By Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman 115 pages
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005
ISBN: 1-4000-4460-X

Comments by Bob Corbett
August 2009

It is the eve of the narrator’s 90th birthday. He’s enjoyed his 90 years as a bachelor, living alone. He’s satisfied his significant sexual urges with an incessant use of prostitutes to satisfy those needs. Now, at 90, he has arranged to have paid sex with a very young virgin. This is his treat to himself on this special day, sort of his swan song to sex. But when he arrives the young girl is sleeping and he lets her sleep. The madam who arranged the meeting calls to tell him she will reschedule. He demurs, but she presses him that if he doesn’t the young woman will spread the tale and his “reputation” will be ruined and people will think he can no longer manage it.

He replies:

“Let it alone,” I said. “Nothing happened, in fact it showed me I’m in no condition for this kind of chasing around. In that sense the girl’s right: I can’t anymore.” I hung up the phone, filled with a sense of liberation I hadn’t known before in my life, and free at last from a servitude that had kept me enslaved since the age of thirteen.

But he is far from this liberation which he optimistically sees for himself. He then sums up his view of his own habits:

“Sex is the consolation you have when you can’t have love.”

Ironically he is a learned journalist and writes a popular op-ed column for each Sunday’s newspaper. He knows classical music quite well, and also writes reviews of music performances in the city.

He never married, having deserted his fiancé the day of their scheduled wedding. He has an incredible appetite for sex, and has purchased the services of hundred of whores over the years. He prides himself on the fact that he has never has sex with a woman without paying for it. He is so wedded to this alleged “fact” of his self-image that he has had to manufacturing ruses to keep it alive. When he begins to have regular anal sex with his housekeeper she refuses his money, so he raises her salary as a way of paying her anyway. (Ironically, after some 20 years of his continued buggering of her, she is proud that she is still a virgin!)

And twice he was voted “customer of the year” in the red-light district of La Paz.

The novel takes its considerable power from his decision on his 90th birthday that he will have wild sex with this young virgin, but everything goes wrong and he not only doesn’t have sex with her, but over the next ten years he falls into virginal love with “his” virgin, sleeping naked with her many nights, but never consummating their sexual love – or rather HIS love; we never hear her side of it.

The character of the narrator is marvelous to behold. There is his erudition on the one hand, his sexual curiosity and obsession on the other, and then at age 90 to finally become consumed with jealous, raging love with a woman 75 years his junior, all come together to give us a fascinating person to know.

He has a great concern for his individual freedom, but is less concerned with the dignity of the other; yet since he pays well, this seems not to bother him at all.

The greatest irony of the novel is in his writing and reputation BEFORE he meets his Delgadina (his name for the girl, not actually her name) was that he was regarded by most as a bit of an over-the-hill pompous ass. But in his complete obsession with his virginal love of her, he begins to make his Sunday essays to be about love and its passions, even its jealousies. Suddenly he is the hit of La Paz. Everyone is following his columns, they are read on the radio and he becomes quite famous.

While riding a bus one day he meets an old prostitute with whom he had had sex many many times. He tells her the whole truth of Delgadina and how he has never had sex with her and was thinking of giving her up. She berates him telling him he would be a fool to let her go:

"She looked into my eyes, gauged my reaction to what she had just told me, and said: So you go and find that poor creature right now even if what your jealousy tells you is true, no matter what, nobody can take away the dances you’ve already had. But one thing, no grandfather’s romanticism. Wake her, fuck her brains out with the burro’s cock the devil gave you as a reward for cowardice and stinginess. I’m serious, she concluded, speaking from the heart: Don’t let yourself die without knowing the wonder of fucking with love.”

What a marvelous insight!

The novel is an interesting look at a very strange man. In just a short 100 pages Marquez helps us see who this man is, how he is in the world, and despite much about him that doesn’t inspire love or envy, in the end we come to be happy that he has arrived at this obsessive love before he dies, on his 100th birthday.

It was interesting to me that there is virtually no magical realism in Marquez’s writing of this novel. There are a couple scenes where dreams reveal things, and one of two sightings of spirits, but his more typical magical realism plays virtually no role in this novel.

It’s a quick read and I would recommend it to all who could read with without being too disgusted by the basic line of the plot. It’s quite rewarding when one just accepts him as who he is and watches these changes that come to his life.


Bob Corbett

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Bob Corbett