• Love in the Time of Cholera (El amor en los tiempos del cólera)

    The 1st U.S. Edition of Love in the Time of Cholera (1988) by Gabriel García Márquez

  • Author:  Gabriel García Márquez  (b. 1927)
  • Rank:  97
  • Published:  1985  /  1988 (English translation)
  • Publisher:  Editorial Oveja Negra  (Colombia) / Alfred A. Knopf  (U.S.)
  • Pages:  348  (U.S. 1st Edition)
  • First Line:  “It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.”
  • Last Lines:  ” ‘And how long do you think we can keep up this goddamn coming and going?’ he asked.  Florentino Ariza had kept his answer ready for fifty-three years, seven months, and eleven days and nights.  ‘Forever,’ he said.”
  • ML Edition:  none
  • Film:  2007 – **.5  (dir. Michael Newell)
  • Read:  Spring, 2000

The Novel: Almost certainly the second most well known novel by the master of magical realism, this is the only novel on my list written entirely after the author received the Nobel Prize (The Hamlet, the first part of Snopes, was written a decade before Faulkner won).  In fact, as it was the follow up novel to winning the prize, it might be the most successful evidence of the worthiness of the prize.  It takes the magical realism that he had honed in One Hundred Years of Solitude and Chronicle of a Death Foretold and focused on a love story, albiet one that does not end up coming to fruition until both people are in their seventies.

It is not what you would expect from the early pages of the book.  From the first paragraph, we are introduced to Dr. Juvenal Urbino, a successful elderly doctor called to pronounce a body.  It is he who is reminded of unrequited love in the first line of the novel and he is the one whose story we begin to follow through the first 40 pages.  Then come the first of the fateful lines (of course they’re fateful, every line in García Márquez’s novels seem to carry the weight of fate, a kind of naturalism that inhabits the magical realism that García Márquez established and Isabel Allende inherited) that change the course of the book: “He was awakened by sadness.  Not the sadness he felt that morning when he stood before the corpse of his friend, but the invisible cloud that would saturate his soul after his siesta and which he interpreted as divine notification that he was living his final afternoons.”  For while Dr. Urbino has had some fifty years with the love of his life, his beautiful wife, Fermina, his time is at an end.  He climbs up to get his parrot, which has escaped again: “Dr. Urbino caught the parrot around the neck with a triumphant sigh: ça y est.  But he released him immediately because the ladder slipped from under his feet and for an instant he was suspended in air and then he realized that he had died without Communion, without time to repent of anything or to say goodbye to anyone, at seven minutes after four on Pentecost Sunday.”

Suddenly, we have changed stories.  For at the conclusion of the doctor’s funeral, Florentino Ariza steps forward to the widow and declares “I have waited for this opportunity for more than half a century, to repeat to you once again my vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love.”  She banishes him from the house, wishing to never see him again and for his remaining days to be short.  But then, in her sleep, covered in tears, she thinks more of Florentino than her dearly departed husband.  And now we have entered the real story.  And this is a magical story in a city that lives beyond the reach of time.  At one point we can almost establish the year as 1930, but it’s a pointless venture to even attempt such things in the world of García Márquez.  All we know is that in the course of this story, fifty years will flow by, or, more specifically, fifty years, nine months and four days.  For this is the amount of time that will pass between the early love affair of Florentino and Fermina Daza, struck by love in youth, pushed apart by parents, kept apart by circumstances.  And though we learn the story of how Fermina comes to marry the handsome, well-to-do doctor, it is on Florentino that our attention is drawn, how he passes the time during the years, his sexual journey, his physical labors, all part of his life that only has only singular goal.  “He did not even stop to think about the obstacle of her being married, because at the same time he decided, as if it depended on himself alone, that Dr. Juvenal Urbino had to die.  He did not know when or how, but he considered it an ineluctable event that he was resolved to wait for without impatience or violence, even till the end of time.”

Of course, he will not have to wait until the end of time, though with García Márquez it would not be surprising.  But he does wait those fifty years, and for us some 200 pages.  But then, after the funeral, on page 279, we finally come back to the point we left some 228 pages before.  We know the story now, we can see how much these two have loved each other and nothing will surprise us of what comes next.  For what comes next, is surely, love, even in the golden years, for such things do find us.  There will be no one hundred years of solitude for Florentino and Fermina.  For a love that can survive in a time of cholera is a love that in the end will shine over us all.