(Review of ‘Love in Time of Cholera’ – a novel by Nobel laurate Gabriel García Márquez Rating: 5*/5*)
Probably the only time that I will rate a book with word ‘Love’ in its title with five stars but there are very few stories so completely told – I love every single word in this book. From very first sentence Gabo captures your attention and starts a story that is like pure music, moving in perfect rhythm, moving between scenes in a perfect flow, so that you move through pages without stopping to think – the way you carry on listening to good music without trying to focus on lyrics.
The tribute to love is obvious from very beginning,
“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love. “
However, even the urequited love is better than no love at all.
“It is a pity to still find a suicide that is not for love.”
“The only regret I will have in dying is if it is not for love.”
Again, All kind of prudence is to be avoided.
“Tell him yes. Even if you are dying of fear, even if you are sorry later, because whatever you do, you will be sorry all the rest of your life if you say no.”
The book provides you with a complete philosophy on subject, if you want to read it, read it in bits so that you can live it fully.
The magic is there but it is in use of language rather than the world he created. He pushes reality to improbable extremes. At the very beginning, you are told about a woman who is keeping snake as pets and about a man :
“the oldest and best-qualified doctor in the city, and one of its illustrious men for many other meritorious reasons, had died of a broken spine, at the age of eighty one, when he fell from the branch of a mango tree as he tried to catch a parrot.”
The kind of irony is seen right through the story. The protagonist, is not a very attractive person and suffers from love sickness
“the symptoms of love were the same as those of cholera. “
…and it is this very disease which made him a woman’s man,
“ women promptly identified him as a solitary man in need of love, a street beggar as humble as a whipped dog, who made them yield without conditions, without asking him for anything, without hoping for anything from him except the tranquility of knowing they had done him a favor.”
Not only is Gabriel supporting passionate love but he is suspicious of ones who are too reasonable to be passionate. .
“The world is divided into those who screw and those who do not. He distrusted those who did not—when they strayed from the straight and narrow it was something so unusual for them that they bragged about love as if they had just invented it.”
And in fact, this is one thing Florentino didn’t do. He didn’t count his conquests.
However with everything he did, Florentino never stopped loving Femmina – his only love. It is his this passion that shows everywhere,
“Florentino Ariza wrote everything with so much passion that even official documents seemed to be about love.”
It made him conclude somehow that Femmina’s husband must die and he waited for that to happen for half a century – losing hope for only a short while once. All lovers he took were in passing and, in his way he manage to save his love for her, that is why he is honest even in his biggest lie:
“I’ve remained a virgin for you.”
His need for love justified all his adulteries – things that society considered ill and it included relations with widows, married woman and, once, a rape. None of these women felt any contempt for him. Gabriel in full sympathy with acts of passion. ‘Love’ Nietzsche said, ‘is beyond Good and Evil’ – Gabo seems to be pushing reader to understand this message fully. Florentino’s friend, a rape victim, is shown love sick for her rapist. In fact, he himself was raped when young and enjoyed it. The only time Florentino felt guilt was for America Vesina, who was underage at that time while he himself was too old – and it perhaps showed the only boundary that author did not allowed, even the purest of passion to pass.
“With her Florentino Ariza learned what he had already experienced many times without realizing it: that one can be in love with several people at the same time, feel the same sorrow with each, and not betray any of them. Alone in the midst of the crowd on the pier, he said to himself in a flash of anger: ‘My heart has more rooms than a whorehouse.”
The two things Florentino found hard to understand, wouldn’t do were – marriage and pay for sex. He saw both of them as artificial – something created by society and economy, something that he won’t mingle with naturalness of love. Now, you see why he couldn’t wrote official letters -because they were artificial, one thing he refuse to be.
Despite all his crimes Florentino managed to keep your sympathies. Somehow we can’t sypathesize that much with Dr. Urbino, who looks like a better person despite his vanity. So much that by the time narrator comes back to his proposal after Urbino’s death, you are still with him – and want Femmina to say yes; making it the only time I skipped pages to know the ending.
One automatically compares this to Dr. Urbino’s love which is ‘invented’ by marriage. While even the worst kind of people (Florentino) seem to gain sympathy and purity in their pursuit of love, the best of marriage, with nearest substitution of pure love, suffers. Dr. Urbino, who for all purposes is seen by society as a good man and except once for a short while in small fashion, is completely loyal to his wife – yet he couldn’t find happiness in his marriage. Urbino and Femmina are shown trying to annoy each other at old age with little acts in their routine life.
Urbino contrasts Florentino in everything. He is a respectable, reasonable, artificial person who firmly believes in marriage. He cares too much about vanity shown in way of death for
“Nothing resembles a person as much as the way he dies.”
Urbino’s marriage is a perfect one for all appearances. He is a doctor, widely respectable and she a perfect house wife; a great combination in eyes of society. They both want and try to give their marriage a chance – and yet yet you need only to scratch the surface to find the devil underneath. They are seen finding redemption in vane acts. She is purchasing things and pets she has no use of. She wasn’t able to reciprocate his last words.
“Always remember that the most important thing in a good marriage is not happiness, but stability.”
– and this comes from a person who is firm believer of the institution.
Their marriage lasted for fifty years – almost happy and yet, Femmina is not sure there ever was love between them despite the fact they both tried to invent one. On the other hand, Florentino who had not talked to her for fifty years is sure of love. Bring so much as being around her makes him love-sick like a boy (the theatre scene)
In a way, Femmina represents that dilemma that we all have faced sometime – her falling for passionate love in her youth, than her efforts to fall in love where it is socially ‘reasonable’ to; her repentance upon learning passions can’t survive once artificial reason takes over and in the end the nausea she felt for the passion she once knew. Through her marriage, Gabriel tells you what it feels like to be married – to be that close to someone and to do that for rest of your life; the adjustments, the ups and downs of it .
Florentino’s two journeys to the waters are both at times when she is reciprocating his love, both times to impress her. First time, it is in deep water and his effort is to gain her by becoming rich and in time the river age away – much like them.
The author forwards the notion that, much like river, love is something old – letters, not telephone are the instruments. Florentino (– narrator’s idea of true lover) likes dressing up like an old man from his youth. It is no surprise that true love should be discovered only in old age.
“And how long do you think we can keep up this goddamn coming and going?” he asked. Florentino Ariza had kept his answer ready for fifty-three years, seven months, and eleven days and nights. “Forever,” he said.”