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Del amor y otros demonios (Of Love and Other Demons).

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is up to his old tricks. Del amor y otros demonios may not be in the same league as One Hundred Years of Solitude, but it is still an engrossing page-turner filled with magic, humor, political insight, shrewd social commentary, and characters who are both lovable and thoroughly aggravating. It is also proof that Latin America's Nobel Prize-winning novelist is still in excellent form.

Set in colonial Colombia and narrated in Garcia Marquez's usual deadpan, the story revolves around twelve-year-old Sierva Maria de Todos los Angeles, only child of the Marquis of Casalduero and his degenerate commoner wife. Wandering through the port area with a mulatto servant, the girl is bitten on the ankle by a rabid dog. The servant attaches minimal importance to the injury and so fails to report it immediately to the mother, who is too preoccupied with her own bodily functions to care much about the child anyway, or to the father, who wanders around in a perpetual daze. A squalid, rachitic pre-adolescent, Sierva Maria feels far more at home with the black slaves who raised her than with her decadent parents. Covered with beads, her face painted black, she dances with abandon at the servants' get-togethers. She speaks African languages and knows more about Yoruba rites than Catholicism. However, when an Indian named Sagunta informs the marquis that his daughter has been bitten by a rabid dog, he orders her out of the slave quarters and into the manor house.

Until now indifferent to his daughter, the marquis suddenly becomes obsessed with her. Even though Sierva shows no signs of disease, he consults every authority he can think of, including the nonconformist, Latin-speaking, Portuguese-Jewish doctor, Abrenuncio de Sa Pereira Cao (whose first name means I renounce and last surname, dog). Although Abrenuncio assures the marquis that Sierva's chances of contracting rabies are minimal and advises him to wait and see, the marquis cannot. The bishop, don Toribio y Caceres y Virtudes, convinces him that the child is possessed and arranges to have her confined to the dreadful Convent of Santa Clara.

Sierva Maria rebels. She engages in bizarre behavior, remaining silent or speaking in African tongues, all of which the nuns interpret as evidence that evil spirits do indeed inhabit her soul. Once the new viceroy arrives and his wife takes an interest in the case, it becomes clear that Sierva Maria is doomed.

Or maybe not. Until the very end, Garcia Marquez keeps us guessing and hoping. The bishop sends his assistant, Father Cayetano Delaura, to exorcise Sierva Maria, but instead of expelling the demons, the young priest succumbs to them. Before he knows it, he has fallen madly in love with the twelve-year-old.

The couple's plan to escape leads to a dramatic, mortifying climax. But once readers turn the last page, they will become achingly aware of the inevitability of the outcome. As in Chronicle of a Death Foretold, a terrible fatalism permeates the atmosphere.

The implications of this novel are complex. Disease of body and soul--rabies and the demonic possession people believed it signified--become an intricate metaphor for the Spanish possession of the New World. Sierva Maria, in her original state, embodies a mixture of cultures and races that is distinctly American, a mixture in which the exuberance and intensity of the non-European elements dominate, arresting the "infection" of European constraint. But once the religious and political authorities--the bishop and the viceroy--reopen her wound and impose their will, Sierva's destiny is set.

Del amor y otros demonios is a fascinating re-creation of history. Through graphic descriptions the author brings to life the horrors of the slave trade and the abuse of African servants, as well as the vibrance of black culture. In all of this there is an implied political statement, of course, for one cannot fail to compare the spirited slaves with the stagnant aristocracy, as represented by the marquis and his gas-passing, drug-addicted wife. But Del amor y otros demonios works beyond the metaphor .and beyond political connotations. It is a juicy narrative packed with unexpected twists--the kind of great read we expect from Garcia Marquez.
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Author:Mujica, Barbara
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1995
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