In colonial South America, the doomed love of a 12-year-old girl and a priest thrice her age sent to exorcise her. She is a nobleman's daughter who has been bitten by a rabid dog. The authorities decide she is possessed by the devil and lock her up in a convent. By the author of Love in the Time of Cholera.
Although Marquez may seem to be writing in an extremely accessible style, I think the cautious reader would do well to look between the lines - GGM is a masterful creator of personalities, and produces characters who deserve every bit of reflection one can give them.
Marquez’s writing is certainly unique in its earthiness. He deals with such subjects as sex, bodily functions and graphic illness as if they are parts of everyday life … because they are. It is refreshing.
Marquez is also known as one of the leading practitioners of the literary device of “magical realism” in which events are introduced into the story which are quite fantastic (for example, a character being swept away into the sky as though taken to heaven, a rain event that lasts over four years followed by an absolute drought of ten years). This was a major device used in One Hundred Years of Solitude and perhaps contributed to my dissatisfaction with that work. In any event, both LitToC and Love and Other Demons use this literary device sparingly if at all.
This relatively short work (readable in one or two sittings) focuses on a young woman born to feckless and irresponsible aristocrats. Neither parent cares for the child and she is raised in the slave quarters. Her unorthodox upbringing gives rise to behavior that lead many to suspect her of possession by demons. A local churchman is tasked with performing an exorcism, but instead falls madly and hopelessly in love with her, a love that is never consummated. For those familiar with Marquez, it should be no surprise that a happy ending is not to be expected.
The author’s writing is indisputably beautiful and at times mesmerizing. Much like LitToC, this is a haunting and compelling story, filled with sadness and regret. I can highly recommend this short work as a precursor to the much longer and complex LitToC. If you enjoy this, you’ll almost certainly enjoy the latter.
What makes it so worth reading is that is an underrated, superb display of all of the things that make Marquez an amazing author. It has romance, and not the sex-teaser, swooning teens or professions of undying love based on nothing kind, but true romance. Romance in spite of logic, and itself, and even belief in such a thing. This book spells romance with all of it's complications, triumphs, irrationality, and cynicism. It also reads like a how-to guide for social and personal damnation.
The Amazon summary:
Of Love and Other Demons is set in a South American seaport in the colonial era, a time of viceroys and bishops, enlightened men and Inquisitors, saints and lepers and pirates. Sierva Maria, only child of a decaying noble family, has been raised in the slaves' courtyard of her father's cobwebbed mansion while her mother succumbs to fermented honey and cacao on a faraway plantation. On her twelfth birthday the girl is bitten by a rabid dog, and even as the wound is healing she is made to endure therapies indistinguishable from tortures. Believed, finally, to be possessed, she is brought to a convent for observation. And into her cell stumbles Father Cayetano Delaura, the Bishop's protege, who has already dreamed about a girl with hair trailing after her like a bridal train; who is already moved by this kicking, spitting, emaciated creature strapped to a stone bed. As he tends to her with holy water and sacramental oils, Delaura feels "something immense and irreparable" happening to him. It is love, "the most terrible demon of all." And it is not long before Sierra Maria joins him in his fevered misery.
This story is about a girl of ~12 years old who may be suffering from rabies or might be possessed by the devil or might just be poorly socialized, depending on whose point of view you take. Marquez set this sometime during the 1700s in some coastal city (presumably Cartagena). I found the lack of specific setting and time irritating as it distracted me -- I was constantly looking for some clue to anchor the story in time and space. I hoped to use the arrival of the new viceroy Don Rodrigo de Buen Lozano to set the time but unfortunately this is not a true historical figure. Therefore, all I could tell was it was after 1717 when Colombia as part of New Granada got its own viceroy based in Bogota and before 1810 when Colombia gained its independence from Spain.
Ninety three days after being bitten by a rabid dog and still not showing any signs of rabies, twelve year old Sierva Maria de Todos los Angeles is put in a convent for observation. Sierva Maria has been put through a series of painful and uncomfortable remedies in order to try and fight the infection that might take her young life.
Her mother and father dislike each other immensely and have allowed the girl to be raised in the slave quarters near their home. This has led Sierva Maria to speak in an African tongue, adopt African traditions and not be close to either of her parents.
Bernarda Cabrera, Sierva Maria's mother, is addicted to sex, cacao and fermented honey. Bernarda slowly deteriorates due to her way of living. Her father, Don Ygnacio, lives a quiet life and although his daughter has been left to live with the slaves, he tries to amend this wrongdoing and bring her home.
Once inside the convent, thirty six year old Father Cayetano Delaura is assigned Sierva Maria's case and is put in charge of performing her exorcism. Delaura is a quiet intellectual and a lover of books.
He becomes smitten by the young girl and makes it his mission to prove that she is not possessed. By doing so he will improve her living conditions and save her from the grueling ordeal of an exorcism.
I have a love hate relationship with Marquez. He pisses me off but I can't seem to break up with him. This time around, he didn't make me too angry, he mostly mesmerized me with this beautifully written, yet strange tale.
Both love and demons play a part in this surreal story. I found Sierva Maria to behave as I'd expect a young spoiled girl abandoned by her parents would. Her behavior as a result of this poor parenting leads her to lie constantly and she even goes along pretending she is possessed.
Sierva Maria's beautiful red hair has been promised to the Virgin Mary, it must not be cut until the day she marries. When loose, it trails down to her feet.
I found Father Delaura's character to be passionate and interesting, this lover of books encloses himself in his room and read for hours every day.
Bernarda, Sierva Maria's mother was another character that had me shocked with her behavior and some truths that she reveals towards the end of the story.
Sierva's father, Don Ygnacio is a strange and complicated man. He seems not to care about his daughter, but then again he seems like he might love her after all.
Exorcisms and being possessed by demons was considered a legitimate danger during the setting of this book and Márquez brings this aspect of the story out divinely. He weaves in magic and realism perfectly and left me wondering what was real and what was imaginary.
I was both shocked and enthralled as I read this sad story about pain, heartache and faith. Highly recommended if you are a fan of Marquez or to those looking for a piece of fiction that will leave them a bit unsettled by its storyline yet mesmerized by its prose.
The final paragraph in Of Love and Other Demons gave me chills. I can't remember a book ever having that effect on me before.
"He had no room in his heart for anything but Sierva Maria, and even so it was not large enough to hold her. He was convinced that no oceans or mountains, no laws of earth or heaven, no powers of hell could keep them apart."
p.122, Of Love and Other Demons