wrote. "He wanted to stay beside that lily skin forever, beside that voice that called him 'sir' with every question, showing him the same respect she showed her father."
At least Márquez had the decency of not allowing the two to consummate their love until Moscote began menstruating—that is, until Moscote was nine. But in his second-most famous book, Love in the Time of Cholera, Márquez upped the ick factor further. Near the end of the book, cad Florentino Ariza became the guardian of 14-year-old América Vicuña, "a child in every sense of the word, with braces on her teeth and the scrapes of elementary school on her knees." The elderly gentleman, wrote Márquez, "led [América] by the hand, with the gentle astuteness of a kind grandfather, toward his secret slaughterhouse." After schooling his ward in the finer art of afternoon rendezvous for three years, "Vicuña was no longer the little girl, the newcomer, whom he had undressed, one article of clothing at a time, with little baby games: first these little shoes for the little baby bear, then this little chemise for the little puppy dog, next these little flowered panties for the little bunny rabbit, and a little kiss on her papa's delicious little dickey-bird."
Will critics finally call Márquez on his perversions after Memorias? Not likely: critics are already hailing the book as a treasure. Only the Los Angeles Times,in its Oct. 24 review, noted the tome "is as hypnotizing as it is disturbing."
MEMORIA DE MIS PUTAS TRISTES BY GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ; VINTAGE ESPAÑOL. PAPERBACK. 109 PAGES. $10.95.
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