cover image Of Love and Other Demons

Of Love and Other Demons

Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Alfred A Knopf Inc, $25 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-679-43853-3

The incantatory power of Garcia Marquez's prose is as potent as ever in this mesmerizing story inspired by an amazing event he witnessed almost 50 years ago, as a journalist observing the transfer of burial remains from the crypt of an old convent. When one tomb was opened, ``a stream of living hair the intense color of copper spilled out.'' More than 22 meters in length, it was attached to the skull of a young girl whose body had been interred for 200 years. Remembering his grandmother's tales of a 12-year-old marquise who had died of rabies from a dog bite, Garcia Marquez has imagined the girl's life and the circumstances of her death. As usual, the atmosphere is colored by magical realism: dreams and portents, inexplicable, miraculous events. The offspring of a melancholy, ineffectual marquis and a mother yoked to ``insatiable vices,'' Sierva Maria is raised by the family's West Indian slaves, who teach her the Yoruban language and magical practices. She is bitten by a rabid dog but shows no real symptoms; the local bishop, however, decides she is possessed by demons and orders her incarcerated in a convent where she will be exorcised by his gentle librarian, Father Delaura. But Delaura becomes possessed, too--by his love for this suffering child three decades his junior. Garcia Marquez describes the physical tortures inflicted on Sierva Maria as graphically as he does the rapturous--but chaste--love between the innocent, terrified girl and her confessor. A Jewish-Portuguese doctor says that ``killing her would have been more Christian than burying her alive.'' This tragic tale is in essence an outcry against intolerance and bigotry and an indictment of a degraded Church that used its power with narrow-minded cruelty. In the end, the power of love transcends the earthly sphere. (May)