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Book Review: Love in the Time of Cholera

by Suleman

The novel “Love in the Time of Cholera” by García Márquez, one of the greatest South American writers of his times, is written in such a style that people are tempted to read and treat it as a sentimental romantic story. Here the author shows that patience and devotion are rewarded, love prevails over time and death and has a happy ending. This misleading narrative of the author manipulates the reader into believing that the delayed union of Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza, is an example of the victory of an individual over the prejudices of society. This story is one of the most remarkable pieces of literature, that portrays the theme of unrequited love, described by Thomas Pynchon describes as “one of those few rare it works, and can also bring our exhausted souls back to us.

This superficial melodramatic plot is a disguise for a satiric examination of elements of love, ageing and disease. The novelist also explores the issue of suicide and gerent phobia. The process of aging, death and decay forms an important theme in the novel. In a style typical of García Márquez there is a circular pattern to aging and the author on many occasions observes the reversal of roles of parents and children.

Book Review: Love in the Time of Cholera

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The novelist keenly observes the process of aging and brings about the details of its encroachment. The suicide of Jeremiah de Saint-Amour was a result of his fear of old age. He planned to die at the age of sixty because he was not sure that he would be a productive human being at that age. This feeling of being unproductive prompted him to plan his suicide years ago. The death of Jeremiah Saint-Amour causes Urbino to focus on his passing. He dwells especially on the infirmities that accompany it. On reading the novel, one realizes that the fears of old age were shared by many in his society. Ofelia, Fermina Daza’s daughter does not approve of her mother’s relationship with a man because of her age. She finds the idea of love in the old as ridiculous and revolting

Another instance of suicide in the novel is that which is committed by América Vicuñia, the fourteen-year-old ward of Florentino. She was a blood relative of Florentino who came under his care as a little girl with “the scrapes of an elementary school on her knees.” He spends a year cultivating her by spending childish afternoons with her and giving her ice-creams. He seduces her and wins her confidence. When Florentino is on the riverboat with Fermina Daza, the heartbroken América Vicuñia commits suicide.

Love in Cholera Time, tells Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza ‘s story, their lifelong love and their eventual wedding at a very late stage of life. Fermina loved Florentino and their teenaged love was sustained and nurtured by letters they wrote to each other. After a long period of time, she found her love and discovered that her love was a ‘fiction.’ Rejecting him she marries the well placed and respected Dr Juvenal Urbino. Florentino has many romantic liaisons all through his life, till he resumes his courtship with Fermina after the death of her husband.

From one point of view, the marriage of Urbino and Fermina is merely a fifty-year interruption of Florentino’s courtship. Yet it also proves to be the route to the final romance, since both characters develop significantly from their experiences during this period. It is the marriage that gives Fermina her realistic appreciation of romance.  Passion and feelings are given precedence over honour, authority, duty and order. Lives are controlled at times by love and at other times by sexual desires. These emotions play havoc in the lives of the protagonists who are burnt up as if they were suffering from the physical malady of cholera.

His fear of old age caused Jeremiah de Saint-Amour’s suicide. Some are consumed by it, some extinguished and yet others like Florentino linger in a state of perpetual convalescence. Life and love in this work of García Márquez are portrayed as turbulent, like a river surging and overflowing their bounds.  In this novel love is equated to a literal illness, the disease cholera.

At one point Ariza suffers due to love as he would suffer in case of a physical illness. He vomits after eating flowers which he ate in order to imbibe the scent of Fermina. The term ‘cholera’ denotes human rage and ire. The Spanish word ‘cholera’ has the same meaning as the English adjective ‘choleric.’ It is this feeling that Ariza experiences towards the marriage of Urbino and Fermina.

The novel portrays love as a tension between material reality and illusion. When Florentino and Fermina Daza are together in their old age we are told that love “was more solid, the closer it came to death” (p. 345). The method of the novel is exemplified by this statement. The author does not say what love is, instead articulates the relationship between love and something else. We are given different perspectives of love but no definitions and this circling around gives it the quality of capturing the ineffable.

The three central characters of the novel embody love in different ways, in the context of its representation, understanding and experience. In Florentino, we see that love is the stuff of dreams whose fullest expression is found through the medium of art, here in writing. It stands against the everyday reality of life and rational understanding. He is filled with the notion of love derived from popular literature.

Dr.Urbino, on the other hand, has strong beliefs in the power of the rational mind and hence he is grounded in reality. When he consummates his marriage, he admits that he does not love Fermina, but he was sure there would be no obstacle to their inventing true love” (p. 159). He thinks of love as an act of will which can be brought into existence and not something unruly and passionate. His marriage to Fermina is a lifelong effort to prove that marriage was “an absurd invention” (p. 209), which ought to be replaced by something more logical.

Fermina is between the two extremes of the male protagonists. She learns and grows from her marriage. She feels miserable when her husband emphasizes the need for stability in marriage and gives no precedence to love. Later, after his death, she thinks of his views of marriage and love as “the lodestone that had given them both so many happy hours” (p. 300). She was not sure whether what she felt for her husband was love. She does not arrive at a fixed definition of love and this shows the elusive nature of love.

‘Love in the Time of Cholera,’ is a testament on love and marriage, where the all-consuming nature of love is comparable to cholera, the disease which ran rampant in South America and it can seize upon a person “anytime and anyplace.” The conjunction of two improbable notions, where love is a feeling but cholera is a manifest condition, and their union, brings out the malaise that love may induce in an individual.

Claudette Kemper Columbus treats the title as indicative of the times in which we live, where the fabric of society has been eaten up by the “social irresponsibility” evident all around. Jeremiah de Saint-Amour’s suicide may be interpreted not so much as the fear of old age, but as the dread of loneliness which lingers in the mind of the old and infirm.

The attitude of society towards old people is unchanging and unrelenting in its censure of their behaviour and unmindful of their need for companionship. The strong disapproval to love after a certain age is made clear by Fermina Daza’s daughter, Ofelia, who says that at her mother’s age a “strange friendship” is most ‘revolting”. Fermina’s son, Dr. Urbino Daza is slightly more sympathetic towards her friendship with Florentino since it provides her with “good companionship”, but his general outlook towards old people is summed up, when he says that, old people are slowing down progress due to the burden they impose upon society.

The theme of love which runs through the novel is shown in its numerous manifestations through the characters that people this narrative. Florentino’s love for Fermina Daza is an extension of “the books he had learned by heart” Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 2007) and though he pines for her, his image as a Lothario is reinforced by the six hundred and twenty-two long-term affairs he has had.

In this context, Angela Carter’s remark that the story “seems to deal more with libido and self-deceit than with desire and mortality” rings almost true. His affairs are advocacy for free love but sometimes they lead to unfortunate consequences, as in the death of Olympia Zuleta by her enraged husband, when he sees the inscription made by Florentino on her belly. (Jeffrey M. Lilburn, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, 1997) The love shown in this novel is based more on delusion and deceit and has its bearings in mythology. ( Michael Wood, New York Review of Books)

Gabriel Garcia Marquez treats love in its multiple hues, but with an over-riding concern of old fashioned love, where, lovers felt most vindicated when their love was spurned. This romanticized idea of love is seen at its zenith in the love that Florentino Ariza shows towards Fermina Daza. His love is seen in his relentless pursuit of her, a courtship that spanned 51 years, 9 months and 4 days. Marquez’s exact calculation of the number of days highlights the obsessive nature of Florentino’s passion, which is also brought into focus when he pursues her in spite of their advanced years.

Their love is fuelled by the letters they write to each other since this was the only way they communicated. Their love affair begins with the letter, in which Florentino, in his youth promised her ”his perfect fidelity and his everlasting love” and all these devices hark back to those days when love was the unattainable ideal of a man’s longings. Commenting on the novel “Love in the times of cholera” Thomas Pynchon says “that can even return our worn souls to us.” (Thomas Pynchon, New York Times Book Review, Oprah Book Club Series)

Marquez has, in this work treated love as seen through the eyes of a teenager, the love which grows through companionship, the love born of shared grief and loss and ultimately the love that takes hold of the body like a disease and refuses to leave the host body. ”I think that a novel about love is as valid as any other,” he once supposed to have remarked in a conversation with his friend, the journalist Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza (published as ”El Olor de la Guayaba,” 1982, New York Times)

His depiction of love to cholera that is a devastating disease is a very unusual idea, but nevertheless successfully making comparisons and contrasts which makes for interesting reading. Though funny in places, it was capable of pulling at the reader’s heartstrings and forces them to view love from different angles.

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