Book reviews


Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez left me feeling enormously conflicted.

I loved the author’s ornate, over the top, descriptive, and emotive writing style, which was perfectly suited to this story of love and romance in the Caribbean, although the style wouldn’t work for an Australian author. Some laconic bloke would say, “Putting on the dog,” and the writer would be condemned to the shelves for women’s fiction forever.

The plot of Love in the Time of Cholera is straightforward; boy meets girl, boy loses girl, will the boy ever win the girl’s heart again?

The story is set around the turn of the century and follows three main characters, the beautiful Fermina Daza, her first love, Florentino Ariza, who by the end of the story has loved her for nearly 60 years, and Fermina’s husband, Dr Juvenal Urbino.

Love in the Time of Cholera starts with the main characters in their old age. Fermina is in her seventies and her husband in his eighties when he dies, falling off a ladder while attempting to rescue his pet parrot from the high branches of a mango tree. Florentino uses the opportunity to go to Fermina’s home to assist her with the immediate necessities after a death in the house, and finishes the day by telling Fermina that he still loves her. Hopeless timing, but poor old Florentino couldn’t help himself.

Fermina and Florentino met in their youth, when Florentino fell in love with Fermina at first sight. He wooed her with love letters, which they exchanged frantically. Like most teenagers even now they were both in love with love, rather than with each other, as they rarely met or spoke to each other, but when Fermina’s father found out about the romance, he took Fermina away for several years to break the young couple up. They continued to exchange telegrams while she was away, but when Fermina returned to her home town and they met again, she fell out of love with Florentino, just like that.

Enter Doctor Juvenal Urbino, who first met Fermina when she was his patient. Fermina initially disliked him enormously, but eventually gave in to her father’s wishes and married him.

I loved the first part of the story, which was the sweet, innocent romance of teenagers, but the second half was a different story again, because the characters discovered sex. The remainder of the story tells of Fermina’s, the Doctor’s and Florentino’s romantic and sexual encounters, starting with the married couple on their honeymoon in Europe.

Despite swearing eternal love for Fermina, Florentino became the most promiscuous man around town. He particularly enjoyed spending time with widows, but he really wasn’t very picky. Not only that, his morals! In his old age Florentino was messing around with a very young teenager, who was his god-daughter to boot! And Florentino had the audacity to believe that this child was loving their time together as much as he was, or so the author said…

Surprisingly, Florentino didn’t die of a nasty STD.

Doctor Juvenal Urbino had his share of adventures too. He wasn’t a faithful husband, and hurt Fermina’s pride enormously when she literally sniffed out that he was having an affair. A large portion of the second half of the novel tells of the ups and downs of their married life, and how they eventually came to be dependent on each other in the way that people who have spent a lifetime together are.

Up until the point where Fermina and the Doctor married, reading this novel was making me feel happier than I’ve been in years. I don’t buy many books, but had decided that Love in the Time of Cholera was going to make it onto my shelves. I was seductively lured into the sex scenes on Fermina and the Doctor’s honeymoon and enjoyed them too. Nothing too descriptive, although by the time Florentino gave in to lust, a few practices made me raise my eyebrows (while laughing, because the writing is beautiful and funny). But then, bam! All of a sudden I’m reading about a woman who was raped, who says she will never have another lover who can measure up to her rapist. What? Then bam, again! Florentino and his very, very young god-daughter. Maybe things were different on this unnamed island in the Caribbean over 100 years ago, but I’m a product of a different age and found these affairs really distasteful. I don’t know if they were supposed to be funny, or tongue in cheek, and if they were, I’ve missed the whole point. If not, well, the ego of this writer is ridiculous, if he honestly thinks this is how things work.

My conflict about this story was the depravity of some characters versus the beautiful writing.

I felt uncomfortable and sordid while I was reading Lolita, which is the story of an older man’s affair with his step-daughter. I don’t feel sordid after finishing Love in the Time of Cholera though, despite the behaviours which are completely unacceptable in any day and age.

What I liked was that the characters live their lives fully. I like that in Love in the Time of Cholera love is for old people as well as for young. I adored the order of the words and the fullness of the sentences and how the detailed paragraphs and descriptive chapters built up to make the story live.

Say this sentence aloud; “But when it was indispensable she would, with sorrow in her heart, give free rein to a character of solid iron.”

Or, when someone intruded on a couple enjoying a private moment, the intruder congratulated the man, then said, “And you, Senorita, feel free to carry on. I swear by my honor that I have not seen your face.” Gorgeous.

The characters acknowledge truths which most of us try to ignore for the sake of a happy life, including the boredom of a stable marriage, the ridiculousness of falling in love with love and the indignities of growing older.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez won the Nobel Prize for Literature, so clearly I’m not the only person who thinks he wrote some on the most beautiful things ever written. Despite my misgivings about the character’s behaviour, I probably will buy this book and will read everything else that I can get my hands on by this author.









Comments on: "Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez" (4)

  1. I adored this book when I read it. I vividly remember feeling floored by the beauty and lavishness of the language – lost for words in fact!

    (Picture the following: I am sitting in an old wing chair across from my at-the-time newish partner. We’re having a few days away at this beautiful old cottage. Here we sit, either side of the open fire, both reading. Idyllic. I am entranced by both the situation, and the early pages of ‘Cholera’. Dear partner then decides to ‘share’ his book with me and reads out long passages – from one of Spike Milligan’s satirical war memoirs’! Surreal!)

    But I digress. I have consistently claimed this as one of my all-time favourite books – and here’s the thing: I hadn’t remembered any of the less savoury episodes in the story. As I read your excellent review, I found myself wondering if it was the same book. Now – having thought for a while – I can recall more of the story, just as you describe it of course.

    So, I’m floored again by this book: astonished that I filtered it so successfully and chose to remember only the glorious language and the sweet romance of the on-off romance between Fermina and Florentino. Part of me thinks I should read it again, the stronger part thinks it better to keep my filtered impressions intact!

    I did try to read One Hundred Years of Solitude but I just couldn’t get into it. I’ll try again one day. I shall follow your explorations of his work with interest!

    • Hi Sandra, you have described the language in the words I wish I could have found. ‘Lavish’ is exactly right. I hope in years to come it is the beauty of the language that I remember and not the behaviour that enraged me. I’m slightly prudish, so this affects my reading sometimes, but the two examples I used in the review really, really bothered me.
      I’ll wait for a while before reading anything else by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, what a shame One Hundred Years of Solitude didn’t live up to your hopes for it. Maybe Love in the Time of Cholera is a hard act to follow!
      Your story of reading the book with interruptions amused me too. I have a husband who watches television (he doesn’t read fiction at all) and he is always pulling me out of the most amazing stories to tell me something that he has just watched on tv, usually to do with hot rods! Sigh. Luckily he is a lovely fellow otherwise 🙂

  2. Fabulous review – I can’t decide whether you’ve talked me into this one or out of it, to be honest. The subject matter would drive me up the wall, but I can tolerate a lot for beautiful language…

    Hahahaha! “Surprisingly, Florentino didn’t die of a nasty STD.” You actually made me choke on a mouthful of coffee with that line… 😉

    • A few weeks after finishing the book I’m still torn. The language is more beautiful than anything I’ve ever read before, I think. Somebody else commented that they filtered out the sordid parts and years later didn’t remember them at all, but still remembered the language. I quite like romance so wasn’t put off at all, but expect you have far less tolerance for the soppy bits. I would love to know what you think of this story if you ever get to it.

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