A bittersweet-comic version of all living things anchors this enchanting short novel by the acknowledged master of magical realism (Strange Pilgrims, 1993, etc.). In fiat, reportorial tones (perfectly captured in Grossman's eloquent translation), the 1982 Nobel — winner spins an extravagant tale of ethnic contrast and cosmic dislocation, set in a Colombian-like South American backwater near the Caribbean Sea. When 12-year-old Sierva Maria, only child of a desiccated marquis and his dissolute lowborn wife, is bitten by a rabid dog, the girl's mendacious disposition and unsophisticated demeanor are interpreted as signs of demonic possession. Held captive in an austere convent, she is denounced by a bigoted abbess, befriended by a kindly murderer, and adored from afar, then more intimately, by Father Cayetano Delaura, the diocese librarian whose surprised discovery of passion both complicates and transfigures his bookish, selfless existence. The tale of their thwarted love resonates down the years as a union of opposites that's all but anathema to a culture whose prosperity is built on a thriving slave trade and whose privileged classes live in fear that their servants will rise up and murder them in their beds. Garcia Marquez mockingly breaks down conventional barriers between not just masters and servants, but also whites and blacks, clergy and laity, humans and animals. This is a world in which bats drain the blood of sleeping humans, a 100-year-old horse is buried in holy ground, and a learned physician imperturbably straddles the metaphysical boundaries separating life and death. In a society distinguished by "so much mixing of bloodlines," it is implied, people and things blend into and become one another — despite the repressive exertions of wealth and power, and the delusory authority of a religion that sees demons in every instance of dissent or independence. Written with masterly economy, brimming with colorful episodes and vividly sketched characters: a haunting, cautionary tale that ranks among the author's best.
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