The most recent book I’ve read is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ Love in the Time of Cholera, originally published in Spanish in 1985 and translated into English in 1988. This was my second book of Marquez that I have read, and it was a much more enjoyable read for the experience. The other entry in the BBC top 100 books is my previous read and the equally famous One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967).
There are of course many similarities between the two works. Magical realism is the first and foremost, and arguably the most recognisable characteristic of Marquez’ writing. Magical realism is both a tricky concept to explain and, at times, to understand. In its bare bones, the concept of magical realism can be understood as events or occurrences that could happen; however are heavily influenced by elements of magic to enhance the realism and the deeper understanding of reality. In the case of One Hundred Years of Solitude, it both the sense of time and place that is under the influence of magical realism. We can see that these are both at work in Love in the Time of Cholera also; however, it is used to develop a more sophisticated plot line rather than an emphasis on external narratives.
Love in the Time of Cholera follows two young lovers, Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza, enamoured in their younger years, but circumstances tore them apart. Despite Fermina Daza marrying another man, Dr Juvenal Urbino, and Florentino Ariza embarking on numerous affairs, their love for each other is still ever-present.
The majority of the story is told through the eyes of Florentino Ariza. His affairs with many different women, his attempts to write the Lover’s Manual and his observations on love and life. The affairs are, at time, portrayed in quite great detail. His lovers are described viscerally – their smells, their relations and their physicality. By contrast, the marriage of Fermina Daza and Juvenal Urbino is comedic – there are intimate descriptions of how he always leaves drops of pee on the toilet seat, for example. I think that by creating two such different relationship styles between the two lovers of the book, we can see the vast and differing ways society in general view “love”. A key concept of the book, what we as readers can learn from this is that there are many different kinds of love which can satiate our lives’ journey – be they lustful, comfortable, intimate or deep and meaningful.
I mentioned the comedic aspects of Fermina Daza and Juvenal Urbino’s marriage. I was surprised at just how funny this book was – there were lots of times where I found myself chuckling. This was a pleasant surprise as I didn’t find any aspects of comedy in One Hundred Years of Solitude and really wasn’t expecting such a “high literary” work to have so much comedy. Again, I think that this is done intentionally, especially given some of the darker aspects of the plot itself.
For example – the way in which Dr Juvenal Urbino dies. As they do not care for domesticated animals (classified as “things which do not speak”, paraphrase), Fermina and Juvenal adopt a talking parrot to be their house companion. When the parrot escapes atop a large tree, Juvenal attempts to climb it to rescue the bird, but instead falls from a great height to his death. Although this is not strictly funny, it has elements of the absurd and, in turn, we laugh at the stupidity of the way this man comes about his end. We are cruel as readers here, but not as cruel as Marquez is in the way in which he treats his characters!
Juvenal’s death launches us into the plot line – how Florentino Ariza has loved Fermina Daza ever since they were enamoured children and how he has had to endure her marriage for fifty years, nine months and four days. The events of the past as well as the present are what really shape the scope of this novel.
Indeed, I am skipping over an important part of this novel. It’s all in the title – I’ve explained the importance of “love” to the plot; however, I have not delved into the other key word, “cholera”. Cholera is of course an integral part of this book. It refers not only to the disease which plagues so many of the population both fictional and real-world, but it also refers to the Spanish translation of the word. Còlera can denote passion or human rage, and is referring to, in this case, lovesickness. Marquez has cleverly created a world where passionate love can make you physically sick – especially in the case of his two main characters.
There are so many more aspects of this book which clearly are why it is classified as a modern classic – the beauty of ageing, the impact of landscape, seduction, social progress, femininity and gender constructs. I was so pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed this one and can see why it has been named as one of the books to read in one’s lifetime!