Love In the time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Love in the time of Cholera did not impress me. It is, of course, a translation. Thus, I do not know how much of its original essence was lost. But surely, the story would be the same, which, I found quite uninspiring, even boring and inane at times. There is very little dialog in the nearly three hundred fifty pages of leisurely story telling, which adds to the misery. There is nothing in the main character, Florentino Ariza, that I find worthwhile. If remaining a promiscuous libertine while pining away for one’s unrequited love could be symbolized as a great sacrifice on the alter of love, I certainly am not one to bow to it.

There seems to be a deep confusion about love, which is somehow deeply, intricately intertwined with sex and easily, mistakenly substitutable. So, Florentino Ariza has no qualms in his quest to find that illusory thing, but remains true at heart, to his first love, Fermina Daza, who meanwhile has forgotten him and is enjoying life with an illustrious husband (whom she doesn’t love passionately, but is practical enough to hold on to) and children. They eventually do meet and mate in their dotage, when she is a widow and when all his teeth have fallen off (I’m not sure if I’m making this up, but you get the idea), and by which time the reader is throughly disgusted and is holding on to the book merely because it is backed by the fame of the writer.

Reading fiction is enjoyable for two things: story and characters. If the story isn’t very good, it could still be a great read if the characters are interesting and memorable. I found none of this to be true in this novel. One simply is not drawn into the work, which somehow seems to hover around the periphery of things. As an example: there are numerous descriptions of the stuff that Florentino Ariza writes (poetry and prose), both full of juvenile love sickness and sagely wisdom in old age, but none of what is actually written by him comes through to the reader. How is one to plumb the depths without the real thing? Mere descriptions are not enough.

But I must also admit my lack of knowledge on the historical perspective, the Caribbean socio economic heritage and river navigation history, which provide a significant background. So it could well be that my aversion was partly due to the absence of anything identifiable. Yet, I cannot deny the fact that a good work should be able to transcend such obstacles.

So, where do Love and Cholera combine? In the end, of course, when, to escape inquisitive minds, Florentino Ariza quarantines their pleasure boat. And it is with a sigh or relief that I put the book aside, as Florentino Ariza decides to keep navigating forever with his eternal love to escape the world. Symbolic? Of course. But I was happy to be spared the journey.

6 thoughts on “Love In the time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

  1. Prashant

    You are one hell of a critic! GGM would agree. Whatever you said is true. To a degree. If the female character is practical while holding on to her husband, what’s wrong with Florentino being promiscuous while he is pining. Infact that’s what makes the character more believable. We guys are like that! We all have heard/stories of lovers not looking at anyone else except their respective object of affection. But is that true? Is it possible? One trait that Florentino shares with all great lovers is the single minded focus on “getting her”. So in my opinion he is smart unlike other dumb guys. He got rich, had “fun”, wrote love letters for others for his own vicarious pleasure, and finally got the girl(a toothless one…so what! Man’s ego suffices).

    Yes I do consent that there is less interaction between Florentino and Fermina, but I guess the element of sacrifice, if that’s what one is looking for lies in waiting. Waiting for her to come around. Waiting to let her know that even though she doesn’t care, her ex-lover remembers the exact number of days, months and years of separation without any effort.

    The writer even says that Floretino writes business letters as if they are addressed to Ms. Daza(that’s romantic, provided one has been in love). Now I surely do not want a copy of a letter sent to shareholders as a proof that he actually wrote like that!

    All I want to say is the book’s not so bad…………love affairs of kids and oldies are the ones which most touch the core of our hearts.

    Reply
  2. mystic wanderer Post author

    I don’t have a problem with Florentino Ariza’s promiscuity. But I think the book fails to elicit the requisite empathy for him. His sufferings come to us second/third hand, and it is very difficult to be “touced” this way . Part of it has to do with the narrative, which is merely descriptive, and sort of drags on. To write an engrossing story, one has to “show” more than “tell”. This simply doesn’t happen here.

    It’s not a very bad book. But one simply not interesting to read. If you or I would have written it, it would surely vanish without a trace.

    Reply
  3. Prashant Raturi

    I do agree somewhat with what you said. If you or I had written it……….poof! You nailed it when you say that in LITTOC “telling” is more than “showing” . I found ot to be the same in One Hundred of Years of Solitude. I think that maybe Marquez’s style(or his grandma’s, since he says he is inspired from her matter of fact telling of improbable stuff). The narration is like sitting around the fire(and my grandma) during vacations/ crowded around a friend on weekends who is a good raconteur though there maybe few yawns as well. I have to read more of him to be sure. Any suggestions(Wish I knew Spanish…or French if it’s Proust)?

    Reply
  4. mystic wanderer Post author

    I think reading the original work would be a different experience, but not hugely so. Unfortunately, not everyone’s a polyglot😦
    This was my first GGM. It was such a letdown, that I’m postponing reading “One Hundred…” for a while.

    One thing I did like about the novel is its statement about our choices in life, how we make compromises with our happiness to suit the pragmatic. But do they in the end, really pay off? I think this fundamental question we all run into is very well put forth.

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  5. Meena Vathyam

    It was love killer for sure….romance has it’s place but this was a little over the hill🙂 have put GGM on the bottom of my list. And there’s a movie also made on this book starring Javier Bardem. Added u to my blogroll.

    Reply
  6. mystic wanderer Post author

    Thanks Meena.

    I am inclined to somewhat retract my earlier statement that reading the original might not be such a different experience. This, coupled with a lack of historical/social perspective, might have been my handicaps as a reader, leading to a rather dismissive, though entirely truthful (from my point of view), appraisal.

    Reply

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