Love in the Time of Cholera

I have written about Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera here before, but I devoured it so quickly that I couldn’t form any coherent thoughts about it. That was three years ago, and I’ve raced through my second reading of it recently in a similarly haphazard way, leaving me with similarly haphazard thoughts!

Marquez’s portrayal of love still strikes me as something paradoxical and strange. At times he is wholeheartedly cynical, at others, lyrical about the wonders and magic of the thing we call love. Is he sympathetic of romance? Not at all. The ending may certainly seem to be so at first, though on closer inspection, it looks more like something dastardly far from it. What about Florentino Ariza’s passionate serenading of Fermina Daza in her schoolgirl years? Surely that’s romance in its purest and most naive form? Not really. Marquez actually depicts how that delusional and feverish passion later disgusts Fermina Daza.

Is fornication love? (Personally, I say nay) I’m honestly not sure what Marquez is trying to say here. There is a lot of sex in this novel, and not all of it pleasant, florid stuff. Desire is rarely separated from sexual need and love, by which I mean that some characters – far from indulging in fulfilling, balanced and healthy relationships – indulge in affairs that consist of nothing but habitual fornication, which they often mistake for love. Nothing is sacred. Take for instance Ariza’s sexual relationship with his twelve year old ward, América Vicuña.

What of Fermina Daza’s long and relatively stable marriage to Dr Juvenal Urbino? Here is an instance where happiness has nothing to do with love. Marquez depicts a peaceful household where routine and habitual company reign over all else. Of course, the passion is not there, but the couple are hardly tormented by the situation. They co-exist in a secure ecosystem, where each has his or her part to play. Is love more than that fleeting passion, or is that fleeting passion what love really is when reduced to its core? Is it simply too much to expect “love” (as Marquez defines it) to exist in a marriage? Or, as the question really seems to be, is love unnecessary in a happy (‘secure’) marriage?

These are just some of the questions that rose lazily to me while I raced through Love in the Time of Cholera. I’m not sure what I thought of the ending, whether I was more disgusted or amazed by Marquez (I didn’t so much have a problem with the plot details of it, as with the character of Florentino Ariza, who is a pathetic little leech), whether all the forms of love he writes of in this novel are truly love…

And so I reach similar conclusions: love is sickness (it devours us), Marquez will always elude me, and what mostly captivates me about Marquez’s work is his evocation of a time and place that calls to my heart. As Steph told me three years ago, it’s okay to sometimes say: “This was a great book, it moved me deeply, but I can’t really shed much light on its inner workings.”

» This book was read as a part of the Classics project.

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6 thoughts on “Love in the Time of Cholera

    1. Yeah I felt vaguely uncomfortable the whole time I was reading the book, which is strange, because I do consider it one of my favourites. But it’s a beautiful and challenging thing :)

  1. So apt, I just commented on your latest post mentioning Garcia Marquez. Oh gosh, this is one of my most favourite books of all time and I can’t help but be really biased when talking about it.

    It does make one question “whether all the forms of love he writes of in this novel are truly love,” and my answer to that would be yes. I do believe love comes in all shapes and sizes. And don’t mistake love for “true love” (you’ll have to read The Princess Bride for that, ha ha). Just love, on the other hand, can be deep, shallow, big, light, fleeting, &tc. The way I see it, the differences lie in personality/character and circumstance. Florentino is by nature emotional, thus affecting how he experiences his first love, elevating it to such extremes that nothing else he’s ever experienced after that could ever compare. Plus his station in life allows him to romanticize his feelings more than Dr Juvenal would.

    And you mentioned, “Is love unnecessary in a happy (‘secure’) marriage?” Happy and secure are two different things. Would you say Dr Juvenal and Fermina were happy in their marriage? I think yes, in a way, but mostly they were just content. But do I think they loved each other? Yes, because years and years of living with someone will always summon up fondness (which to me is still another form of love, though some may argue that it isn’t). So maybe love can possibly be unnecessary in a secure marriage but not in a happy one. A happy marriage must need love, no matter how shallow the degree that happiness or love is.

    And I’ll stop here, but ahh, that book, it’s calling me again.. Thanks for this beautiful post. Your haphazard thoughts are more than clear for you to be able to form such insights and be able to share them with us.

    1. Claire, once again I agree with everything you say! You’re right, personality has so much to do with how we express and deal with love.
      And I think that’s what I was trying to get at re: Juvenal and Fermina’s marriage. In my eyes, that fondness is also a form of love, and in some ways, more lasting and beautiful than fleeting passion. When I see old couples walking side by side, hand in hand, still delighted with each others’ presence after 50+ years of marriage, that’s what I think anyway :)
      (There’s the helpless romantic in me coming out)

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