Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel García Márquez

Jilted by his childhood sweetheart, Florentino Ariza waits 50 years to proposition her again at her husband's funeral.

Love in the Time of Cholera

Penguin Books, 1985, 348 pages

In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina eventually chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is a romantic. As he rises in his business career he whiles away the years in 622 affairs--yet he reserves his heart for Fermina. Her husband dies at last, and Florentino purposefully attends the funeral. Fifty years, nine months, and four days after he first declared his love for Fermina, he will do so again.

"...The girl raised her eyes to see who was passing by the window, and that casual glance was the beginning of a cataclysm of love that still had not ended half a century later."

Being a literary novel steeped in history and subplots, Love in the Time of Cholera lends itself to all sorts of thematic analysis. Not that I fancy myself a particularly literary reviewer, but let's look at what all is going on:

Florentino Ariza is the bastard son of a river boat captain and a woman whose modest storefront serves as a pawn shop for the city's wealthy. Fermina Daza is the well-bred daughter of a mule driver who has branched out into other lucrative but shady enterprises, and has upward mobility in mind for his jewel of a daughter.

The two of them are struck with love at first sight, and abetted by her unfortunate spinster aunt and provoked by her father's opposition, Fermina agrees to marry Florentino after a very circumspect courtship involving covert exchanges of letters.

After being sent away by Daddy, however, Fermina returns to town a somewhat more worldly woman, and in an instant, rejects Florentino, telling him it was all an illusion.

She goes on to marry an urbane doctor, fulfilling her father's desires, and for most of the book, leaving her own true desires somewhat inscrutable.

He was aware that he did not love her. He had married her because he liked her haughtiness, her seriousness, her strength, and also because of some vanity on his part, but as she kissed him for the first time he was sure there would be no obstacle to their inventing true love. They did not speak of it that first night, when they spoke of everything until dawn, nor would they ever speak of it. But in the long run, neither of them had made a mistake.

Florentino Ariza spends the next fifty years pining after Fermina, stalking her, and recording every woman he screws in the meantime in a journal, like a perverted form of birdwatching. When he's seventy-eight, and currently banging a fourteen-year-old girl who was sent to him for him to be her guardian, Fermina's husband dies, so he packs his Lolita off to school (she later commits suicide over this rejection) and goes to Fermina's husband's funeral to propose love to her again.

It's really literary and lyrically written, therefore not creepy.

"With her Florentino Ariza learned what he had already experienced many times without realizing it: that one can be in love with several people at the same time, feel the same sorrow with each, and not betray any of them. Alone in the midst of the crowd on the pier, he said to himself in a flash of anger: 'My heart has more rooms than a whorehouse."

Gabriel García Márquez is most famous for magical realism, but Love in the Time of Cholera is strictly a work of realism (aside from one scene in which there is supposedly a ghost). The prose, however, is dreamy and lush, even in translation, and one can easily visualize the turn-of-the-century Columbian villages, the country wracked by civil wars and cholera, and the River of Life with its alligators and parrots and manatees — and later, its eroded, deforested shores turned into mud flats as far as the eye can see, as steamy and earthy and borderline-unbelievable as Florentino Ariza's hundreds of trysts.

Seduction, progress, obsession, decay, and love. This was a lush novel and I really liked Márquez's writing, but it is one of those books in which all women are pretty much there for wick-dipping, including the prima donna Fermina herself. Florentino Ariza, who can't even write business letters without turning them into love sonnets, is an interesting character, lusty and forlorn at once, but it was the country, Columbia, growing and contracting and seething around them, that was more interesting.

"And how long do you think we can keep up this goddamn coming and going?" he asked.

Florentino Ariza had kept his answer ready for fifty-three years, seven months, and eleven days and nights.

"Forever," he said.

Love in the Time of Cholera (2007)

Love in the Time of Cholera

This is a book that I would have considered rather hard to film, as so much of it is introspection and implied themes and poetic prose. I thought the 2007 movie was not bad, though it got panned by most critics. It's one of those adaptations that cuts a fair amount simply because there wasn't room, but what's left is pretty true to the book. The actors have to wear a lot of makeup, playing their characters from age 18 to 73. What's depicted is a lot of turgid romance and sex scenes, so you're not likely to be moved to read the book after watching the movie, but if you've read the book, the movie is a decent representation of it on film.

Verdict: A sultry tale of obsessive love-in-waiting, carried along time's river which is represented by the literal river in the novel, Love in the Time of Cholera is less telenovela than the movie, and a masterpiece of language even in translation. I liked it much more for the prose than for the characters and the story, however, and while I can certainly appreciate Márquez's gifts as a writer, he isn't likely to become one of my favorites, at least not based on this work.

As an entry on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list, it probably deserves its place, though I have not read any of Márquez's other books and cannot say if this is the worthiest.

Cross-posted to bookish and books1001.

My complete list of book reviews.
Tags: books, books1001, literary, reviews

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