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Gabriel Garcia Marquez was born in 1928 and is best known in the English-speaking world for his novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, which appeared early in his career in Spanish (1967) and later in English (1970). He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982 and in 1988 published the novel, 0008 (see annotation), which received considerable attention for its evocative story of love and memory.
Garcia Marquez's autobiography is recent (2002, 2003); it covers the first twenty-seven years of his life in Columbia, ending in 1955 when he is sent as a journalist to Geneva to cover the Big Four Conference for his newspaper in Bogota. Although he remained in Europe for three years after that the book does not cover that period.
Garcia Marquez was born in Aracataca, Columbia in his grandparents' home, the first child in a family that grew to include ten younger siblings. He had a hectic childhood being reared by his parents' large extended family, which included several children sired by his father with women other than his mother.
Finances were always tenuous; when he worked as a journalist he was an important supporter of the family. He received a broad classical education at the Jesuit College in Bogota, where he began his writing career. Later he studied law and journalism but did not finish law school. He read extensively from all genres of literature.
Garcia Marquez's family relationships and personal experiences were traumatic in many ways as was the political situation in Columbia. It was a tumultuous initiation to a life of creative writing. His words quoted on the flyleaf describe the book: "Life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it."
The narrator, a schoolteacher substituting in a "stagnant, godforsaken little place" in the west of Ireland, meets an old woman that everyone in town calls "The Creature." She decides to visit The Creature and listens to her story, eventually becoming a regular weekly visitor at her hut.
The Creature is a widow who has two children: a daughter who lives in Canada and a married son who lives a few miles away on a farm The Creature used to own. Her husband had been killed, a victim of The Troubles two years after they were married. Thus, she had to raise the children alone.
Originally her farm was relatively prosperous, but the animals had all developed hoof-and-mouth disease and died. Nonetheless, she managed to keep body and soul together and to send the children away to school. Her son returned from the city after marrying a woman who despised The Creature. He and his wife had moved into the farm, but the young couple argued every night about money and the mother's presence, so The Creature signed the farm over to her son and moved away. That was 17 years ago; he had never visited her since.
The narrator goes to the farm, meets the son (by this time a passive and depressed middle aged man), and arranges for him to visit his mother. He does this, but the visit goes poorly. The narrator finally realizes that she has actually removed the last little glimmer of hope the old woman had; before seeing her son again, she could always hope that someday the two would be reunited, but after he visits, she realizes that he doesn't care about her and will probably never come back.
"Spell Check for a Malformed Fetus" (p. 1) sets the stage for some of the important themes in this collection by poet-psychiatrist, Ronald Pies. First, the lack of honest language to express life’s "mistakes" and disappointments. Our attempt to disguise the pain by using easy, but inaccurate, words. And finally, an expression of hope, even if only in the world of imagination: "if only / in your first fission / some godly processor / had blessed / your blighted genes."
Some of these poems emerge from relationships with patients, notably "Consultation Request" (p. 35), "Three Patients" (pp. 37-39), "Prolapse of the Uterus" (p.76), and "Congestive Heart Failure" (p. 85). "Smoke, Lilac, Lemon" (p. 45) evokes a fascinating test apparently used by some clinicians to distinguish depression from Alzheimer’s disease on the basis of olfactory function. The four "Alzheimer Sonnets" (pp. 87-88) tackle the difficult task of expressing the experience of dementia from the patient’s point of view.
Many of the other poems deal with love, memory, loss, and pain in the context of family and intimate relationships. Among the best of these are: the title poem (p.3), "Sitting Shivah" (pp. 14-15), "Riding Down Dark" (p. 16), "Visitant" (pp. 41-43), and "Migrations" (pp. 64-69).
There are two parts to this six-page story. In the first part, an illiterate peasant woman hires a local man to write a letter to her daughter, who had married and moved to Petersburg four years earlier. The peasant woman had heard nothing from her daughter since then. She pours all her love into a few words of Christmas greeting, although the scribe adds a bunch of meaningless nonsense to fatten the letter up.
In the second part, the letter has arrived at the hydropathic medical establishment where the son-in-law works as a porter. He brings the letter to his wife, who is in their apartment caring for their three small children. Upon reading the letter, she bursts into tears and cries out, "Queen of Heaven, Holy Mother and Defender, take us away from here!"
Her husband recalls that several times she had given him letters to send to her parents, but he never bothered to do it. In the end the wife stops crying, obviously "very much frightened of him--oh, how frightened of him!"
Three stories are intertwined in this complex novel; in the end, they become one. In a series of flashbacks, the elderly Iris Chase Griffen writes of her long life. At the outset, newspaper clippings present three tragic deaths from 1945 to 1975: sister, husband, and daughter.
Iris's pretty, younger sister, Laura, died at age 25 when she drove her car off a bridge. Two years later, Iris published Laura's novel, Blind Assassin, to critical acclaim, projecting the author to posthumous fame. Only weeks later, Iris was widowed when her husband drowned. Then many years later, Iris's daughter, Aimée, breaks her neck and dies from the ravages of drug and alcohol abuse. Iris also loses care of her only grandchild, four-year old Sabrina. Iris looks back on the circumstances before and after these deaths.
Growing up in small-town Ontario without a mother, Iris was expected to look after Laura. But the younger girl's guileless intensity inspired exasperation and jealousy, as well as affection. In the 1930s, the sisters managed to hide a young radical, Alex Thomas, in the family attic before he escaped to Spain; they both fell in love. But at age nineteen, Iris is forced to enter a joyless marriage to wealthy Richard Griffen out of obedience to her father who hoped that the union would save his factory. It did not.
Laura is bossed by the politically ambitious Richard and his domineering sister, Winifred. Defiance and maternity allow Iris to carve out her own space within the confines of the social situation. But she is increasingly estranged from the romantic, inscrutable Laura who is eventually sent to an "asylum" where she has an abortion. Upon her release, the sisters reconnect, only to hurt each other with painful revelations (unrevealed here to avoid spoiling the effect for readers; some will have guessed them in advance).
The other two of the three stories stem from Laura's acclaimed novel "Blind Assassin," parts of which are interspersed. On one level, it relates the passionate affair of a refined woman (very like the author) and a political fugitive (very like Alex) who meet in his sordid hiding places. On another level, it is an Ali Baba-esque fairy tale, invented by the lovers, about a cruel society in which child-labor, ritualistic rape, and human sacrifice are routine. The killers are children who have been blinded by their enforced work knotting beautiful rugs.
The young and upwardly mobile engineer, Joshua Jeavons, is obsessed with finding a solution to the water problems of 19th-century London. He spends almost every spare moment drawing and re-drawing maps of his precious drainage plans destined to save the city from the stench of effluent, which everyone believes is the source of cholera. His boss, Augustus Moynahan, is unimpressed with Joshua's plans, but allows him to continue analyzing sewers and drains. They work in conjunction with a master plan of coercive bureaucrats, led by Edwin Sleak Cunningham and manipulated by private interest.
Joshua has married the boss's daughter, Isobella, who had seemed more than eager to have him over her father's objections; however, she rebuffs all his physical attentions and the marriage is unconsummated. Brimming with sexual need and self-pity, Joshua continues a sporadic liaison with a friendly prostitute, all the while resenting what he decides must be his wife's infidelity.
When Isobella vanishes on the night of a disastrous dinner party, Joshua's fortunes plummet. He is reduced to poverty and shame, as he replaces his first obsession with the quest for his lost spouse--to reclaim her or kill her, he knows not. But his contact with urchins and beggars brings him to discover the real causes of pollution and disease--both environmental and moral.
Summary:An older woman is diagnosed as having cancer. The story is of the progression of her symptoms and the effects of her illness and eventual death on her husband and grown children. The years of silent compliance with the expectations of children and spouse begin to erode as the woman becomes sicker. The relationship between the aging couple, and the place of the ill mother in the priorities of her children clarify. The tale ends with the death, and a tiny glimpse of resolution of decades of strife and unexpressed rage between man and wife.
Rafael Belvedere (Ricardo Darin) is a 42 year-old, divorced, father who runs the restaurant that his parents established nearly fifty years ago. His father, Nino (Héctor Alterio), is mostly retired and makes daily visits to the hospital where his wife, Norma (Norma Aleandro), has been placed for her Alzheimer's disease. Avoiding the horror, Rafael has not seen her in a year.
Guilt for having dropped out of law school drives him to prove himself by making the business a success; he defiantly resists offers to sell. But his finances are a mess, his temper thin, and his relationships strained; he works too hard, sleeps too little, and drinks and smokes too much. Inevitably, Rafael has a massive heart attack and spends 15 days in ICU (Intensive Care Unit).
This intimation of mortality convinces him to change his life, sell his restaurant, and open his heart to the needs and worth of the people around him. He agrees to help his atheist father fulfill a romantic wish to finally marry the still beautiful but grievously departed Norma in a church, something she had long desired and he had always refused for his "principles." The priest declines the request because of Norma's disease, but an engaging solution is found.
The now famed American poetess, Sylvia Plath (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a Fulbright scholar at Cambridge, England in 1956. Angered over a stinging review of her work by the literary roué Ted Hughes (Dennis Craig), she is then charmed by his poetry and blatantly sets out to seduce him. They marry soon after.
Sylvia had tried to commit suicide several times in her youth. Recalling one terrifying near miss, her cold-seeming mother resents Hughes, sensing the power in passionate love to harm her fragile, brilliant daughter. The initially torrid life that Ted and Sylvia share in both America and in rural Britain, grows tired through the strain of two children, her lack of joy in teaching, and his greater poetic success, all of which seem to stifle her creativity.
It ends because of his chronic infidelities, reduced in this version to a committed affair with a mutual friend, the thrice-married, Assia Wevill (Amira Casar), who becomes pregnant. Rage, jealousy, and depression become Sylvia’s muse. The more she suffers with Hughes, the more productive and poignant is her work. Unable to lure him back, she leaves buttered bread and milk for her children, seals the kitchen, and gasses herself to death.
Martin Nanther is a member of the British House of Lords, having inherited his title from his great-grandfather, Henry. Physician to Queen Victoria, Henry specialized in hemophilia, the disease that Her Majesty was known to have passed to her son, Leopold, and other descendants. While the House of Lords considers a Bill to abolish hereditary peerage and Martin's much younger, second wife is obsessed with becoming pregnant, he escapes into his slow research for a biography of Henry
His patient genealogical investigations uncover deaths in infancy of several young boys in his own family, and Martin soon realizes that hemophilia (rather than the family's legendary tuberculosis) is the cause. Was that irony merely a coincidence? Or was hemophilia in his own lineage the impetus for his grandfather's research and position in life? And why was the disease hushed? Was it possible that his grandfather deliberately sought a bride with the trait in order to investigate it in his own progeny?
Martin soon finds himself wondering if this well-respected, medical man actually committed murder, or was he merely waylaid by unexpected love? Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that the answers prove so surprising and so disturbing, that Martin decides to abandon the biography of his ancestor, even as he learns that his inherited peerage has been revoked and that his next child will soon be born.