Love in the Time of Cholera & September Reading Notes

In the last three weeks or so, although I’ve been living with a book perpetually by my side, I’ve fallen into the habit of allowing my thoughts to evaporate as I read. And so another month has passed by. It’s all very liberating, I must admit, but not so pleasant now that I’m sitting in front of the screen with nothing to rely on but my faulty memory. How fickle we are to be so impressed by a book, and then to forget it entirely in a matter of days, weeks, months.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera certainly made an impression on me. From its first sentence to its very last, this book emanated with the sweet sultry fragrances of summer, of beautiful Latin America. That’s what drew me in at first. In fact, to be entirely honest, for the first half of the book I took everything – from Marquez’s supposed infatuation with carnality to his ‘romantic’ depiction of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza’s courtship – at face value. Then, all of a sudden, it struck me as bleedingly obvious that this was a book called Love in the Time of Cholera not because of a writer’s whim, but because it portrayed love as a sickness. One that leaves its victims feverish and delirious and covered in all sorts of nasty things.

If this book makes sense to any of you, let me know ASAP. I say it left an impression on me, but I’m not entirely sure what kind of impression. Of course it’s foolish to try and fully ‘understand’ the thoughts/motives of the writer behind a piece of literature, but with this book I really, truly could not understand what Marquez was trying to get at. On the one hand, if he was attempting to express that love was a disease everything became mockery, and a satire. On the other hand, the poeticism with which the novel was written (more than merely an appropriation of the flowery romance novels which Ariza reads) made the relationships appear so sincere. Maybe all Love is madness and it should not be thought about at all. It may be a sickly invading disease if you chuse it to be, and it will be a wonderful poetic thing if that is how you see it (ever since I picked up Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, I’ve been spelling words funny).

» M for Marquez: this book was read as a part of the A to Z challenge

On to reading notes for this month – i.e. new purchases, hahah! I’ve ordered four books from The Book Depository! It’s quite funny how my orders have been steadily increasing in size (and price). This month I decided on two novellas, an anthology of short stories and a contemporary novel. I had such a hard time cutting down those novellas to just two. Aside from all the great titles, the colours – oh my. At one moment of insanity, I considered buying all the ones in different shades of pink, but took one look at the price and decided against it. In the end I chose Honore de Balzac, who I’ve never read before (the title was alluring) and the delightful Marcel Proust! Still haven’t been able to satiate my Proust-cravings, as I’ve been unable to find a satisfactory copy of Swann’s Way, which (I think) is the first volume of In Search of Lost Time. There is no shortage of Hugos and Dumases, but I’ve been having a hard time locating Proust, and also a good copy of Le Grand Meaulnes. Even the Book Depository has failed me here.

Though I’ve never been a short story person, chose to branch out into Russian short stories (as opposed to Crime and Punishment, or whatever other epic novels Russia has to offer) after beginning Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I’m finding that War and Peace, despite its magnitude, is much easier to fall into than Anna Karenina. As for Cloud Atlas, I don’t know what prompted me to suddenly purchase a copy, after being repulsed by the idea of its cleverness for the last few years. I was mostly drawn to the shiny cover.

Other books lined up for September:

  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke – I remember when a lot of bloggers were reading this book a few years ago. Never made it onto my bookshelf, but then a friend lent me her copy and I’m liking it a lot :)
  • The Consolations of Philosophy, Alain de Botton – so, so entertaining.
  • Orientalism, Edward Said: still only halfway through this. Sometimes I read a page or two on the train, but as it’s not directly related to what I’m studying this semester, I’ve basically put it on hold until summer comes along.

I’ve also been reading Hyungto wa Muni, a contemporary Korean novel. While I’m not yet proficient enough in Chinese to read novels (waiting for the day when I can read Soul Mountain in the original), I’m still a-OK with Korean, which I suppose is my first language (though I’m terrible at writing it). Being a book lover, language naturally fascinates me, and reading novels in languages other than English has truly led me to appreciate literature. While I’m not saying that translating a novel degrades it, to truly experience a book, I’ve realised it has to be read in its original language. Whether it be idioms, grammar, whatever – there are always those things which can only really be expressed in a certain way in a particular language. For instance, there was a phrase I particularly liked in the first chapter, but when I tried to translate it so I could post it here, I couldn’t get it to sound right. In the end, I gave up at this:

Marks are imprinted here and there like faint scribbles on my cheek

It just doesn’t resonate in English. That’s why I wish I could read (if not speak) Russian and German and French. Unfortunately, all I have is a bit of rusty Spanish left over from high school. Hmm, then again, I suppose because I’m not a native speaker, the effect of all those things would be lost on me anyway.

Wow, long post today. I should probably post regularly instead or exploding into gigasmic rants like this, but time itself seems to be passing in great big dollops these days. I can hardly believe I’m already at the latter end of 2009.

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16 thoughts on “Love in the Time of Cholera & September Reading Notes

  1. So many thoughts (both yours and mine)! First, I think some things in a Marquez novel will ALWAYS elude us, no matter how many times we read them. I read A Hundred Years of Solitude for the first time last year, and LOVED it, but nice try if you think I can tell you what it’s about (well, I can speak in broad strokes, but there’s obviously much more going on than I could pick up in a single reading). You know, sometimes I think it’s perfectly acceptable to throw up your hands and say, “This was a great book, it moved me deeply, but I can’t really shed much light on its inner workings.” I know we all want to dissect what we read, but saying that you don’t know what the aim was or how we were meant to take something, well that’s a fair analysis in my mind! (And sorry, I can’t give you my impression on this one, because I haven’t read it yet!)

    Love the covers of the new books you’ve picked up – I just hope what’s inside them is worthy of such nice covers! I tried to read Cloud Atlas a few years back and I found the writing in the first section so horrifically overblown and ostentatious, I couldn’t do it. Maybe some other time, but it made me mad that it used such obscure language! I hope you have better luck with it than I!

    And I do hope you have better luck with W&P rather than AK, because I really think everyone should experience some Tolstoy at some point.

    Finally, I really liked that snippet from your Korean read that you translated. Even if it’s not precise, it sure is pretty!

    1. Steph! That first paragraph right there makes me feel so much better about myself. I find it really easy to forget that books are ultimately about stories and that I don’t necessarily have to dissect them, and yet it seems like a waste just to read things as they appear. Still, in the future I will definitely allow myself to say: “This was a great book, it moved me deeply, but I can’t really shed much light on its inner workings.” :)

      Ugh, I’ve heard a lot of negative things about Cloud Atlas (mostly along the lines of what you said), but I’m going to try and approach it as impartially as I can …. hah! I will try, at least.
      Same with W&P. My main preconception was that all Tolstoy is intimidating. Particularly after struggling through AK like that, small wonder, right? But then I’m getting along really well with W&P. Maybe it’s the translation? I regret not buying the Pevear-Volokhonsky (again – rolleye x 10000), but the Penguin edition by Anthony Briggs is v. approachable.

  2. Tuesday, your in school so your “free reading” is allowed to be free from deep thoughts. Let it just wash over you and affect you, and if we don’t get all that from whatever you tell us, we’ll just have to go read it!!

    “How fickle we are” yes, but I still think you’re a great reader!

    I’m excited to read Love in the Time of Cholera now! I enjoyed 100 Years of Solitude but I too didn’t “get it.” I love how you describe it as exuding the “sweet sultry fragrances of summer.”

    I’m very impressed that you are reading a book in Korean, and like Steph says, that snippet you translated is just beautiful in English!

    1. Hahah, wise words, Rebecca :)
      Sometimes I’ll admit I’m a bit influenced by peer pressure. I see all the lovely blossoming blogs around me and mine seems so neglected.

      I think I’m looking forward to reading more Marquez too, though I’m a bit put off at how unapproachable Solitude seems to be to a lot of people! I suppose the elusiveness is part of what readers refer to as ‘Magic Realism’ (I have never, ever understood that term. Official definitions aside, it appears to be a high-brow term for literary type books that have elements of fantasy in them; correct me if I’m wrong)

      And as for the Korean book; oh, it’s so much prettier in Korean. I really am enjoying it, even though much of the meaning escapes me :)

      (I’ve been really lazy, and haven’t been bothering to look up words I don’t know, so I sort of get by on guesswork, hahah)

      1. I recently read a novel that I would not call high-brow but I’d still call it Magical Realism. I think Arabian Nights was magical realism too — it’s a kind of exaggerated fantasy. Like the situation could be real, if it hadn’t been exaggerated a bit.

        I’ve read books in Spanish before and I never look up words. I just don’t.

        1. Hmmm, I think you might have misunderstood me. I was referring to the fact that the term itself is highbrow, not necessarily the novels/writers that are classified as ‘magic realist’. Also, sometimes they seem to stick it on South American writers, regardless of whether they are magic realist or not. It’s like how so many reviews kept referring to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell as ‘the adult Harry Potter’, when clearly they are not related beyond the (rather common) link of magic.

          Could Gao’s Soul Mountain be magic realist? Or is that something else? Actually, I’ve never really looked up the term, so that would probably be a good place to start, hahah :)

          1. tuesday, I think I did misunderstand. But I too have no clear concept of what makes something “magical realism.” I just know that I’ve enjoyed encountering fantastic exaggerations in otherwise down-t0-earth stories!

            I haven’t read Soul Mountain, so I can’t really comment on that one.

          2. But you both have touched upon the meaning of magical realism. I guess the confusion lies upon the stereotypes. Toni MOrrison and Salman Rushdie aren’t SOuth American but they’re magical realism.

  3. Tuesday, I’m embarrassed to say that while this is my number one fave novel of all time that I can’t really give you an analysis. I think the reason why I don’t do normal reviews (only impressions) is because I really don’t dissect my reads and just enjoy them. And while the story stays fresh in my mind (Love in the Time of), after years of having read it, the only thing I have to say is that I loved it because it evokes a mood and time and atmosphere that I lived through in my childhood, and because, ultimately, it is a love story. While I don’t read books for the romance, we all need a love story to inspire us every once in a while, and this one has more than that. It has such deep and beautiful writing besides. And so personal and nostalgic to me. I do agree about your thought on “love is a sickness.” Incidentally, I thought the same thing before!

    I’m also impressed you’re reading in Korean! I remember going to South Korea and finding it so difficult to find our way because all the signs were in Korean (none in English). Even the packaged food and treats in 7-11 we couldn’t read so we resorted to buying the ones with pictures. Lol! It was so fun, though.

    Love your purchases. Isn’t it so difficult to whittle down our choices to just a few? My wish list at The Book Dep is so long it would take me years to get through them all. I’m attracted to shiny covers, too. Have you seen the Vintage International covers of Toni Morrison’s older books? I just replaced my old, dilapidated copies with those and they’re so wonderful. I might do a post on that.

    By the way, you’ve influenced me so much on two things. First, I’m trying now to replace my hardcovers with paperbacks. The main reason is because I badly need more shelf space and the HCs are just too bulky. Second is that all paperbacks on the shelf look so much cleaner with almost all the same size together, while HCs have erratic sizes.

    Second, I ordered all four Virginia Woolfs available in the white Penguin and we’re having a Woolf read-along in Jan to Feb. Most of the other bloggers reading along have read her and are re-reading. I’m the only one who hasn’t read her yet, I think. You might want to join? Although it might be too soon for you to reread?

    1. Claire, wow, you must have had such a beautiful childhood then :)
      I love your impressions/posts! They always have a Clairesque touch to them that shouldn’t be destroyed by boring plot descriptions. Besides, those sorts of plot summaries always ruin books. There’s always so much more to a book than what can be described in a plot summary.

      Heheh your little story about Korean packaged food makes me laugh! A lot of words have been Westernised, so for example many gum packets will be labelled ‘gum’ and orange juice labels will say ‘juice’, but just in hangeul (Korean characters) instead of in the English alphabet. You probably would have laughed too if you could have read all those labels.

      My wishlist at TBD is soo long as well. The stupid thing about that site is that the ‘remove book from your wishlist’ button doesn’t work in a lot of cases. And when you purchase a book from your wishlist it stays there, so stubbornly. Hmmm, I’ve never read Toni Morrison (I been meaning to, and I should) and I’ve haven’t seen the new Vintage covers. Do you mean a post on the new covers? I enjoy reading your cover-related posts a lot, esp. the Persephone ones. Those books are so nice :)

      Hahah, I’m glad you’re in love with paperbacks, but are you sure you won’t regret replacing all those hardcovers? They are quite beautiful. I’ve realised private libraries (the posh ones with chandeliers and spiral staircases) have those identical fabric-bound hardcovers. It almost makes me want to start collecting hardcovers. Oh well… chandeliers gather dust, and spiral staircases are inconvenient, in any case ;)

      Ooh, really? A Woolf readalong? I might have missed that post. Can’t recall if I wrote about it here, but I recently purchased a big book containing most of her novels, and a few of her essays… Jan – Feb is a good time for me, as I’ll be on holiday, yay! Definitely time for a re-read of Dalloway, probably not so much Lighthouse. Not in love with that particular work of hers (bit of an understatement, really). I’ve been wanting to read Orlando, and Jacob’s room and The Voyage Out, though. Will you be reading any of those?

      (Sorry, I seem to have written an essay for you to read instead of a comment)

      1. Tuesday, re: my childhood, it’s only because I grew up in a place heavily influenced by Spanish culture and a tropical place, so the sights and sounds in the book were reminiscent of my old days.

        Oh I remember something else about Korean packaged food.. they almost always were branded LOTTE! Am I right? Ha ha. We did go to Lotte World, too. :)

        I’m doing the post on the Morrisons soon, possibly this week (maybe). If you read her, I would say start with Sula or Beloved or Song of Solomon. She’s a bit hard to decipher but hope you find her worth it.

        Re the paperbacks and hardcovers, I’ve pretty much made up my mind. I used to loathe hardcovers when I was younger. I only began collecting them when we moved here 4 yrs ago, and mainly because I found them cheaper than paperbacks in the used shops. I love that their paper has better quality, and they don’t get damaged even if you open pages fully. But then when I started collecting paperbacks, too, although it’s poorer in quality, they’re so much more easy in the hands and brings me to the time when they were all I read. I didn’t think I’d have the guts to let go, though, but now I’ve realized that getting rid of clutter is much more important to me now. I’ve been purging a lot, getting rid of books I won’t be rereading, etc. I’ve measured a lot of hardcovers take up twice the space of their paperback counterpart, and those are valuable shelf space! My thing with hardcovers is that I hate dust jackets. I wish I could just remove them all. Unfortunately, those with such lovely covers I can’t. Anyway, this is getting to be another long comment, lol!

        The Woolf readalong was unplanned. It just happened in the comments of one blogger. If you’d like to read the thread it’s here: http://tuulenhaiven.wordpress.com/2009/08/27/mrs-dalloway/

        I did see the huge Woolf book you just bought! Anyway, you can join in just for the titles you want to read. :)

        Ok, enough rambling.

  4. I read Love in the Time of Cholera a few months ago and just adored it. It thought that the whole idea of cholera had to do with the need for lovers to be quarantined–that it’s the world that interferes with true love, whether by tempting people to be unfaithful or by saying they can’t be together. At any rate, I thought it was a lovely story that can be enjoyed on a plot and character level.

    If you’re interested, my review is at http://shelflove.wordpress.com/2009/07/25/love-in-the-time-of-cholera-review/

    1. Thanks, Teresa – reading your review has cleared up a lot of cobwebs in my head. I agree with you that the most poignant thing about Cholera is the marriage between Fermina and Dr Urbino (he’s quite an endearing character :)). I find it closer to what love should be like than Ariza’s carnalities anyway. Now that I think about it, there was quite a juxtaposition between Ariza’s pursuits of ‘love’, and Dr Urbino’s marriage. Ariza’s probably left a stronger impression in my mind b/c it took up such a large part of the novel, but there is a clear division.

      And I also agree about Marquez’s wonderful style of writing. The prose did get rather flowery at some parts of the book, but like you said, it never once felt sentimental. In fact, it made me all the more wary, because I thought there might be some sarcasm behind it (there probably was).

    1. Hi Diane – nice to meet you!
      I’m looking forward to Cloud Atlas too, now that I know more about its structure etc.
      Hope to compare thoughts with you later :)

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