Love in the Time of Cholera

There are certain novels on my TBR list that have been there so long, I hardly see them any more. Even when Teresa glowingly reviewed Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, last year, I said to myself, I have got to get around to that, and I never did. But when Teresa put it on my list in the book swap we exchanged at the beginning of January, I knew this novel’s time had come.

Teresa’s review gives a wonderful summary of what this novel is about, so I’ll let you read that, and just give a short review: in an unnamed South American city, the young, impoverished Florentino Ariza falls in love with the beautiful Fermina Daza. She returns his love, and they become secretly engaged, but when her father discovers their secret, he insists they break it off, and takes her away to make her forget. Eventually, she marries an upstanding young doctor, Juvenal Urbino, and Florentino is heartbroken. He swears never to forget Fermina Daza, and upon the doctor’s death, decades later, he presents himself to Fermina as her new suitor.

As Teresa says in her wonderful review, this is not — as it might have been — primarily the story of star-crossed lovers, or of some grand thwarted passion. Instead, it’s the story of the many different ways people find to love each other in this world. The part of the story that touched me the most deeply was the long, mostly-happy marriage between Fermina and Dr. Urbino. They don’t marry for love, but they build a relationship that is very much a love match: from being virtual strangers on their honeymoon, they become passionate lovers and partners, are torn apart by disagreements, forge a home and family, and finally (though this is in the first chapter), Urbino’s final words to Fermina are, “God alone knows how much I loved you.”  I found so much that was wise and beautiful about marriage in these pages. For instance, Dr. Urbino says, in some frustration, “The problem with marriage is that it ends every night after making love, and it must be rebuilt every morning before breakfast.” And yet:

Together they had overcome the daily incomprehension, the instantaneous hatred, the reciprocal nastiness, and fabulous flashes of glory in the conjugal conspiracy. It was the time when they both loved each other best, without hurry or excess, when both were most conscious of and most grateful for their incredible victories over adversity. Life would still present them with other moral trials, of course, but that no longer mattered: they were on the other shore.

There are many other forms of love to be found here, too. From the illicit love affair that Dr. Urbino discovers in the very first pages, to the requited-then-rejected love of Florentino Ariza, to the stable friendship of Leona Cassiani, to the love of children, to the many sexual liaisons Florentino engages in to help him forget Fermina, Garcia Marquez explores love, tenderness, compassion, and lust, along with the idea that suffering for love is a form of nobility. This suffering is not just on Florentino’s side, either: when Dr. Urbino dies, Fermina’s suffering is beyond words. This profound exploration of a theme is lush, meditative, sometimes funny, and deeply moving.

Just a few other things I loved about this book. The city, though it goes unnamed, is a real presence in the novel. The reader gets to know the different neighborhoods, from the poorer quarters where former slaves live and the air is rank and poisonous, to the decrepit glories of the declining aristocracy, to the shiny new suburbs. One part of this city that plays an important role is the river. As a metaphor for both connection (Florentino eventually runs a riverboat company) and barrier, it serves beautifully. Going back and forth, back and forth on the river that is itself changing with time: it reminded me of the ferry on the Mekong Delta in Marguerite Duras’s L’Amant. And, of course, time is one of the two central themes in this book. Never forget that it is Love in the Time of Cholera; it might as well be named Time in the Love of Cholera. The work and ravages and encroachments of time are everywhere: in the city, in the mind, in the aging bodies of the lovers. Love may be eternal, but lovers are not.

My one wish, reading this book, was that I could have read it in Spanish. I thought Edith Grossman’s translation was wonderful — the prose was beautiful, and I was completely engaged — but whenever I’m reading something I really love in a language I don’t know, I feel like someone wearing latex gloves. Yes, I can do my work; yes, I can even kind of feel what I’m doing. But there’s a barrier. I felt this way when I was reading the fabulous Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace, and I felt that way with this book. Still, barring years of study, this was a good substitute. If this book has been on your TBR for years, read it now! Let me convince you the way Teresa did me. I fell in love, and you could, too.

This entry was posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Love in the Time of Cholera

  1. Mel u says:

    Great post-I read this book about 10 years ago-I recall I liked it so much I reread it a week later-the movie is not bad-I still recall a lot of the book and your post help bring back those memories

    • Jenny says:

      I can see why you re-read it a week later. It is such a beautiful book, with veins of humor and sorrow running through it. Wonderfully written and fully human.

  2. litlove says:

    What a wonderful heartfelt review! I admit to having at one time two copies of this book, and am uncertain now where either of them are. It’s a novel I’ve often thought about reading, but have ultimately drawn drawn back from, afraid it would be too…. what? exactly, too harrowing, maybe? But you encourage me to search out those copies and give it a go.

    • Jenny says:

      I can reassure you that it’s not harrowing. There are sad parts, because it’s a completely human book, but it’s not gruesome with cholera or heart-wrenching in other ways. I found it a fabulous pleasure to read, and I think it might be your sort of thing.

  3. Alex says:

    One of my favorite books of all time. I’ve read it in Portuguese and felt very close to the way he meant for us to read it. Loved the ending.

    • Jenny says:

      I loved the ending, too, though in some ways I wasn’t sure what to make of it. The river of time! Translations always leave me feeling slightly unsatisfied, as I said, so I wish I’d read it in the original.

  4. Teresa says:

    I am so glad that you loved this as much as I did. I felt sure that you would–it seems precisely like your kind of book.

    • Jenny says:

      Since you know precisely what my kind of book is, this was a pretty good bet! Thank you, Teresa. I adored it. Speaking of which, I just noticed that Housekeeping is on your must-read TBR. Can’t wait for you to read that. I almost put it on our book swap list!

  5. rebeccareid says:

    I really loved 100 YEARS but was meh about CHRONICLE OF A DEATH FORETOLD. I may have to pick it up at some point, just to see if it’s for me. I’m fascinated by the tricks Garcia Marquez plays with time.

    • Jenny says:

      You’re right, the whole time thing was one of the most interesting things about this book. The circular structure, with about fifty years in between, and the ravages of time constantly mentioned — really interesting.

  6. Steph says:

    My favorite Marquez is still One Hundred Years of Solitude, but I thought this was a wonderful read as well. Like you said, Marquez isn’t afraid to look at love in all its facets in this novel, and I think in some ways, that’s where the real love stories come out. I am always so impressed by the depths of his storytelling and his writing, well, if only more people could do what he does!

  7. Violet says:

    I have never read this, even though it was a set text at uni. I just never got around to it. So many books, and so many books! :)

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, I know what you mean. I’ve had to take the attitude that they are all riches and opportunities, not wasted chances or obligations.

  8. cbjames says:

    This one is my favorite of the author’s work. I read it when it first came out, after a break up. It was the perfect book book for me at the time. I re-read it many years later and loved it once again.

    • Jenny says:

      This would be the PERFECT book for after a breakup. Wow! Although I hope I’m not facing one anytime soon, I’ll keep that in mind. :)

  9. christina says:

    I am probably one of the few who loved the film more than the book.

    • Jenny says:

      I haven’t seen the film and have trouble imagining how it could be filmed effectively — it’s so interior, so perceptive about thoughts and nuances, so little laced with action. Still, sometimes if you don’t like a slow pace, a film can be better!

  10. JoV says:

    Jenny, this book has been on my shelf for 2 years and I intend to read it this year. Wish me luck.

    I just skimmed through your review. I’ll come back when I finish reading mine. I am trying to get a few people to join me and read along with me!

    I’m so glad you liked it! :)

  11. Kathleen says:

    I’m convinced! This is one that I have had on my list to read for ages!

  12. Jeanne says:

    Not everyone loves 100 Years…I have never found another Marquez book I like even half as much as Love in the Time of Cholera.

  13. Kerry says:

    I love, love, love, love, love this book. Could I say it one more time? Love it. It’s actually the first book my then-friend, now-husband ever lent to me.

    As for reading it in Spanish, I know what you mean. Have you read any of Marquez’s other works? I read an article about him somewhere – of course I can’t find it now – in which he said that translator Gregory Rabassa wrote Marquez’s books in English better than the author himself could have (Marquez does speak English, apparently, but writes in Spanish). So if you do read another Marquez, might be worth it to check out Rabassa. He hasn’t translated all of Marquez’s works, though (Grossman’s done a lot).

Leave your comment here, and feel free to respond to others' comments. We enjoy a lively conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.