When I read the opening line of this novella, I was hesitant to continue reading because I was so sure it would be like Lolita. Thankfully it wasn’t.
An elderly man wants to celebrate his 90th birthday by having sex with a young virgin. That was the opening line, in a nutshell. (You see why I paused?) Anyway, this man calls the local madame and gives her his request. Through her, he meets 14 year old Delgadina. (Not her real name). And so on his 90th birthday he wakes with Delgadina by his side. Except he doesn’t have sex with her. They continue to meet for about a year, with Delgadina remaining a virgin because pretty much all that happens is the old man watches her sleep. His infatuation with her grows though. But an incident happens that forces him to go months without seeing her. And although he is in peak health, the old man begins to die of love for her.
Throughout the story, the old man recounts tales of his past sexual exploits. We also get a glimpse into his everyday life. He writes a column for a local newspaper. And when his feelings for Delgadina begin to grow, he starts to publish love poems(?) that everyone takes to be nostalgic musings.
I read this novella in the original Spanish text. The language was beautiful. Gabriel García Marquez’s genius shines through. But. But my Spanish reading skills aren’t that great.
I decided to challenge myself by reading this in Spanish. I don’t really use my native tongue that often. I’ve read only one book in español, Retrato en Sepia (Portrait in Sepia) by Isabel Allende, and it took me months to read. I had the same problem then as I had this time around: focus. It took me a while to get my mind to concentrate and make sense of what I was reading. It’s not easy to transition from one language you use 24/7 to one you unfortunately don’t use often.
This is a 112 page story. What should have been a quick read, took me a few days to get through. So I would say I understood about 85% of what I read. That is how terrible my Spanish is. I really need to work on that. I might have to reread this in English sometime in the future because I feel there are some ideas I didn’t quite grasp. Which bothers me.
Overall, I did enjoy the novella. It wasn’t what I was expecting. Which is a wonderful surprise. Not surprising? I need to spend more time reading books in my native language. Sigh.