Fiction: “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel García Márquez

Time of CholeraApparently I have a knack for creating things without even thinking about it.  American History Month started in the same way: I looked back at the past couple of years, realized I had started a trend, and then decided to continue that trend because dammit, trends are cool.  Recently, I found another one: In May of 2012, I had read Great Expectations.  Last May, I read The Great Gatsby.  Suddenly, I had apparently made May “Classic Literature Month” at That’s What She Read without even realizing it.

So when this year rolled around, I didn’t really know where I was going to go: I had read Dracula kind of out of sequence (although I guess one could argue that I was getting all Halloween-ey up in here), and lord knows I have tons of classics I could read, but nothing was really jumping out at me – mainly because I couldn’t find any more classic novels with the word “Great” in the title.  I was also knee-deep in books borrowed from the library, and could easily pick up something I didn’t own.

And then Gabriel García Márquez passed away in April.  I felt horrible, because I did not realize he was still alive.  I was brought back to my sophomore year of high school, where the curriculum was supposedly literature from other cultures — I say “supposedly” because it was my first year of Honors-level English, and I seem to remember watching a lot more movies than our counterparts did.  I remember doing a section on fairy tales, I definitely remember having to read Crime and Punishment – who makes a bunch of sixteen-year-olds read that?? -, and we had to read One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Honestly, I was going to re-read that book for this past May’s edition of Classic Literature Month – it seemed appropriate following the death of Márquez, and it has been more than … oh man, so many years I don’t even want to attach a number to it since sophomore year, that re-reading it would really be like reading it for the first time.  I mean, let’s be real: I don’t remember too much about the plot of Hundred Years beyond the fact that all the characters had the same name and the whole thing was rather incesty.

But when I took my copy of A Hundred Years of Solitude out of my classics bookcase (because yes, I have a bookcase dedicated solely to classic literature), I realized that the copy I had picked up at a book sale would deteriorate into dust if I sneezed on it wrong, and the pollen is really bad this time of year.  So I tried to find a copy at the library, but all the copies were checked out.  But his other novel, Love in the Time of Cholera was there, so I checked that out and then took three weeks to read it.

Love in the Time of Cholera tells the story of the love between Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza.  Florentino falls in love with Fermina when they’re both very young.  They carry on a flirtation through surreptitious love letters, until Fermina’s father quasi-politely forbids Fermina to marry Florentino, because Florentino was illegitimate.  Fermina eventually marries Dr. Juvenal Urbino, and they are married for almost fifty years until he dies, at which point Florentino returns into Fermina’s life, where he had been in love with her from afar, and tries to renew her love for him. She holds out at first, claiming that at their age love is indecent.  But Florentino takes up letter-writing again – this time via a typewriter – and their relationship grows from awkward acquaintances into platonic friends, and finally lovers while on a riverboat tour.

I would love to say “That’s it; that’s the plot,” but there’s so much more in the novel – and chances are, I probably won’t be able to elucidate those other things.

What Marquez specialized in was the genre that came to be known as “magic realism” – he discussed the daily details of his characters’ lives, but in a way that it didn’t sound tedious or boring.  Every aspect of their lives – whether it be the initial phases of falling in love, or having to make and eat numerous plates full of eggplant – took on a magical, otherworldly quality, and raised the characters and their actions and reactions to a heightened level of transcendence, if that makes any sense.  [This would be the point where I’d quote an example from the book, but it was a week overdue and I returned it already.]

In this book, Marquez makes numerous comparisons between “love” and “cholera” — that love causes pain, and digestive distress, and hallucinations, and can lead (in some cases) to death, just like cholera.  The character of Dr. Juvenal Urbino, Fermina Daza’s husband, treats such excessive love as a disease – we learn through flashbacks that he is a fastidious germaphobe, so he avoids any contact with a disease (or a disease-like affliction, like love).

There can also be discussions regarding the fact that Florentino Ariza does not remain chaste in his wait for Fermina Daza; his love remains constant, but he has affairs with numerous other women.  Fermina Daza, however, remains married to her husband and never strays from the marital bed.  If I were a scholar, I would discuss this dichotomy; but since I am not a scholar, I will simply say “GENERATIONAL AND CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL ISSUES” and walk away, because after all the Maleficent things I’ve been reading (and/or writing, and/or not even about Maleficent but the whole #YesAllWomen and the second coming of Women’s Rights), I’m exceedingly tired about that type of discussion and feel that I cannot adequately contribute to the discussion through the lens of magical realism literature.

I think my final topic of discussion is this: this book won the Nobel Prize for Literature.  And while it is a stunning treatise on the concept of love, its conditions, its disease-like qualities, and how people interact with it, I don’t understand why it won the Nobel.  Don’t get me wrong, it is an excellent book and I liked it — my feeling right now is that I didn’t understand the quality that garnered the Nobel, or I didn’t have a moment of epiphany that would make this my favorite book forever and ever (and there are a lot of people who claim this as one of their favorites).  I guess it goes back to the fact that I am not a scholar, and I don’t pretend to be one: this blog (and my reviews) are matters of opinion, not fact, and I don’t have the temperament to be a scholar: I get distracted by shiny Internet things too much.

Grade for Love in the Time of Cholera: 4 stars

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