I just finished reading Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. What a fascinating, intense, perplexing book! It is one of the most profound books I’ve ever read in that much of what it says about love is spot-on, and for that reason it is a treasure, but at the same time, I think I appreciated the vibe, the spirit of the novel more than I appreciated the story itself. I’m not sure that I loved any of the characters, though I didn’t hate any of them. At times I identified with Florentino, especially in his enjoyment of letter writing.
The plot is simple–a man lives with his unrequited love for years and is finally rewarded–but the way Márquez structures the book in layers (circling back around to different events from different viewpoints, jumping back and forth in time) takes away any hint of sentimentality and causes readers to feel the same uncertainty as Florentino does while he waits for Fermina. Similarly, at times it feels like the novel is too wordy, too meandering, but this frustrating effect helps us to further understand the winding path of Florentino’s love.
It is rare that I feel so conflicted about a book, but like it (and in this case, also deeply respect it) anyway. I got so engrossed in it that at one point the reading experience became so intense, so feverish that I simply had to put it down for the evening because I couldn’t take it any more. I can only recall one or two other instances of that ever happening to me.
Here are some passages that I found especially incisive along with brief commentary (page numbers refer to the 2003 Vintage edition, translated by Edith Grossman):
“Florentino Ariza, on the other hand, had not stopped thinking of her for a single moment since Fermina Daza had rejected him out of hand after a long and troubled love affair fifty-one years, nine months, and four days ago. He did not have to keep a running tally, drawing a line for each day on the walls of a cell, because not a day had passed that something did not happen to remind him of her” (53).
“That was always the case: any event, good or bad, had some relationship to her” (142). This quote is closely related to the first one. If you are lucky, you meet someone who is so influential that their lens colors everything you see. Similarly, “he had never learned to write without thinking about her” (171).
“Reading had become his insatiable vice” (74). A lovely phrase.
“nothing in this world was more difficult than love” (223). Or more rewarding. But even in the best of times it is hard work.
“Now he read it again, this time syllable by syllable, scrutinizing each so that none of the letter’s secret intentions would be hidden from him, and then he read it four more times, until he was so full of the written words that they began to lose all meaning” (290). I love this passage both as a literary critic who appreciates attention to detail in one’s reading and as someone who is also prone to poring over love letters (or emails, as the case may be these days) with a fine-toothed comb.
There is also a passage where Florentino buys a mirror because Fermina’s reflection appeared in it once (228). Sometimes we resort to surrounding ourselves with objects that remind us of the one we miss, which can help ease the loneliness, but is of course never as good as the real thing.
Overall, an important, worthwhile book. 5/5