Wednesday, April 23, 2014
By MICHIKO KAKUTANI
Published: October 15, 1993
Published: October 15, 1993
Strange Pilgrims Twelve Stories
By Gabriel Garcia Marquez Translated
by Edith Grossman
188 pages. Alfred A. Knopf, $21.
There are moments in these 12 stories that are instantly, incontestably recognizable as the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In "Maria dos Prazeres," an aging prostitute picks out her own cemetery plot and teaches her little dog to cry at her grave. In "I Sell My Dreams," a Colombian woman finds permanent employment as the interpreter of dreams for a wealthy family. In "Light Is Like Water," an entire fourth-grade class drowns in an apartment flooded with light.
Such bizarre, hallucinatory scenes in "Strange Pilgrims" will remind the reader of the plague of insomnia and the rain of yellow blossoms in "One Hundred Years of Solitude," the 1970 masterpiece that first made Americans aware of the astonishing magic acts Mr. Garcia Marquez could perform. The fact remains, however, that that novel -- like such later ones as "The Autumn of the Patriarch" (1976), "Love in the Time of Cholera" (1988) and "The General in His Labyrinth" (1990) -- grounded its more spectacular acts of sleight of hand in a Faulknerian sense of the past. In these commodious novels, Mr. Garcia Marquez mapped out the spiritual geography of a fictional Latin America, creating history out of the tangled, overlapping stories of his characters' lives, and conjuring myths out of their troubled dreams.
As "Strange Pilgrims" unfortunately demonstrates, the shorter form of the story does not lend itself to such huge, looping narratives. What's more, the tales in this volume are all set in Europe -- they more or less concern Latin Americans traveling or living abroad -- and most of them lack the fierce, visionary senses of time and place that distinguish Mr. Garcia Marquez's strongest fiction. Indeed, these stories tend to feel like disembodied fairy tales: flimsy, oddly generic tales that for all their charm fail to impress themselves upon the reader's imagination.
|Gabriel García Márquez|
In a prologue to the book, Mr. Garcia Marquez points out that the stories were written intermittently over a period of 18 years: some began as journalistic notes, some as screenplays, and one as a television serial. They were written and rewritten in starts and stops: some were lost or temporarily abandoned before being reconstructed; all were revised after the author revisited several European cities last year.
This peripatetic history perhaps explains why these stories are so uneven. "Sleeping Beauty and the Airplane" -- which concerns a traveler's crush on the beautiful woman he's sitting next to on a plane -- is a silly sketch that belongs in a notebook, not a published book. And "The Ghosts of August," which concerns a family's encounter with a haunted house, reads like a mediocre parody of Edgar Allan Poe. As for "I Only Came to Use the Phone" and "The Trail of Your Blood in the Snow," both are highly contrived O. Henry-like stories that pivot around the same device: a woman's mysterious disappearance into the bureaucratic clutches of an institution -- in the first case, an asylum; in the second, a hospital.
The more persuasive stories in "Strange Pilgrims" unfold delicately, like complicated origami constructions, to delineate a character's entire life. Each of these tales is written from the vantage point of old age, and each of them possesses a tone of melancholy wisdom reminiscent of "Love in the Time of Cholera."
"Bon Voyage, Mr. President" movingly depicts the shabby exile of a former Latin American ruler in Switzerland, and his incongruous friendship with an ambulance driver who had hoped to exploit his nonexistent riches. "The Saint" recounts the story of a persistent pilgrim from Colombia, who has come to Rome with the eerily preserved body of his late daughter, hoping to persuade the Pope to make her a saint. And "Maria dos Prazeres" relates the story of a whore who has spent decades trying to transform herself into a respectable Barcelona lady.
These tales knit together Mr. Garcia Marquez's natural storytelling talents with his highly tuned radar for images that bridge the world of reality and the world of dreams. Gracefully written as these stories are, they lack the emotional depth of field found in Mr. Garcia Marquez's novels. They leave the reader beguiled, but hungry for something more.
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Gabriel García Márquez
Night of the Stone-Curlews
LA NOCHE DE LOS ALCARAVANES (A short story in Spanish)
The three of us were sitting around a table when someone slid a coin into the jukebox, and the Wurlitzer replayed the record all night long. The rest of us did not have time to think about it. It happened before we were able to remember where we were; before we could regain our bearings. One of us put a hand on top of the counter to search for the others (We couldn’t see the hand. We heard it.). It bumped into a glass and remained still afterwards. Now two hands rested on the hard surface. Then the three of us searched for each other in the darkness and met there, on the tabletop, in a pile of thirty fingers. One said:
And so we stood up as if nothing had happened. We had not had a chance to feel confused.
Monday, April 21, 2014
The Torment of Three Sleepwalkers
By Gabriel García Márquez
Now we had her there, resigned to one corner of the house. Someone told us, before we moved her things – her fragrant clothing smelling of fresh wood, her weightless shoes for the clay ground – that she could not get accustomed to the slow life, without sweet tastes, without any other charm than the impenetrable, marble solitude always pressing down on her. Someone told us – and much time had passed before we would remember it – that she too had a childhood. Maybe we did not believe it then. But now, seeing her sitting in the corner with eyes like saucers and one finger placed over her lips, maybe we recognized that once she had a childhood. That at one time she could sense the early freshness of rain. Yet her body always bore the silhouette of an unexpected shadow.
Sunday, April 20, 2014
Miss Forbes's summer
by Gabriel García Márquez
EL VERANO FELIZ DE LA SEÑORA FORBES (A short story in Spanish)
WHEN WE CAME back to the house in the afternoon, we found an enormous sea serpent nailed by the neck to the door frame. Black and phosphorescent, with its eyes still alive and its sawlike teeth in gaping jaws, it looked like a gypsy curse. I was going on for nine years old at the time, and at that nightmare apparition I felt a terror so intense I lost my voice. But my brother, who was two years younger, dropped the oxygen tanks, the masks and the flippers, and fled, screaming in panic. Miss Forbes heard him from the twisting stone steps that wind up the rocks from the dock to the house, and she ran to us, pale and panting, but she had only to see the beast crucified on the door to understand our horror. She always said that when two children were together they were both guilty of what each one did, and so she scolded the two of us for my brother's screams and went on to reprimand us for our lack of self-control. She spoke German, not the English stipulated in her tutor's contract, perhaps because she was frightened too and refused to admit it. But as soon as she caught her breath she returned to her stony English and her pedagogical obsession.
'It is a muraena helena,' she told us, 'so called because it was a sacred animal to the ancient Greeks.'
Saturday, April 19, 2014
The Handsomest Drowned Man
In The World
by Gabriel García Márquez
by Gabriel García Márquez
EL AHOGADO MÁS HERMOSO DEL MUNDO (A short story in Spanish)
THE FIRST CHILDREN who saw the dark and slinky bulge approaching through the sea let themselves think it was an enemy ship. Then they saw it had no flags or masts and they thought it was a whale. But when it washed up on the beach, they removed the clumps of seaweed, the jellyfish tentacles, and the remains of fish and flotsam, and only then did they see that it was a drowned man.
They had been playing with him all afternoon, burying him in the sand and digging him up again, when someone chanced to see them and spread the alarm in the village. The men who carried him to the nearest house noticed that he weighed more than any dead man they had ever known, almost as much as a horse, and they said to each other that maybe he'd been floating too long and the water had got into his bones. When they laid him on the floor they said he'd been taller than all other men because there was barely enough room for him in the house, but they thought that maybe the ability to keep on growing after death was part of the nature of certain drowned men. He had the smell of the sea about him and only his shape gave one to suppose that it was the corpse of a human being, because the skin was covered with a crust of mud and scales.
They did not even have to clean off his face to know that the dead man was a stranger. The village was made up of only twenty-odd wooden houses that had stone courtyards with no flowers and which were spread about on the end of a desert-like cape. There was so little land that mothers always went about with the fear that the wind would carry off their children and the few dead that the years had caused among them had to be thrown off the cliffs. But the sea was calm and bountiful and all the men fitted into seven boats. So when they found the drowned man they simply had to look at one another to see that they were all there.
Friday, April 18, 2014
Gabriel García Márquez / El avión de la bella durmiente (A short story in Spanish)
Gabriel García Márquez / O avião da bela adormecida (A short story in Portuguese)
She was beautiful, elastic, with tender skin the color of bread and green almond-shaped eyes. Her hair was straight and black and reached her waist, and she had an aura of rich ancestry, the kind that could have been from Indonesia or the Andes. She dressed in fine taste: a linen jacket, a natural silk blouse with pale flowers, rough linen pants, and high heeled shoes the color of bougainvillea flowers. “This is the most beautiful woman that I have ever seen in my life,” I thought, when I saw her pass with her stealthy, long, lioness strides while I got in line to board the plane to New York at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. She was a supernatural apparition that lasted only an instant, then disappeared into the crowd in the lobby.
Ghosts of August
ESPANTOS DE AGOSTO (A short story in Spanish)
We got to Arezzo a little before midday, and we wasted more than two hours looking for the Renaissance castle that Miguel Otero Silva, a Venezuelan writer, had bought in the idyllic bends of the Tuscan countryside. It was a Sunday in early August, burning and bustling. With the streets filled with tourists, it was almost impossible to find someone who knew their way around. After many fruitless attempts, we returned to the automobile and left the city on a path lined with lifeless cypresses. An old woman watching the geese told us exactly where the castle was. Before leaving she asked if we planned to sleep there. So we answered that we were only going for lunch, as we had planned.
“Thank goodness,” she said, “because that house is haunted.”
Gabriel García Márquez / Rosas artificiales (A short story in Spanish)
Groping her way in the half-light of dawn, Mina put on the sleeveless dress that she had hung next to her bed the night before and rummaged through her trunk for her fake sleeves. Then she searched for them on the nails in the wall and behind the door, trying not to make a sound so as not to wake her blind grandmother who slept in the same room. When her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she realized that her grandmother had gotten up. So she went to thekitchen to ask her about the sleeves.
“They’re in the bathroom,” said the blind woman. “I washed them yesterday afternoon.”
Thursday, April 17, 2014
THE SILENCE OF THE SIRENS
by Franz Kafka
FRANZ KAFKA / EL SILENCIO DE LAS SIRENAS (Short story in Spanish)
Proof that inadequate, even childish measures, may serve to rescue one from peril.
To protect himself from the Sirens Ulysses stopped his ears with wax and had himself bound to the mast of his ship. Naturally any and every traveller before him could have done the same, except those whom the Sirens allured even from a great distance; but it was known to all the world that such things were of no help whatever. The song of the Sirens could pierce through everything, and the longing of those they seduced would have broken far stronger bonds than chains and masts. But Ulysses did not think of that, although he had probably heard of it. He trusted absolutely to his handful of wax and his fathom of chain, and in innocent elation over his little stratagem sailed out to meet the Sirens.
Now the Sirens have a still more fatal weapon than their song, namely their silence. And though admittedly such a thing has never happened, still it is conceivable that someone might possibly have escaped from their singing; but from their silence certainly never. Against the feeling of having triumphed over them by one's own strength, and the consequent exaltation that bears down everything before it, no earthly powers could have remained intact.
And when Ulysses approached them the potent songstresses actually did not sing, whether because they thought that this enemy could be vanquished only by their silence, or because of the look of bliss on the face of Ulysses, who was thinking of nothing but his wax and his chains, made them forget their singing.
But Ulysses, if one may so express it, did not hear their silence; he thought they were singing and that he alone did not hear them. For a fleeting moment he saw their throats rising and falling, their breasts lifting, their eyes filled with tears, their lips half-parted, but believed that these were accompaniments to the airs which died unheard around him. Soon, however, all this faded from his sight as he fixed his gaze on the distance, the Sirens literally vanished before his resolution, and at the very moment when they were nearest to him he knew of them no longer.
But they--lovelier than ever--stretched their necks and turned, let their cold hair flutter free in the wind, and forgetting everything clung with their claws to the rocks. They no longer had any desire to allure; all that they wanted was to hold as long as they could the radiance that fell from Ulysses' great eyes.
If the Sirens had possessed consciousness they would have been annihilated at that moment. But they remained as they had been; all that had happened was that Ulysses had escaped them.A codicil to the foregoing has also been handed down. Ulysses, it is said, was so full of guile, was such a fox, that not even the goddess of fate could pierce his armour. Perhaps he had really noticed, although here the human understanding is beyond its depths, that the Sirens were silent, and opposed the afore-mentioned pretence to them and the gods merely as a sort of shield.
by Franz Kafka
A vulture was hacking at my feet. It had already torn my boots and stockings to shreds, now it was hacking at the feet themselves. Again and again it struck at them, then circled several times restlessly round me, then returned to continue its work. A gentleman passed by, looked on for a while, then asked me why I suffered the vulture.
"I'm helpless," I said. "When it came and began to attack me, I of course tried to drive it away, even to strangle it, but these animals are very strong, it was about to spring at my face, but I preferred to sacrifice my feet. Now they are almost torn to bits."
"Fancy letting yourself be tortured like this!" said the gentleman. "One shot and that's the end of the vulture."
"Really ?" I said. "And would you do that?"
"With pleasure," said the gentleman, "I've only got to go home and get my gun. Could you wait another half hour?"
"I'm not sure about that," said I, and stood for a moment rigid with pain. Then I said: "Do try it in any case, please."
"Very well," said the gentleman, "I'll be as quick as I can."
During this conversation the vulture had been calmly listening, letting its eye rove between me and the gentleman. Now I realized that it had understood everything; it took wing, leaned far back to gain impetus, and then, like a javelin thrower, thrust its beak through my mouth, deep into me. Falling back, I was relieved to feel him drowning irretrievably in my blood, which was filling every depth, flooding every shore.