Love in the Time of Cholera- Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This weeks novel was by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a Colombian author who has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. I also picked this one up from the second hand book stall.

Love in the Time of Cholera follows the lives of Florentina Ariza and Fermina Daza. Florentina falls desperately in love with Fermina after seeing her once in passing, without ever having spoken to her. Fermina falls in love with him after a lengthy correspondence by letter. Her father finds out, disapproves, and takes her away to her family in the country for a year or so. She manages to keep in contact and their love remains strong, until she returns to the city, and on her first sight of him instantly feels that everything between them was just an illusion. She breaks it off, and marries a suitable match- an eminent doctor- and moves on with her life. Florentina holds the torch in his heart. He moves up in the world and has many lovers, but always holds a part of his heart aside for Fermina. When Fermina’s husband finally dies, he comes forward again to offer himself to her.

Below I discuss things I like and dislike about this book, and include some spoilers.

Dislike: I found the first section, a good 60 or so pages, to be rather slow, and not very engaging. After that I got drawn in, but it was difficult to get into this book initially.

Like: The main characters are given a complexity, and their main characteristics are looked at from more than one angle. Florentina is a man who is single minded in his love for Fermina. His love is based on seeing her across the room- he doesn’t actually know her before he decides he is in love with her. He chooses to hold onto that love even when she doesn’t want him, and he can’t have her in any case because she is married. This is depicted at times as admirable, foolish, unwise, dedicated, pitiable, brave and many other things. In being so singular in his purpose of wooing her and expressing his love for Fermina, he becomes a ‘shadow’; when all he speaks is love poems, how can she actually know who is making the poems; who is he himself? Fermina’s main characteristic is her stubbornness and contrariness. This is something that at varying times provokes the interest of a suitor,  delays her accepting a suitor, causes marital disharmony, forces her husband to come clean and do the right thing, causes problems with her mother in law, helps her endure the problems with her mother in law etc.

Dislike: I found for most of the book the reader is watching the goings on, but doesn’t really relate to the main characters, or feel involved. The height of this disconnect for me was near the end, when it looks like Florentina may finally have  chance with Fermina, when they are both around 70, and we learn that he has been having an affair with a teenager who was under his care. This is just written as a matter of fact little side-story, which ends absolutely tragically when she kills herself when he dumps her for Fermina. He learns of this, but it seemingly has no effect on him, or his happiness with Fermina. There is part of me that  feels that after his life of affairs, his rather creepy stalker like ‘love’ of Fermina, and the incident I just mentioned, why would we want him to end up happy? But the whole theme of the book seems to be that life is not a fairy tale, relationships and people are complicated, there are many ways to love and live, and how things are is sometimes how things are, so people just get on with living their lives. And so the story just moves on.

Quotes I like:

Life in the world, which had caused her so much uncertainty before she was familiar with it, was nothing more than a system of atavistic contracts, banal ceremonies, preordained words, with which people entertained each other in society in order not to commit murder.

After ten years of marriage women have their periods as often as three times a week

All that was needed was shrewd questioning, first of the patient and then of his mother, to conclude once again that the symptoms of love were the same as those of cholera

Have you read the book? What did you think of the main characters- did you like them? Did you think Florentina’s love was a good, true love, or an illusion, or creepy?

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