Author: Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Original/Alternate Title: El Amor en los Tiempos del Cólera
Original Language: Spanish
Translator: Alfred A. Knopf
Winner: Nobel Prize for Literature, 1982 (The writer is a Nobel prize-winning author, but not for this particular novel)
Original Publication: 1985
#236 on “1,001 Books to Read Before You Die”
The story takes place in the sultry Caribbean, where well-to-do young Fermina Daza is being wooed by Florentino Ariza, a somewhat less well-to-do (if passionate) young man. She dismisses his infatuation as frivolous and marries Dr. Juvenal Urbino, a kind man who can provide her with security and the kind of “serious” life she feels is appropriate for a woman of her station. Crushed, Florentino vows never to marry another woman as long as he lives, and keeps an eye on Fermina Daza’s life from afar. (He does have sexual relations with other women, mostly prostitutes, but he will never love anyone but Fermina.) Dr. Urbino is an orderly, progressive man who is dedicated to eradicating Cholera from the area.
The narrative is a novel-length seduction, with Dr. Urbino providing the polar opposite of Florentino’s romantic character. Florentino is painted as a dreamer and unrealistic, even gullible. Fermina Daza seems very happy in her marriage with Dr. Urbino, but the reality of the situation is not what it seems (while she is not unhappy, he reveals that he has had at least one affair, and she misses the bald romanticism of Florentino’s pursuit of her.) The author does not compare it as such, but it is indicated against the backdrop of fighting Cholera that love, and lovesickness, is as much of a disease as any other. Dr. Urbino eventually passes away and Florentino, having waited sixty-odd years to be near Fermina Daza, re-enters the picture. In their old age, they are able to tentatively explore the romance that she denied them in their youth.
I enjoyed this book, although I found it easy to put down and a bit of a slow read, due to the complex and flowery language used. The novel I read was a translation from the original Spanish, and the words used are not written conversationally, so I found myself having to “translate” in my head and as a result, was not able to read as fast as I ordinarily do. I suspect that this could have been a tool used by the author to force the reader to thoroughly absorb every word of the story. I particularly liked that, unlike most unrequited love stories, the spurned lover did not paint Fermina Daza’s husband as a bad man or undeserving of her love, but as a good, regular guy.
Fun Fact: While the city remains unnamed throughout the novel, descriptions of it lead one to the conclusion that it must be Cartagena, in Bolívar, Colombia, where García Márquez spent his early years. The city is divided into such sections as “The District of the Viceroys” and “The Arcade of the Scribes.” The novel encompasses the half century roughly between 1880 and 1930.
Bother if: It’s a beautiful, poetic story about, some say, the enduring power of true love. It has also been argued that while on the surface, the novel regards Florentino’s devotion to Fermina Daza as true love, the novel is actually about love as a sickness – that true love does not exist but is essentially an affliction. Either way, the story is powerfully done and the imagery is stunning. I choose to believe that the story was about true love, and I may have teared up a little towards the end when the little old couple is standing on a boat, and they silently reach for one another’s hands, and it is the first time they have touched since they were young.
Don’t Bother if: The translation isn’t the most accessible one I’ve ever come across. This is a little dry in places, and by no means a quick and easy read. Perhaps the Spanish original is a little more smooth. Also, Florentino is painted as a romantic, but he stalks Fermina Daza, sleeps with prostitutes, and rides the line between adoration and obsession. I liked it well enough, but unless you are given to seeing the beauty in the words themselves and losing yourself in the description, I can see where some people might think that the story was a little boring or dry.