El amor en los tiempos del cólera by Gabriel García Márquez
Published in Spanish in 1985, in English as Love in the Time of Cholera in 1988
Edith Grossman Translation
Genre: Latin American literature, Colombian literature, romance
“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.”
This first line’s sentiment is expressed as the inner monologue of Doctor Juvenal Urbino who, upon inspecting the dead body of a friend, introduces the two themes evident in the title of the book. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez is a story of infatuation that spans decades and explores the feeling in its many variations. Set in a Caribbean town over the course of 50 years, it is a tale of two people whose lives intertwine through the love held in their hearts.
We are introduced to the main characters of the book within the first section. The book shows us the elderly Doctor Juvenal Urbino, as mentioned above, finding his deceased friend and segues into explaining his character and background. This leads to introducing his wife, Fermina Daza, who is the center of the story despite her seemingly peripheral position relative to her husband. Through an unfortunate accident, Juvenal Urbino dies and shortly after the funeral, Fermina Daza receives an unlikely visitor: Florentino Ariza.
Florentino Ariza is unexpected due to the fact that Fermina Daza has not thought of him during the many decades since they first met. It is revealed that Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza had a sort of affair through love letters when they were young. Though their love was fiery, it was disregarded due to their youth and the passion burned out for Fermina Daza. She eventually met and married Juvenal Urbino, leaving Florentino Ariza to carry a torch for over 50 years in hopes of being with her.
The romance in the novel is far more than Florentino Ariza admiring Fermina Daza from afar. Passion and intimacy are present in the description of Juvenal Urbino and Fermina Daza’s first night together after marriage. Florentino Ariza seeks to forget Fermina Daza through sexual promiscuity and clandestine affairs with widows. Though their paths cross because of overlapping social circles, they do not bring up the past until Juvenal Urbino is out of the picture.
Florentino Ariza assumes he knows how Fermina Daza’s life went up until they reconnect in their old age, but we see how it actually was; the years of fidelity and infidelity (on her husband’s part), the arguments and living with her difficult mother-in-law, and the momentary blinks of bliss are all hidden behind the public façade of a happy couple.
Despite an initially rocky reunion, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza do begin spending time together after her husband’s death; he still loves her and she enjoys his company but is apprehensive at first. They are over 70 years old at this point and she wonders how two people on the tale-end of life can be together. **Spoiler alert** However, their feelings flourish on a riverboat trip and they look forward to their remaining years together.
The themes of love through different ages and death are found throughout Love in the Time of Cholera. As the title suggests, cholera plays a large part in the story. Juvenal Urbino is a doctor who helps to treat cholera in his patients, Florentino Ariza’s symptoms of love when he was waiting for Fermina Daza’s reply to his first letter echo those of cholera, and the deaths of many people they are close to all connect in this way. Love is shown through its various incarnations: young love between teens, physical passion between those in their twenties and thirties, infidelity, marriage, and the waning of passion in old age.
The book lacks formal chapter designations, but the sections focus on one individual character and subsequently transition into following the action of another character during same time frame, giving a parallel account of each person’s life. García Márquez arquez begins the book in medias res, or in the middle of the action, then backtracks in time and works back to the “present” at the end of the book.
Much of the story is told through summary, which is conducive to its style since it spans over 50 years. García Márquez’s language is intensely poetic and embellishes on the romantic nature of Florentino Ariza and his pursuit of Fermina Daza.
I was immensely impressed with García Márquez’s writing and will be the first to admit that I was apprehensive about reading what could be characterized as a romance novel. I actually removed it from my reading list for a time because it fell into that genre, and I can’t really remember why I changed my mind. That being said, I am glad that I did because Love in the Time of Cholera is a wonderful contribution to the world of literature.
There are some people who talk of reading the right book at the right time in their lives, and I believe this was the case for me. Though I hesitate to say I have read the book in its truest form since I read an English translation, I think that it is easy to see why this book comes highly recommended and why Gabriel García Márquez has such a stellar reputation as a writer.
Verdict: 4 ridiculously patient infatuations out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of well written romance novels, those who enjoy Latin American literature translated into English, people looking for a book that explores the omnipresent and dovetailing themes of love and death, and you!
Not recommended for: Children (there are some rather explicit descriptions of sexual intercourse present, as well as some pervasive language), fans of poorly written romance novels (looking at you 50 Shades of Grey), or those who are predisposed to dislike romance novels simply by virtue of them being classified as romance novels (wait…didn’t I fall into that category?).