Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

In any event, it was difficult for him to comprehend that two free adults without a past and living on the fringes of a closed society’s prejudices had chosen the hazards of illicit love. She explained: ‘It was his wish.’ Moreover, a clandestine life shared with sa man who was never completely hers, and in which they often knew the sudden explosion of happiness, did not seem to her a condition to be despised. On the contrary: life had shown her that perhaps it was exemplary.

It was this or One Hundred Years of Solitude. Still re-reading my  library while I continue to debate whether I jump to a kindle, I decided to follow the cerebral dry wit of Jose Saramago with the warm sumptuous pleasure of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In the end Love in the Time of Cholera won partly, as I have a feeling, completely wrong I have no doubt, that when I read the first sentence of One Hundred Years I will remember the whole book and not be able to continue. Also, I wanted to read a love story, for various reasons

Apart from the fact that my thought is absurd, reading Love in the Time of Cholera again has proved that my fear is completely unfounded. Despite the fact I have struggled to get into a reading mood while actually reading, I have enjoyed Love in the Time of Cholera much more the second time around. The story of Love that literally lasts a lifetime, as Florentino Ariza nurses his unyielding love for the first woman of his life, Fermina Daza. Despite an immature relationship Fermina goes on to marry the elegant and well respected Dr Juvenal Urbino and Florentino loves from afar.

The story twirls around in your hands, as it charts the lives of the three main protagonists and as it turns the perceptions that Floretino and Fermina have of each other and the situation they are each in changes and is revealed to the reader, but not always to them, so that while at the beginning you see one facet of a relationship, as the book continues Garcia Marquez turns you to another view and you see a different one, and slowly the truth emerges, in the middle of the layers of pages you peel away. I don’t remember this on the first read and it adds a completely different dimension to the simple yet powerful story of unrequited love.

As Florentino Ariza tries to replace Fermina with an impressive number of other women, he eventually realises that he can’t, and while they provide a kaleidoscope of distractions to his slow burning love, none of them can extinguish it. Meanwhile Fermina and Dr Urbino at various times enjoy and work at their domestic life as they creep into old age together.

Dr Juvenal Urbino is not a perfect husband by any means, but is a product of his time, and pushed by the developments of a Europe well ahead of his Caribbean city he is a likeable, if fallible character that the reader becomes softly attached to at the beginning. Reasoned and caring, his faithful wife preserving him gently with her love and thoughtfulness, in a beautiful tender portrait of what it is to love.

He recognised her despite the uproar, through his tears of unrepeatable sorrow at dying without her, and he looked at her for the last and final time with eyes more luminous, more grief-stricken, more grateful than she had ever seen them in half a century of a shared life, and he managed to say to her with his last breath:
‘Only God knows how much I loved you.’

The introduction of Florention Ariza is not quite the same, he arrives surreptitiously at the funeral and in my mind behaves appallingly within the first few pages of his entrance, what was he thinking? Even as the story unfolds and his life long love is revealed in all it’s passionate, twisted and wrenching truth, I can barely forgive him for his inopportune imprudence.

In the middle of the two is Fermina Daza, an incredible woman who Garcia Marquez paints almost with pleasure, who has very few flaws, and even these are only revealed when drawn out by the men in her life. While she never has to choose, as the story reveals the lives of the two men you come to realise that she needs neither of them, a fiercely strong willed woman who’s pride is as strong as her love.

After the fuss kicked up over Garcia Marquez’s last novel, memories of my melancholy whores, it is strange that Love in the time of Cholera is not mentioned in the same vein, given Florentino Ariza’s last dalliance, with a ward of his who again is too young. Maybe people don’t remember, maybe because of it’s classic status it has become untouchable. It was something I don’t remember from the first time, but which made me feel uncomfortable reading it now, particularly given the outcome, which almost feels an irrelevance when it occurs. I wonder if he were alive, if Marquez would write the same storyline again.

However, Love in the Time of Cholera is a timeless tale, and one which by the end I had immersed into, so that not even the aberration of Florentino’s last affair and his behaviour at the funeral, or of Fermina’s implacable pride, could make me begrudge their twilight happiness. The strength of love, and crucially, of loving and being in love, which as the story, and indeed life shows, are two different things, is something that can affect everyone everywhere, and thanks to Garcia Marquez’s wonderful story telling, it’s as if you witness it from your hammock on the patio, with the sea rolling in the background and with a warm Caribbean breeze blowing the pages.

That, along with so many other ephemeral images in the course of so many years, would suddenly appear to Florentino Ariza at the whim of fate, and disappear again in the same way, leaving behind a throb of longing in his heart. 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.


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