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Strange Pilgrims: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

This lesson introduces the themes and stories in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's collection of short stories, 'Strange Pilgrims' (1992). We will learn about the context in which Marquez wrote, and explore the plots of select stories.

What is a Pilgrimage?

In Strange Pilgrims (1992), Latin American author Gabriel Garcia Marquez offers up a collection of 12 short stories, which he wrote over the course of the 1970s and 80s. Consistent themes and common characters bind the collection together. Themes include exile and loss, disorientation and fear, terror and nostalgia, and hope. Main characters in each tale are Latin American and Caribbean expatriates living or traveling in Europe. An expatriate, or emigre, is a person who has left their homeland in order to find asylum in a foreign country.

Illustration of Gabriel Garcia Marquez
marquez

The title, Strange Pilgrims, refers to the spiritual, emotional, and formative journeys of Marquez's protagonists. In common parlance, a pilgrim is a person who travels to an important destination for spiritual purposes. Some famous pilgrimage destinations include Canterbury Cathedral in the UK, Mecca in Saudi Arabia, and Jerusalem in Israel. 'Pilgrim' also refers to the early North American settlers who traveled from Europe fleeing religious persecution.

Chapters

Strange Pilgrims consists of 12 succinct stories:

  • 'Bon Voyage, Mr. President'
  • 'The Saint'
  • 'Sleeping Beauty and the Airplane'
  • 'I Sell My Dreams'
  • 'I Only Came to Use the Phone'
  • 'The Ghosts of August'
  • 'Maria dos Prazeres'
  • 'Seventeen Poisoned Englishmen'
  • 'Tramontania'
  • 'Miss Forbes's Summer of Happiness'
  • 'Light Is Like Water'
  • 'The Trail of Your Blood in the Snow'

The first story, 'Bon Voyage, Mr. President', follows a Latin American former president who has traveled to Geneva for a life-saving medical procedure. He then makes friends with an ambulance driver and fellow emigre, Homero, who has ulterior motives for befriending the President. Unbeknownst to the driver, the President is penniless, and all the driver is concerned with is reaping the financial benefits of their friendship: ''What Homero Rey did not tell the President, but did tell for years after anyone willing to listen, was that his original intention was not so innocent.''

In the second story, entitled 'The Saint,' a mourning father named Margarito travels to Vatican City, in Rome, Italy, with the corpse of his 7-year-old daughter. The Vatican, which features breathtaking attractions such as the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Square, is one of the most common pilgrimage destinations for those of the Christian Faith. The purpose of his pilgrimage: to request sainthood status for his deceased daughter. When the cemetery in which she was buried was forced to relocate due to a new construction, Margarito discovered that his daughter's remains were immaculately preserved, a sign of sainthood. ''In fact, when they pried the lid off the coffin, they could smell the scent of fresh-cut roses with which she had been buried. More astonishing of all, however, was that her body had no weight.''

St. Peters Square in the Vatican
vatican

The latter stories make a turn toward the morbid and horrifying aspects of living abroad.

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