The story takes place in a South American port town, on the day that 12-year old Sierva María de Todos los Ángeles is bitten by a rabid dog. Sierva María is already a remarkable, if not strange child:
“She could dance with more grace and fire than the Africans, sing in voices different from her own in the various languages of Africa, agitate the birds and animals when she imitated their voices…(The slave girls) hung Santería necklaces over her baptism scapular and looked after her hair, which had never been cut and would have interfered with her walking if they had not braided into loops…Frightened by her nature, her mother had hung a cowbell around the girl’s wrist so she would not lose track of her in the shadows of the house.” (12)
When you mix all that with mental disturbances rabies can cause, you’ve got one demon-possessed pre-teen!
The first half was a sleepier version of One Hundred Years of Solitude. The girl’s father and mother vaguely hate each other, but no one dies (yet). A woman gets struck by lightning on a cloudless day, but it isn’t as big of a deal. But kudos to Márquez for allowing characters to have rowdy hammock sex in more than one book. Anyone getting the urge to visit South America?
The story finally takes off when Sierva María’s father sends her to a convent in order to be exorcised, the (apparently lengthy) process of which Father Cayetano Delaura, the convent librarian, must oversee. Until he falls in love, that is.
“It is not that the girl is unfit for everything, it is that she is not of this world.” (44)
“The Marquis wiped his perspiring hands on his trousers, walked through the door, and found himself under a canopy of yellow bellflowers and hanging ferns on an outdoor terrace that overlooked all the church towers, the red tile roofs of the principal houses, the dovecotes drowsing in the heat, the military fortifications outlined against the glass sky, the burning sea.” (53)
“It was very simple. Delaura had dreamed that Sierva María sat at a window overlooking a snow-covered field, eating grapes one by one form a cluster she held in her lap. Each grape she pulled off grew back again on the cluster. In the dream it was evident the girl had spent many years at that infinite window trying to finish the cluster, and was in no hurry to do so because she knew that in the last grape lay death.” (75)
“It was the ritual of a prisoner condemned to death. They dragged her to the trough, wet her down with buckets of water, tore off her necklaces, and dressed her in the brutal shift worn by heretics. A gardener nun cut off her hair at the nape of the neck with four bites of her pruning shears, and threw it into the nun burning in the courtyard.” (128)
“Abrenuncio tried to dissuade him. He said that love was an emotion contra natura that condemned two strangers to a base and unhealthy dependence, and the more intense it was, the more ephemeral. But Cayetano did not hear him.” (145)
“…she dreamed again of the window looking out on a snow-covered field from which Cayetano Delaura was absent and to which he would never return. In her lap she held a cluster of golden grapes that grew back as soon as she ate them. But this time she pulled them off not one by one but two by two, hardly breathing in her longing to strip the cluster of its last grape.” (147)
My only desire after reading this book is to read the rest of Gabriel García Márquez’s work in Spanish. Here’s to hoping AP Spanish and the preceding four years of torture actually do me some good.