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‘Of Love and Other Demons’ Provides a Refreshing Relook at Issues Relating to Mental Health

Name of the book: Of Love and Other Demons,

translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman

Author   : Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Published year: 1994

Rating: Four and a half stars out of five

 

Of Love and Other Demons is a beautiful work of literary fiction written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez set in 18th century South America, inspired by one particular rendezvous Marquez had with some laborers who were emptying the burial crypts of the old convent of Santa Clara in the year 1946. He had gone there ordered by his then boss (as a reporter) Clemente Manuel Zabala to pass by to hunt for news but to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s surprise, he comes across the remains of a certain Sierva Maria De Todos Los Angeles whose skeletons were rare but whose twenty-two meters and eleven centimeters long “copper” colored hair flowed out of the grave which made him remember of a legend of a 12-year-old marquise who had hair that flowed until her ankles, who had supposedly died because of rabies, as told to Garcia by his grandmother. This was the inspiration for writing Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Sierva Maria de Todos los Angeles, in Of Love and Other Demons is a girl of 12 who is the only child of Marquis de Casalduero and his second wife Bernarda Cabrera. The girl is reared by African slaves in the house of the marquis because both the marquis and his wife have neglected the child because they cannot stand each other’s presence in their only child as no love is present between the damned couple. This results in Sierva Maria to be quite different from a regular white child who rose amongst white regal class of their own but she learns to speak three different African languages and expresses herself freely while she dances and embraces the slaves as her true family. She is one of the four people bitten by an ash-gray rabid dog and all hell breaks loose when all of the people in her family – the baffled parents and the suspicious slaves panic and over speculate the fate of the poor girl whose life thereby just gets worse and worse because of the inefficacy of “healers” or because of no faith in physicians, especially Jew physicians and of course she is condemned to be exorcised by holy priests at a convent when all else seemed to fail. Sierva Maria is eccentric and different and these two traits of hers, with an appearance that invites people to imagine the wildest of her because of her long uncut hair, creates a whirl storm of rumors and beliefs that spin out of control inside the convent which trap the poor young soul, to be inevitably condemned not by a mere disease but by the invisible demons projected onto her by every ignorant person who has been with her or come across her. Alas, an only person who is Father Cayetano Delaura, who is in his mid thirties finally sees through the helpless, young, pure soul who should have helped her get out of the convent falls in love with her because of her innocence that he knew could not be feigned, who also knew that she was not possessed by any demon but suspected of being possessed himself and instead punishes himself for falling in love with Sierva Maria. The end is tragic, of course.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez has written this book with impeccable prose and each chapter has been unfolded with utmost carefulness and he uses succinct dialogues to express the characters’ emotions and feelings as he used Garcilaso’s literature to express the love that Father Cayetano feels for Sierva Maria and vice-versa.  It is almost journalistic in the way that he has put all that era’s peoples, cultures, practices, mix of them and how one event leads to another to come full circle in a satisfying fashion and crushes us with that ending, a surreal climax to a perfect tragedy. It is an eye-opening book and the subtle and varied contrasts and paradoxes that are evident of reason and of beliefs and of ignorance and of true knowledge have all been laid here like theatre. Gabriel Garcia Marques is probably so venerated because of his skill as a master story teller and that too as one who tells of tales that which could invoke a sense of seeking justice and truth as it is, no matter how harsh and to always look deeper within ourselves and to introspect within us and to retrospect  within the societies we live in as he presented in Of Love and Other Demons, to get to the bottom of a problem and to help solve that problem effectively instead of damning ourselves and others to a hell that we would create because of superstitions, rumors and ignorance. There is also a great emphasis made on the way how mentally ill individuals and the incurables are castigated, especially by exorcism by the Catholic Church.

There are nine very distinct and main characters in Of Love and Other Demons and they are : Marquis de Casalduero, Bernarda Cabrera, Sierva Maria, Dominga de Adveinto, Abrenuncio de Sa Pereira Cao ( the Portuguese Jew physician), Don Toribio de Caceres y Virtudes (The Bishop), Father Cayetano Delaura, Josefa Miranda ( the Abbess) and Martina Laborde ( the murderer nun).

This book is probably a great book to read during this lockdown because of its short volume, its relevance on how mental health and the ill can cook up taboos here, authentic to this region, in Manipur today and how this book comforts us in asking us to settle down calmly because there is no good in over speculation in times like now and of irrational fears damaging our good senses. Contrary to the tragic end of the book, it made me feel hopeful because it somehow made me realize that we are being propitious against Covid-19, because it is definitely not as bad as the 18th century in terms of handling of a pandemic by the health workers and peoples of the world even though we might hear the likes of Baba Ramdev being hospitalized because of excessive urine drinking to stay safe from Covid-19. This book is recommended for people who are above 15 years of age because it contains some depictions which might be disturbing for children.

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