The title grabbed me first. Of Love and Other Demons. The idea that love is indeed a demon promises at least one tragic love story, which is always entertaining. Then I saw the author. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The one who wrote the book I will never get tired of recommending: Love in the Time of Cholera. The one whose great words I want to take everywhere with me so I am getting them tattoed: The only regret I will have in dying is if it is not for love. So not only was it going to be a tragic love story, it was going to be a good tragic love story. Even better.
Human beings are fleeting. Now I am here but in 5 minutes I might not be. All that is going to be left of me are some ashes, the memories I left in other people and my hair. Female hair indeed deserves a proper attention. It is immensely strong. Remember that fairytale of the girl trapped in a tower, who made a rope out of her hair so that her lover can climb up to her. It is patient and persistent. Whatever you do to it, it will always grow exactly the same way it was before. It is attractive. All of those videos/pictures/movies of women flipping their hair around in the hopes of arousing some sexual desire in men say enough. But most importantly, it is enduring. It defeats even death.
Marquez begins his story with hair. In his prologue to the novella he describes two events that lead to his inspiration. As a young reporter workiong in Colombia, he was assigned to write a story about the emptying of burial crypts at a historic convent called Santa Clara. There, in one of the tombs, he witnessed the most beautiful long copper hair…attached to the skull of a girl. This discovery awoke memories of his grandmother’s stories – about a young marquise with a long hair that trailed behind her back. The marquise died of rabies bitten by a dog but was believed to be possessed and venerated for the many miracles she performed.
Sierva Maria de Todos los Angeles grows up in a dysfunctional family with an idle and depressed father and a hysterical, tortured by addictions and vomits mother. Raised by the black servants at the decaying noble family’s house, Sierva Maria is more accustomed to the African culture and traditions, than to her own family’s. This predisposition to different languages plays a tragic role in her future destiny.
The story is set in a South American sea port in the colonial area. Needless to say, people at that time looked with suspicion and fear at any event they couldn’t understand or explain. When Sierva Maria is bitten by the dog and supposedly contracts rabies (although this is never confirmed and disputed) her fever and hallucinations are mistaken for possession. Her mother, never having loved her, turns her back once more. Her father, however, the ever idle and pathetic Marquis discovers his new born love and affection for a daughter he never knew. A little too late and a lot too innappropriate, his concerns bring him for advice from the bishop. Sierva Maria ends up locked in a nuns’ convent waiting for exorcism.
Marquez portrays a forbidden and impossible, yet inevitable love between a victim and her executioner. Father Cayetano Delaura, the priest overseeing Sierva Maria’s exorcism, soon becomes enchanted with the 12-year-old girl. The two of them have nothing in common but a burning passion. He is devoted to God but upon meeting this strange girl starts doubting his faith and trust in a God that deprives a girl from her life and her right to choose because of narrow-minded superstitions. She was raised by the servants, who feel more family than her own parents, but her tragic destiny has made her disbelieve everyone. In that scene, the only thing that matters is love. Love as an opposition to the Church, to its servants, to the whole prejudiced world.
Of course their love is doomed. Of course it cannot flourish. Marquez makes this clear from the first pages but yet gives hope to his characters, allows them to dream for that mystic land where they will be free to be together. Not in this world though. The demons their love fights are stronger and Sierva Maria and Father Delaura have been defeated even before they started fighting. And yet in those precious moments of closeness and togetherness, lies Marquez’s point. Even if love ends up in suffering, even if it is a demon itself, oh give me more of those demons. Let them tear me apart for minutes, even if I get to suffer for years. I have enough demons I am fighting daily, let the demon of love be another one.
To put it in the words of one great author:
Find what you love and let it kill you,
Let it drain you from your all. Let it cling onto your back and weight you down into eventual nothingness…Let it kill you, and let it devour your remains.
For all things will kill you, both slowly and fastly, but it’s much better to be killed by a lover.
Henry Charles Bukowski.