Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

“He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”

– Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “Love in the Time of Cholera”

Review:

Giving this book a star rating seems counterintuitive and somewhat disingenuous. I was speaking to a friend about this book and when he asked if I liked it, I found myself saying that this wasn’t a book to be enjoyed, but rather a book to be felt. Whether or not I liked it didn’t seem relevant.

And as I am aging I think I am beginning to get to the point where I can feel this book. I wouldn’t have gotten much out of it a decade ago. I feel I would probably get more from it two decades from now.

At times the pacing of this book is so languid that I found my attention wandering away from me. At other times I was completely invested. The character of Dr. Urbino arrested me completely. The way that he both accepts and pushes away the truth of his own aging is by turns admirable, foolish, and discomforting, knowing that most of us will experience similar cruelties. Fermina as a young and unhappy bride interested me. Once she became a widow, I found her grief compelling. In between those times, I did not find her interesting. I did not enjoy Florentino Ariza as a character at all, not even as a young man.

This book has been misconstrued as a love story. It is not a love story, at least not in the traditional romantic sense. It is a story about how much we love what we love: stability, youth, identity, societal status, sex, even the idea of love. Florentino is not the great hero in love for decades. He barely knew Fermina Daza when he became enamored with her. Fermina realizes over the course of her life, after she leaves Florentino for Dr. Urbino, whom she did not love, that she didn’t truly love Florentino either. First love is often obsessed in its longing. Is it truly love? Does the way in which we love change as we grow?

Either way, I think that Florentino never loved anything except for conquest. With his 622 affairs and ever-present “love” for Fermina, despite her rejections, Florentino is in love only with the idea of conquest. As he ages, his addiction to sex becomes more and more perverse, as he takes his pleasure with a fourteen-year-old child under his guardianship. He becomes so disgusting to me, and many modern readers, that we cannot root for him or for his success.

And that is where I think it is not necessary to enjoy the character or even the book. I don’t have to enjoy the book to feel its message. The way we suffer for love, the way we make it into plagues on our souls, says more about us than it ever could about love.

“He was still too young to know that the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.”

– Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “Love in the Time of Cholera”

Pros:

  • Characterizations are very detailed. Each of the main characters feels completely realized.
  • The character names are clues to both the soul of the person with that name as well as the tropes or character flaws they embody. (Fermina – the object of Florentino’s addiction and obsession, a reference to alcohol) (Juvenal Urbino – in love with the juvenile past of the city, antiquated in his thinking) etc.

Cons:

  • The book was, at some points, longer than it needed to be.
  • By the end I was no longer as invested as I hoped to be in the story itself. I felt like the message was achieved far before the end.
  • Florentino’s relationship with a fourteen-year-old child in his care who is still very much a child is abhorrent.

Rating:

  • ⭐⭐⭐

“Humanity, like armies in the field, advances at the speed of the slowest.”

– Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “Love in the Time of Cholera”

Recommended For:

  • Fans of Latin American literature, including “One Hundred Years of Solitude”
  • those looking for a languid story of how we both change and resist change as we age
  • those looking for a story to puzzle through as you read that isn’t a mystery

Books to Read if You Loved Love in the Time of Cholera:

Let’s Discuss! (Pick a question and drop a comment with your reply!)

  • Is it possible to love more than one person at a time and not betray any of them?
  • Juvenal Urbino is portrayed as a wise, intelligent and urbane man in the book, and yet his treatment by Garcia Marquez is not completely flattering. There seems to be an underlying message that he is “missing something” in his character. Can someone’s character be lacking and still be upstanding?
  • Can we find something abhorrent and still learn from it?

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