Magical Realism, Writing, Fiction, Politics, Haiku, Books



lunes, septiembre 17, 2007

Garcia Marquez And The Days Of Awe

Initially, it seemed like a clever idea. I’d ask my dad, who is 88 years old, to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s apparently final book, Memories of My Melancholy Whores, and tell me what he thought of it. This was clever: the narrator of the book is celebrating his 90th birthday when he decides to visit the brothel in an unnamed South American city, where he falls in love with a sleeping 14 year-old he will come to idealize and call “Delgadina.” My dad is almost 90, so he might have a unique perspective on the book. The book is thin, Marquez’s thinnest, and spare, and as one critic wrote, requires an almost Biblical parsing. The critics, of course, don’t agree about it. The Times of London noted that when the book was released in 2004 booksellers in Colombia stopped traffic to sell half priced copies to passing motorists and suggested that similar excitement in London would be appropriate. The New York Times, on the other hand, gave it a “D”. Unfortunately, clever ideas hardly ever turn out as planned. My dad said he liked the book, and that it was a testament to the great power of love. There would be no other memorable quotes, nothing more to add to a review.

My own reading of the book evoked my mortality. I’m not anywhere near 90, but some of the future mileposts on the already begun journey of aging are of importance: loss of vibrancy and vitality, diminishing acuity, isolation, loss of love, loss of companionship, withdrawal from the world, all the issues overcome by the narrator’s surprisingly falling deeply in love with the sleeping girl. That this love is unconsummated only intensifies its strength, it’s gift of life. But it’s the unsurprising failure of the narrator’s capacities that undergirds the story and burnishes its brightness in his twilight.

A visit from my dad, in whom I see so much of myself, also tends to evoke the same concerns. I see him, thin, shrunken, weighing less than ever, bundled in a jacket and knit hat and blanket, asleep in a chair with his chin on his chest, Marquez’s book open on the couch next to him. His hearing even with twin hearing aids is poor. His memory disconcertingly returns to events some four decades before, events long forgotten even by the participants, and he talks about their significance and his feelings about them as if they were yesterday’s sharp slight. He tends to repeat himself. His vocabulary is somehow frozen in a previous decade. Is it too obvious to point out that in my mind I don’t think of him like this? I persist in recalling him as a much younger man. His present appearance always comes as a shock. As does his unconsciously making strange faces and noises. And I wonder secretly whether this is where I am surely headed. Will I wake up one morning and be him or be even more like him?

His visit is for Rosh Hashanah. And these are now the Days of Awe. If the Master of the Universe writes on Rosh Hashanah what will happen in each of our lives in the upcoming year, the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are for teshuvah, tefillah, and tzedaka, turning inward to assess one’s self, prayer, and good works, before our next year is determined. The Days of Awe are about mitigating the judgment of who will live and who will die, who will prosper and who will suffer, it’s about noticing past errors and making amends for them, it’s about prayer and good works to set things aright. So naturally, this time of year, as the leaves begin to turn, as the winds begin to become colder, as the fruit falls from the trees, evokes the world beyond.

My children wonder why I act so strange, so unusual when my dad is visiting. Why do I seem so ungrounded? Why do I seem so weak? Why do I seem so distracted? I think all of this is a sadness at the inevitability and relentlessness of impermanence. It may be my fear and absorption in the thought that all too soon, my vitality may visibly wane. I may find myself completely alone. I may be stuck in some simulacrum of the remote past, and I may be unable to find passion, excitement, direction, and vibrancy. My body may fall apart. I may fall unknowingly into a strange form of sleep from which I cannot fully awaken. Sometimes, like when I am in the dentist’s chair, impermanence is a friend; sometimes, however, its termites relentlessly attack the beams supporting my present life. It may be arrogant or even insane to ignore the progression of time, but this week my impermanence is directly and constantly in my face. This makes life, and Marquez’s book, all the sweeter.

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Blogger Celia said...

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