on August 13, 1999
I think a lot of the online reviewers of this book don't realize that this book is not about the relationship of Fermina and Florentino. The book is about love in all of its forms, and the characters in the book exist as vehicles to examine the strangest and most powerful of all human emotions. Love in the Time of Cholera is about: unrequited love (Florentino for Fermina); marital love (Fermina and Juvenal); platonic love (Florentino and Leona); angry love (Florentino and the poet who makes him so furious); jealous love (the adulterous wife killed because of her affair with Florentino); young love (Florentino and Fermina in the beginning); dangerous love (the mental patient and Florentino); adulterous love (Juvenal and his affair, Florentino and many of his women); love from afar (Florentino and Fermina); elderly love (Florentino and Fermina, Fermina and Juvenal; the cyanide suicide); May-December love (Florentino and his ward); the relationship between sex, age, society, art, death and love (pretty much the whole book).
I could go on, but you get the idea. Any attempt to read this book as the story of Florentino and Fermina misses the point. The book is still very enjoyable that way, but look beyond the surface and enjoy Marquez' ruminations on that thing called love that drives us all crazy.
Incidentally, I think it's one of the best books ever written.
on June 9, 2000
Love in the Time of Cholera takes place circa 1880-1930 in an unnamed Caribbean seaport city. The three main characters form a triangle of love, with the hypotneuse being the quintessential romantic, Florentino Ariza, a man whose life is dedicated to love in all its aspects.
As a young apprentice telegrapher, Florentino Ariza falls hopelessly in love with the haughty teenager, Fermina Daza. Although the two barely meet, they manage to carry on a passionate affair via letters and telegrams, until one day, Fermina Daza, realizing that Florentino Ariza is more "shadow than substance," rejects him and marries the wealthy dandy, Dr. Juvenal Urbino instead.
Florentino Ariza, who has sworn to love Fermina Daza forever, is, of course, stricken to the core, but Fermina's marriage is nothing he can't handle. As one century closes and another begins, Florentino Ariza rises through the ranks of the River Company of the Caribbean and sets off on a series of 622 erotic adventures, both "long term liaisons and countless fleeting adventures," all of which he chronicled and all the while nurturing a fervent belief that his ultimate destiny was with Fermina Daza.
Fifty-one years, nine months and four days after Fermina's wedding, on Pentecost Sunday, fate intervenes and Fermina becomes a free woman once again when Dr. Juvenal Urbino dies attempting to retrieve his wayward parrot from a mango tree. Seeing his chance at last, Florentino Ariza visits Fermina Daza after the funeral and declares, "I have waited for this opportunity for more than half a century, to repeat to you once again my vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love." Fermina's reaction is not quite what Florentino was hoping for. She orders him out of the house with the words, "And don't show your face again for the years of life that are left to you...I hope there are very few of them."
Fermina Daza, however, hasn't quite gotten Florentino Ariza out of her system and the story ends, symbolically, with a river journey into eternity.
It's hard to believe that Gabriel Garcia Marquez has written a book that is better than One Hundred Years of Solitude, but with Love in the Time of Cholera, he has done just that. Not quite magical realism, it is still magic of the highest order and it is pure Garcia Marquez. An exquisite writer, Garcia Marquez tells his tales with passion, control and unblinking humor with just the right amount of the fabulous woven in.
Unlike some of his slightly claustrophobic works, this novel has an almost epic quality and Garcia Marquez handles the shifts in time and character perfectly; from the opening lines you know you're in the hands of a master. The book is flawless: Not one word is out of place, not one sentence is awkward. Lesser authors might slip into the maudlin when writing an entire book on the many aspects of love, but Garcia Marquez never gives us less than crystalline insight into what it really means to live, to love and to live a life of love. The last chapter alone is a masterpiece no one who's loved, or loved and lost, will ever forget.
As the book closes, we sail down the river with Garcia Marquez at the helm, safe in the knowledge that he is a navigator of the highest order, one who can pilot the river of love unerringly. He certainly does just that in this shining, sometimes funny and always uplifting book of flawless perfection.
on September 23, 2010
This is a difficult book for me to review, because there are two factors at work here that for me are at very much at odds.
On the one hand, Love in the Time of Cholera is a beautifully written book, rich with imagery and emotive language. This is all the more impressive when you consider how difficult it must be to translate any work from one language to another and still manage to evoke the feelings that the original author intended, and for that I must give high praise to Edith Grossman, the translator for the English edition that I read.
On the other hand, there is a very real difficulty in sympathizing with Florentino Ariza, the protagonist of the novel. In his youth, he courts Fermina Daza, the daughter of a wealthy businessman from a poor family who is obsessed with social climbing. Because her father disapproves of Ariza (a poor boy who would not improve his family's social standing), their relationship consists almost entirely of love letters sent back and forth. After a long while, though, Fermina finally rejects him. Later she marries Juvenal Urbino, a doctor and a member of one of the most respected families in the city, and has a relatively happy marriage. Florentino, however, never gets over her, and continues to desire her from afar, even after fifty years, and when her husband dies, Ariza is ready to pick things right back up from where they left off.
Here is where the novel falls apart for me, though: I can believe a man could be so hopelessly in love with a woman that he obsesses over her for the rest of his life. However, Florentino's actions do not befit a lovelorn man pining for his sweetheart. Over the course of his life he has sexual relationships with literally hundreds of women, many of them married. After one woman is murdered by her husband after he discovers her unfaithfulness -- due to Ariza writing on her stomach with some body paint -- Ariza's only concern seems to be the fear that the husband will find out who his cuckolder is and come after him. At one point he rapes one of his servants and, when she gets pregnant, compels one of her suitors to marry her. In his old age, he is made guardian of a 14-year-old girl who is described as a "blood relative", and almost immediately begins an affair with her, which ultimately results in her suicide.
Even the things he does with relation to Fermina are questionable. He hangs around her neighborhood constantly, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. He attends balls and ceremonies and celebrations for no other reason than that he knows she'll be there. He writes daily letters to her for months while receiving no reply. He calls her on the telephone just to listen to her answer, saying nothing until she hangs up. These are more the actions of a stalker than a suitor.
And the most outrageous part of all this is that, in the end, he gets the girl. What lesson is the reader supposed to take from this? That being a womanizing, cuckolding, creepy-ass stalker who dabbles in rape and pederasty will win the heart of your one true love?
(Incidentally, Fermina knows absolutely nothing of any of his sexual shenanigans. Florentino even has the gall to tell her he's a virgin at the age of 76, though she's not stupid enough to believe it.)
While the story is interesting and well-told, this dissonance regarding the protagonist left me somewhat at a loss. In the end, my score is more for the richness of the prose than anything else.
on October 24, 1998
Although I read this book four years ago, I still think about it and recommend it to anyone I think loves great literature. Unlike many people, I do not think of it so much as a "love story" as a "life story." Today we would call the "hero" a stalker. Love is so complex and involves such an evolution to fruition, that I always felt Ariza loved his own fantasy more than anything else; but he loved it completely. And in the end, he still sought to wed fantasy and reality. More moving was the brilliance of Marquez' use of language, his craft developed to the outer reaches of art. He can play the strings of emotion like a master violinist would his instrument. No John Wayne's and Darth Vadar's here. Good guys and bad guys are one and the same. These characters are rich and three dimensional, and you'll laugh and cry at the same moment. Sometimes I could only read a paragraph or two before I would have to stop and savor the richness of this work. In the fullness of time, I will read it again.
As I began this book, I was recommending it to everyone. Marquez truly has a gift not only for beautiful description, but also for simplistic, powerful dialogue.
Ostensibly, this is a story of unrequited love. As a young man, Florentino Ariza falls in love (at first sight) with Fermina Daza after he sees her reading outside her home one afternoon. He begins to, more or less, stalk her, though it's definitely an innocent teenage crush type of stalk, not the scary "I'm chasing you in a dark alley" type of stalk. Soon the two begin to exchange letters, leaving them in secret places so they won't be discovered. All goes as planned until Fermina is caught writing a letter in school, gets expelled and is taken away on a "forget your bad-boy boyfriend" trip by her father. When she returns many months later, she sees Florentino and decides her "love" was merely immature infatuation and rejects him completely, and shortly after marries the prestigious Dr. Juvenal Urbino. Florentino then spends the rest of his life waiting for Urbino to kick the bucket, so he can get his second chance at Fermina. He whiles away his time by having casual affairs with many many many women.
I liked this book because it was well-written. The setting, a Caribbean island, is so vivid it feels like you're somewhere tropical while reading it; and as I said before, the dialogue is masterful--poetic even.
I disliked this book for more concrete reasons. For one, it goes against my nature to throw away decades upon decades of your life simply biding your time for some person to have a change of heart. But, let it be said that I don't, fundamentally, believe that there is just one "true" love for any person, and I don't believe in love at first sight, so that definitely taints my views on Florentino's decisions.
Second, one such `affair' that Florentino has, when he's in his seventies, is with a FOURTEEN year old. And not just any fourteen year old, but a girl he has been asked to act as the guardian over. The last time I checked, that was child molestation. And statutory rape. It's absolutely disgusting. I mean, I get that Marquez is trying to say that you can love at any age and that being old doesn't mean you're dead inside and useless, but seducing the child you're taking care of kind of leaps right over that point and lands firmly in a puddle of ick.
Third, another woman Florentino is involved with explains that the reason she's never married is because she's been waiting to find the man that raped her one night when she was younger--so she can marry him. The rape, as it is described, involves the man grabbing her and forcing himself on her on a boat. She doesn't see his face, doesn't know him and he never speaks to her. So the only interaction she has with the man is that he grabs her on a boat and rapes her. The very idea that someone would create a character who enjoys being sexually violated by a complete stranger to the point where she "falls in love" with the man is infuriating. I mean, liking it a little rough or being attracted to an aggressive man is one thing--this is entirely another.
Last, neither Florentino or Fermina is a very likeable character. Florentino is an unfaithful lecher who seems to have no remorse for the lives he ruins through his casual affairs (because, as the book explains, it's all about the love...of course it is), and Fermina is a rather dull, stuck-up and, dare I say it, bitchy woman. I really wanted something to like about the two of them, and I just didn't and I also didn't really find myself fighting for them to get together because the only thing ever keeping them apart was themselves. If you want to make yourself unhappy, be my guest. Just don't complain to me about it for 300 pages.
on May 22, 2002
As I read this book, the first thing that struck me was how beautifully Marquez transitioned from one idea to another. The book starts at the present time, where Fermina Daza's husband, Dr. Juvenal Urbino, has just died. Florentino Ariza has been in love with her for his entire life, so he confesses his love for her the moment he gets her alone on the day of her late husband's burial. From this scene, we cut back to their childhoods, where we see the origins of their love affair. We skip around in time to answer the question, ``What brought us to where we are?"
Marquez's point, it seems to me, is that one needs to know a whole life (I think Salman Rushdie wrote something like, ``To understand me, you must swallow a world") in order to understand any particular event within it. Lives are lived forwards but understood backwards - and in Marquez's world, they're understood sideways and upside-down. He shakes out the pockets of his characters to understand where they've come from.
The problem is that each character is living inside of his or her own little world. As ordinary people, we fundamentally can't get inside our acquaintances' worlds; as an author, Marquez can. So he ambles around through his characters' minds, poking and prodding to see what makes them tick. It's a beautiful technique, and Marquez handles the transitions between characters' minds with more finesse than I've ever seen out of an omnipotent narrator.
He also handles the transitions between time periods beautifully. As part of his story's structure, it's necessary for him at every juncture to step back and ask again, ``What brought us here?" So often he has to stop in the middle of a story and jump back a few years. Once he's done jumping back, he returns to the present. Once he's done with that story, he jumps ahead to where the previous juncture left him. And so forth. In the hands of a less capable author, this would seem jarring and irritating. In Marquez's hands, it's gripping: we can't wait to see how the present resolves itself.
Ultimately this is a very sad story, so a lot of the other reviewers' comments about the book's Latin heat don't fit well with me. In the end, the only reason we can understand all the people in this book is that Marquez can freely jump amongst them. As ordinary people, we don't have that luxury. What's more, we can *see* that the characters can't get inside each others' heads: Florentino Ariza keeps chasing his impossible dream even when we know that he's going about it all wrong. We're powerless to stop him. In the end, I find this book heartbreaking.
There are many good reasons to read this book. Among them: read it for the style, read it for the plot, or read it for what it tells you about the walls that exist between all humans. You won't be disappointed.
on November 29, 2001
This is a book that simply cannot to be ignored. Lush, sensual and poetic in its prose, Marquez spins a vivid tale about a man's love for a woman that waits fifty years to come to fruition. Beneath the imagery and romance, however, lies Marquez's sharp observations on the nature of relationships, marriage and old age -- all told with Marquez's brand of humor, wisdom and unflinching veracity.
The imagery pops alive in the mind's eye like no film can. In a tropical Caribbean setting, sometime between the close of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, the environment becomes just as much a character as Florentino Ariza, and the dramatic story unfolds of his love for Fermina Daza. I'd love to recommend this for mature teens, but to truly savor it, you'll have to have lived a little. In the end, no matter what age, you will be the better for having read this masterpiece!
The book is a bit repetitive in places but it is a delightful read. It spans two entire lifetimes. It takes place between the end of the 19th Century and ends in the beginning of the 20th Century. Like all Marquez novels, this one is well written and a joy to read.
Marquez's use of fantasy realism is legendary and keeps the somewhat morose plot fun and moving. The main character stalks his lover in parks pretending to read on a bench as she passes by. His love becomes an obsession.
Marquez shows that love and the sadness it can bring is not for youth alone. It celebrates the powerful hold that true love can have on a man his entire life. This is a book that a man would enjoy as much as a woman.
on May 1, 2000
For readers, this is a four-star entree meal. Garcia's prose is richly seasoned. His characterization is complete and immensely human. With his style of writing, he creates for the reader a prose that is complex, ornate, baroque, and deeply satisfying.
The novel's scope ranges over the youth and old age of three characters, caught in unrequited love, surviving civil wars, deforestation of landscapes--both psychological and also natural--and outbreaks of cholera. Behind this hubris, Garcia details the fine distinctions of love and love lost.
This novel, finally, gets better when you finish reading it; the sensual prose seeps into the reader's memory and makes for a haunting, echoing satisfaction. Yes, the ending is fulfilling. In fact, the last 50 pages of the book are simply incredible, but of course, the readers needs to read everything prior to this--as set-up--to get the reward of the finale.
This is an incredibly satisfying novel.
"Fermina, I have waited for this opportunity for more than half a century, to repeat to you once again my vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love." Thus does Florentino Ariza lay bare his heart to Fermina Daza after - by the former's exact count - 51 years, 9 months, and 4 days of yearning.
LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA tells of lifelong relationships and a lifelong obsession. Though the book doesn't indicate a time and locale for the storyline, it apparently takes place in a Colombian coastal town between, say, 1890 and 1950. During that period, Ariza's two opportunities to win the love of Fermina are separated by the latter's 50-year marriage to Dr. Juvenal Urbino.
I must say up front that I think this novel will be better appreciated by female readers. However, I'm giving it 5 stars, not because my testosterone level is necessarily low, but because I myself enjoy stringing words together, and author Gabriel García Márquez is a master par excellence of that talent. I especially liked his technique of stating a relatively simple fact, and then telling in glorious detail how it got that way. For instance, within the first few pages he relates that Urbino's talking parrot escaped to the backyard mango tree, then dedicates 5 full pages of text to the background of the calamity. And, after Daza makes the statement that heads this review, the next 225 pages to the paths the three principal characters travel to arrive at that point. Throughout the narrative, Gabriel's prose is lush, flowery, and richly detailed, and credit must be given to the translator, Edith Grossman.
The vast majority of the text is devoted to the Urbinal-Daza marriage, which, I suspect, follows the same evolutionary course as many others in real life, and a number of other, more transient or transitional love relationships. Regarding the bonds that tie a man and woman together, I venture that Márquez is a wise observer, as indicated by the following excerpts:
"After their first encounters they had both lost awareness of their ages, and they treated each other with the familiarity of a husband and wife who had hidden so many things in this life that there was almost nothing left for them to say to each other."
And an observation by Daza: "It is incredible how one can be happy for so many years in the midst of so many squabbles, so many problems ... and not really know if it was love or not."
LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA is the splendid creation of one of the twentieth century's most gifted writers.