Book Review: Love in the Time of Cholera

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, born in 1928 in a small town named Aracataca, Columbia is one of the most revered writer of modern times. He left law school at the University Of Bogota for a career in journalism. His assignments as a foreign correspondent with Columbian newspaper ‘El Espectador’ made him spend most of his life in Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Caracas & New York. Affectionately known as “Gabo” to his readers all over the globe his works include several critically acclaimed novels, screenplays, non-fictions & collection of short stories. He shot to international fame by his fiction work namely “One Hundred Years Of Solitude(1967)”.  His widely acclaimed works have made him the face of the Latin American Literature boom. Most of his works have been well received in the literally circles & have been commercially successful simultaneously.

All his works have a distinct Marquez ‘cachet’ popularly labeled as “Magical Realism”, a literally style consisting of magical &  empyreal descriptions in otherwise ordinary & realistic situations.

Solitude with webbed & mystic nature of human heart are most occurring themes in Marquez’s works.

In 1982 he received Nobel Prize in Literature for his unprecedented literary contributions.

“Love in the Time of Cholera” was first published in Spanish in 1985.The English Edition was released in the USA by Alfred A.Knopf, Inc., New York, & simultaneously by Random House of Canada Ltd, Toronto in 1988.It was made available for Indian readers by Penguin Books India in 1989.

An English film adaptation with the same title, directed by Mike Newell of the book with the tag line “How long will you wait for love?” was released in 2007.Although a visual delight, Gabo’s fans hailed the book more adept than the movie in satiating their intellect.
The story of “Love in the Times of Cholera” unfolds in an unnamed port city of the Caribbean situated near the banks of the river Magdalena, unlike in other works of the writer where the plot takes place in the imaginary city of Macondo(though one can easily draw several geographical & other similarities between Macondo & Aracataca, Marquez’s home town). Albeit the city remains unnamed throughout the novel, several descriptions make one to construe it as Cartagena, in Bolivar, Colombia, a city where Marquez spent most of his early days. The historical setting of “Love in the Time of Cholera” is from the end of the nineteenth- to the first decades of the twentieth century. The story starts with death of Dr Juvenal Urbino falling from a ladder, while trying to retrieve his pet parrot from a mango tree.

Flashback takes the reader to the days when Florentino Ariza, a telegraph boy falls in love at first sight of Fermina Daza, daughter of a mule trader who has just moved in to the city. Florentino becomes “sick” because of his fervent love for Fermina. Subsequently he expresses his love for her while playing violin next to her balcony and  exchanging their “poetic” correspondences with the aid of Aunt Escolastica.

Lorenzo Daza- Fermina Daza’s father who’s portrayed as a wicked, cruel and a greedy mule driver, soon discovers this and sends her to distant relatives.

Fermina gets to interact with her cousin Hildebranda Sanchez & discovers frivolity & naiveté of romance realizing it to be only an ‘illusion’. When she returns some years later, Florentino still waiting for her, she easily rejects him & marries at the age of twenty one to Dr Juvenal Urbino who is her father’s first choice.

Dr Urbino after completing his medicine studies from France becomes a very powerful & well respected person in the town for his drastic methods to put a curb on the cholera epidemic in the country. Dr Urbino is a symbol of modernism, growth & progress. He’s portrayed as a rational man who values her position & respect in the society. The marriage continues with Fermina getting every luxury she dreamt of from life & every desire being fulfilled but without the flavor of love.

Fermina’s marriage devastates Florentino who starts developing symptoms like those of cholera, it is his mother Transito Arizaon who on a rainyand stormy day throws a willing widow into his bed and he discovers that sex is a very good pain reliever. For years to come Florentino finds solace in the arms of various women. He documents his erotic escapades numbering to 622 while serving in the River Company of Caribbean) a job he got with the aid of uncle Leo XII on her mother’s request to keep him out of the city(where he subsequently becomes a very powerful person. He travels all over the world, with nostalgia for Fermina at every single moment of his days. He still considers himself a ‘virgin’- unblessed by Fermina’s love.

Fifty one years, nine months & four days after Fermina rebuffed his impassioned advances, death of Dr. Urbino, of which Florentino was awaiting for, presents him an opportunity to avow again his love for Fermina Florentino steps forward with his hat over his heart “Fermina,” he declares, “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.”.Shocked by his blatant proposal at the very funeral of her husband Fermina orders him out of the house with the stern words & iterates:

“And don’t show your face again for the years of life that are left to you . . . I hope there are very few of them.”

Yet, through a series of letters that are ruminative and philosophic rather than flowery and romantic, he persists.

Fermina too gets smitten by the ‘void’ in her life & indifference from her own children who are now married & well-positioned in society.

But can young love find life in the twilight of their lives?

Marquez mesmerizes his readers with the way he entwines love, solitude & nostalgia in his saga depicting & disentangling every possible thread of love. His words & descriptions are more of a poetry having certain distinct aura of charm about  them. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is indeed the most esthete story-teller of the century that went by & probably even in the near centuries to come.

Rakesh Choudhary