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Lovestruck

10 authors choose their favorite love stories of all time

Sunday, February 13, 2005; Page T08

Sandra Cisneros

I was 30 the summer I met Marguerite Duras's The Lover. This was in Mexico City, 1985. I was supposed to be finishing a book of poetry. The truth is, I was fleeing the man who had created and then destroyed me. In a few months Mexico City would be destroyed too, by earthquake. In a few years, Emiliano Zapata would rise from the dead in Chiapas. But this was before.

Without knowing what lay ahead, I boarded a bus south to San Cristobal and disappeared into the fury of jungle and the fury of story that is Duras's novel.

The story begins in a second-class bus just like the one I was riding that day, but in colonial French Vietnam. A young girl crosses a river and then crosses color and class lines in love. I had done much the same in my disastrous affair.

I read through several states, and finally, on the perilous mountain road beyond Tuxtla Gutierrez, I found myself at the book's finale, when the lover, unlike my lover, declares his love for her. After all and everything. After their lives were almost over. He still loved her, he would always love her, he said.

Then it was as if I'd been poured back into the shell of my body. And I became aware of the heat of the bus seat sticking to my back and thighs, and the hoarse grinding of the bus gears as it lurched us forward, and the snoring of my bus companions and the drowsy jungle scent.

To say I was overwhelmed wouldn't be precise. With events quivering before and after me, and me in that nowhere and everywhere called my life, I was, as one would say in Spanish, "emotioned."

I had read the novel in Spanish, the language of my lover. And now the last sentence, in Spanish, reverberated inside me like a live thing. I wanted to slide the dusty bus windows down and shout in that language to all the savage beauty of the world -- "He said he would love her until death, did you hear? ¡Hasta la muerte!"

Sandra Cisneros is the author of "The House on Mango Street"; her most recent novel is "Caramelo."

Jonathan Franzen

I read Scott Spencer's Endless Love exactly once, 10 years ago, and it stays with me like the most vivid dream I ever had. Even now, just picking up the book and holding it in my hands gives me a racing heart and a queasy feeling, as if I'm the protagonist, David Axelrod, and I'm about to see my teenage love, Jade Butterfield, for the first time since I burned down her house and was put in a mental hospital as a condition of my parole. David's obsession with Jade is overwhelming in the way of a black hole's gravitational field, deforming the very geometry of space in its vicinity, forcing every life around it (even my own life, as a reader) to converge in a dreamlike nexus wherein the worst thing that could happen is also the best thing that could happen. David will be released from the hospital, and he will find his way back to the very well-hidden Jade, and she will love him again the way she used to. The yoked squalor and infinity of adolescent love: No writer ever nailed it better than Spencer did here.

Jonathan Franzen is the author of the National Book Award-winning "The Corrections."

A.S. Byatt

I first read E. Arnot Robertson's Four Frightened People when I was a young girl, and desperate to know about love. Of all the books I read, this gave me the most powerful, exciting and satisfying idea both of sex and of love. It is the story of a woman doctor on a nightmare journey across the Malayan jungle. She is fleeing a ship with bubonic plague, in the company of her handsome cousin Stewart, a dry, ironic linguist named Arnold Ainger and an excessively talkative silly older woman. The danger and strain bring Judy and Ainger together. It's almost the best description I know of reciprocated desire and real intelligent respect of two people for each other. It's all the better for using much less explicit sexual description than would be inevitable now. The imagination is set to work, and works. (The novel was published in 1931 and became a bestseller.) It also has one of the best and most unexpected endings to a drama that I've read -- this takes place in Simpson's in the Strand, that most English and restrained of restaurants.

A.S. Byatt is the author of "Possession" and "The Matisse Stories."

Ned Rorem

How long does love last? people ask, meaning the Romantic Love of passion and heartbreak. Answer: three years. Of the classical Great Loves -- Romeo and Juliet, Pelléas and Mélisande, Tristan and Isolde (the love potion this last pair inadvertently shared was meant to wear off after three years) -- the protagonists all die young. One can't imagine them as middle-aged folks putting their kids through school.

Yet all love is eternal, for love exists outside of time and is obsessive and selfish. The French call it égoisme à deux. One person over the decades can declare "I will love you forever" to 30 different people and mean it every time.


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