★ “…the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.” ★
Love in the Time of Cholera is a book I wish I had read when I was in school.
I don’t want to say that I think I’ve become a lazy reader because that would be an exaggeration. I do think, however, that there are different types of reading, and as someone who graduated from university many years ago, I haven’t been exercising my “academic reading” or “close reading” skills as much recently. Unfortunately for me, these are the sorts of skills I believe are best suited to reading a novel like Gabriel García Márquez’s famous one, Love in the Time of Cholera, and I feel that much of my enjoyment of and appreciation for the novel was hindered by my struggle to tap into these more academic styles of reading.
Love in the Time of Cholera is, in my estimation, the opposite of a love story. While it is beautifully and painstakingly written, with imagery and themes carefully selected and articulated, Love in the Time of Cholera is more a tale of obsession, undying infatuation and the absence of true, pure love than anything else. Although the synopsis wants to suggest that Florentino Ariza’s “love” for Fermina Daza is so sweeping and all-encompassing that it could never be anything but romantic, Florentino’s inability to let go of this idealized image he creates of Fermina throughout both of their long lives is uncomfortable and unsettling to observe. Moreover, Love in the Time of Cholera is not, as I had originally expected, this story of two lovers irrevocably and painfully separated by the woman’s marriage to a more socially acceptable match; on the contrary, Fermina’s marriage to Dr. Juvenal Urbino seems to be the only suitable relationship in the entire novel, and despite the fact that there is some mistrust, infidelity and misunderstanding between this husband and wife, the overall sense I got was that their marriage worked for them and that once they settled into contentment, they were content for most of their lives together.
★ “…thought of herself as destiny’s darling: the happiest woman in the world.”
★ “‘Always remember that the most important thing in a good marriage is not happiness, but stability.’”
So, Love in the Time of Cholera is not a story about lovers who are separated and struggling to find their way back to one another…it is, instead, a story of a happy, albeit human and so morally ambiguous, marriage and of the shadow of a man who looms over it, waiting to reclaim his lover once her husband has died. It is a story of teenage infatuation that becomes overblown and is made too much of. It is a story of a wife’s occasional reminiscences about her childhood love, a man who simultaneously stalks and watches over her with hawk-like intensity. If you are looking for a love story when you crack open the spine of Love in the Time of Cholera, you are looking in the wrong place.
★ “Taken together, they marked the passage of his life, for he experienced the cruelty of time not so much in his own flesh as in the imperceptible changes he discerned in Fermina Daza each time he saw her.”
★ “When at last he surrendered, Florentino Ariza hung the mirror in his house, not for the exquisite frame but because of the place inside that for two hours had been occupied by her beloved reflection.”
Furthermore, none of the characters in Love in the Time of Cholera are very redeemable. I had a hard time warming up to and empathizing with any single one of the characters, although I was certainly interested in them and found their lives fascinating in that I would not myself make many of the decisions they did. For example, Florentino originally struck me as a nice enough man who I was sort of rooting for, until his obsession with Fermina became extremely disturbing toward the conclusion of the novel, and most notably until he began an affair with an underage girl, which I found deeply disconcerting and alarming. At that point, I (needless to say) found my sympathy for him beginning to waver. Similarly, I found Juvenal to be a really interesting character in the beginning, as I became swept up in his important functions and status in his community and his commitment to making life easier and healthier for his neighbors. When he began an affair, though, I found it a lot harder to enjoy his storyline, and I realized that he was quite a bit more heartless and self-absorbed throughout the novel than I had at first noticed. My favourite character was easily Fermina Daza because I appreciated how feisty she was as a teenager and I enjoyed watching her becoming a strong, diligent housewife. However, I felt that there were moments when I would’ve wanted her to be stronger and perhaps a bit less wish-washy in her feelings toward the men in her life. I also felt that there was much wasted potential in her life, and that her particular talents and confident personality could have been made into so much more. But, perhaps that is the moral of the story in a way: that this woman has become such a love object that she is not given the chance to do anything other than function in a marriage or in relation to a man. That’s a very sad notion, in my opinion.
★ “From the time she awoke at six in the morning until she turned out the light in the bedroom, Fermina Daza devoted herself to killing time. Life was imposed on her from outside.”
Love in the Time of Cholera is also an incredibly dense book. It’s not long whatsoever, coming in at only just under 350 pages, but every tiny scrap of white on those pages is covered in words. There were a few points when I thought I would never finish this novel because I would sit down for an hour to read and only get through 20 pages, which is pretty slow for me. I kind of saw my reader’s life flash before my eyes at that point, but more because I didn’t feel like I was equal to the task than for any other reason. As I said, I wish I had been made to study Love in the Time of Cholera in school because I don’t know that I got out of it as much as I could have otherwise. I know there are sections that I could have delved into further, unpacked and teased and twisted around to get at Márquez’s full meaning. I know there is immense genius in the pages of this story, and yet I felt, at the end like I hadn’t even grazed the surface of the brilliance lying underneath. Again, I don’t want to use the word “lazy” to describe my reading experience, but I know that I didn’t dig into the plot and the characters and, most significantly, the writing as well as I could have, and that is a regret of mine. I feel as though I will have to re-read Love in the Time of Cholera at some point in my life, to try to take a little bit more from it, and while I would certainly recommend it as an utter classic, I would say that it can’t be entered into casually. As a reader, you have to be willing to put in the time, the hours and the brainpower to get the most out of this novel.
❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) ~ to be revisited at a later date!
A Few of my Favourite Quotes from Love in the Time of Cholera:
(…all of which undoubtedly deserve a proper close reading)
★ “‘The people one loves should take all their things with them when they die.’”
★ “‘Tell him yes,’ she said. ‘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.’”
★ “…human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”
★ “‘Love is ridiculous at our age,’ she shouted, ‘but at theirs it is revolting.’”
Girl with a Green Heart