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.