Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Márquez (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997. 422 pp)
Gabriel García Márquez was born in Aracataca, Colombia, in 1927. He attended the University of Bogotá and went on to become a reporter for the Colombian newspaper El Espectador. He later served as a foreign correspondent in Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Caracas, and New York. Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, he is the author of several novels and collections, including No One Writes to the Colonel: and Other Stories, The Autumn of the Patriarch, Innocent Erendira and Other Stories, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, and most recently, Memories of My Melancholy Whores, as well as the autobiography Living to Tell the Tale.
A Love Story
Love in the Time of Cholera is a story of love. No surprises there. But what is surprising about the novel is its somewhat revolutionary idea that vows of love are presumably immortal. Of course, to much of Christendom, and to those with traditional marital values, this is nothing new. But, what the story suggests is even a proclamation of love is something to take seriously.
The story takes place between 1880 and 1930 in a Caribbean port city, and revolves around three main characters. Florentino Ariza is a poet in the traditional, suave sort of a way. He ponders love both carnal and transcendent, and as a teen, falls in love with another main character, Fermina Daza. He pledges love to Fermina, but to his dismay, she marries another. Florentino, in a fit of passionate love, pledges they will be together, no matter the wait. As it turns out the wait is 51 years, 9 months, and 4 days when Fermina’s husband, Dr. Juvenal Urbino dies on a pentecost Sunday. Absurdly enough, he dies chasing a parrot up a mango tree. Approaching Fermina at her husband’s wake, Florentino once again pledges his love to her.
“‘Fermina,’ he said, ‘I have waited for this opportunity for more than half a century, to repeat to you once again my vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love’. Fermina Daza would have thought she was facing a mad man if she had not had reason to believe that at that moment Florentino Ariza was inspired by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Her first impulse was to curse him for profaning the house when the body of her husband was still warm in the grave. But the dignity of her fury held her back” (64).
Post impassioned love speech, we then flash back fifty years into the time of cholera. The chapters that follow allow us to traverse the lives of the main characters as Dr. Urbino is still alive. Each subsequent chapters is framed with the same truth, that of Florentino both stoic and passionately pleading in the face of rejection from Fermina. Florentino resolutely courts Fermina, time and time again. He proclaims passionately, though she doesn’t believe it for one second, that he has remained a virgin for her, for over half a century.
Cholera and Lovesickness
Where the novel takes a turn is the fact it quite literally compares the disease of cholera to the disease of lovesickness. We see Florentino suffer from his lovesick nature in waiting for fifty years, yet remaining a virgin. Florentino goes through emotional and physical distress to such a great degree that his own uncle, a homeopath, mistakes his longing for Fermina for Cholera. Though Florentino has pledged himself eternally to Fermina, it is to his own detriment. His love transcends physical and emotional, moving to the point that his obsession makes him mentally unstable.
Florentino revels in the pain his love inflicts, some might mistakenly categorize it as romantic, but it’s quite to the contrary. Florentino ingests flowers early on in the novel, because if he cannot feel the love of Fermina, he must feel something. Moreover, the flowers symbolize love, so what better to ingest? In the end, Florentino surrenders to his love for Fermina, much like a Cholera victim would surrender to death.
Ultimately, the book simply wows me. With the same embellished prose as his One Hundred Years of Solitude, it’s easy to get lost in the flowery descriptions and apt musings of love and life. We see a journey down two hard-to-navigate rivers; one where Florentino pledges to live nearby Fermina while abstaining from all other loves, the other where Florentino journeys against time and finally ends up with his love by his side. I’ve never read anything quite like Love in the Time of Cholera, and recommend it wholeheartedly.
Verdict: 4.5 out of 5