READING: Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera

Some people are built for a swoon-ier age. They astound me with their persistence. For them, life has no hard edges and even if it does they are willing to throw themselves on these, take a corner of the table to the hip, a shopping trolley to the ankle, a sword to the guts, all in the name of love. I am torn. I want to address the heaving obvious: that love is hard enough as it is without elevating it further. I also want to believe them. I would like to throw myself into a world where my motivations are honed to a single purpose. I just can’t.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel, Love in the Time of Cholera, has introduced me to Florentino Ariza, a highly romantic character, whose pursues the focus of his affection, Fermina Daza, over fifty years and on into old age. Florentino’s every action is committed to winning Fermina’s love and it is such an astonishing story of determination, it is difficult not to cheer from the sidelines like a traditional matchmaker. Be careful though. Marquez draws in both cynics and romantics and plays with them.

On the surface, Dr. Juvenal Urbino, the man Fermina Daza actually does wed and remains married to for fifty years, is a less passionate and a more modern man. He works to enclose the sewers in the town (somewhere on the coast of Caribbean Sea) to put an end the outbreaks of cholera. Compared to Florentino Ariza, who writes passionate letters and is generally up for a spot of serenading, Urbino appears drier, more measured. Looking more deeply though, I sense Urbino’s lack of passion is not only in his nature, although some of it may be, but that he holds his passions in check, as a matter of course, a necessity, as one of the town’s most honoured residents.

Just as Urbino does not completely represent modern love, Florentino Ariza is not a simple representation of courtly love, either. While he refuses to marry another woman and wishes to hold out for Fermina Daza, he is a secret and often voracious womaniser. This should taint him and it does somewhat, but still his adherence to the idea of his love works as a kind of mind trick and I was on his side again. Perhaps it is the sheer audacity of his concept, that one can desire a person over so many years without a hint of desire in return is something to acknowledged. Of course, there were times when I wanted to belt him over the ear and tell him to get on with his life, lest this end in loneliness and tragedy.

Love in the Time of Cholera is more than a simple story of grand passion. It is a complicated, multi-layered look at love and social upheaval in the early twentieth century. It also tells the story of our own loves, our passions and our cynicisms in that it draws us one way and then the other. There were times when I wished to throw my natural and socially constructed reluctance to the winds and write some love poetry, put it to music and commit a serenade. I’m being factitious, yes, but only just. What would life be like if we elevated love again in such a way? What would I be like? Of course, it is so much easier to see Urbino’s modern point of view, but is it real or is it a battening down of bubbling and festering emotions, which will break out at some point to commit a travesty? Perhaps the greater travesty is that the bubbling ceases to exert pressure and it dies away?

I applaud Marquez wholeheartedly. I would write to him, but I have left this read too late. (At the time of this discussion, he has been dead two years.) He has made me forever unsure of how to love and that is a good thing, I think. You see, its not enough to say I’ll keep a bit of the cynic and a bit of the romantic about me in equal measure. While an excess of one or the other may prove fatal, a measuring cup of each may be too dry a way to go about things. Love in the Time of Cholera is a wonderful example of what a fine novel can do. It can unseat us, disorientate us and in finding our way, we learn.

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