Saturday, March 15, 2008

Review: Love in the Time of Cholera

Written by Gabriel García Márquez
Translated from the Spanish by Edith
Grossman
Published by Random House/Vintage Books, 2003, 348 pp.

Originally published in Colombia, 1985

Winter Reading Challenge 2008

Life would have been quite another matter for them both if they had learned in time that it was easier to avoid great matrimonial catastrophes than trivial everyday miseries. But if they had learned anything together, it was that wisdom comes to us when it can no longer do any good. [p. 26]

Gabriel García Márquez's Love in the Time of Cholera is one of the most popular and celebrated novels of the last half of the last century. It's been reviewed and reviewed, and summarized and analyzed to pieces – especially since Oprah Winfrey discovered it and added it to her book club choices.

The basic plot is really fairly simple. A unprepossessing young man (Florentino Ariza) falls deeply in love with an attractive schoolgirl (Fermina Daza), several years younger than he is. Knowing her father will disapprove, Florentino contacts Fermina by sending her a love letter and they manage to conduct a sort of secret love affair by correspondence, meeting very briefly only once or twice. This epistolary relationship lasts for several years until Fermina, now a young woman, decides she doesn't really love the young man and puts an end to it. She marries a well-to-do doctor (Juvenal Urbino) and they have a good life together until the doctor dies many years later. Florentino has many love affairs after he is rejected by Fermina. After her husband dies, Fermina is reunited with Florentino who has maintained his love for her over all the years.

Of course, that's a very bare bones description. The novel as a whole is much more complicated and rich with lush detail (in fact, lush is a good one-word description of the novel's style). The writing is very beautiful – mesmerizing, in fact; and the characters seem very human and multi-faceted. The story wanders back and forth in time and place, and follows many different points of view at different times. The themes of love as a sickness or plague (like the cholera of the title), aging and death are woven throughout the novel's twists and turns. Much of the story is very sad.

This was the last of the books on my list for the Winter Reading Challenge; and I must admit that, while I recognize that it's a beautiful book, I'm not sure I would have finished it without that Challenge connection. Since I read for pleasure, I usually don't stick with books that make me work too hard to get through them. After reading the last page, I was glad I stuck with it, but getting to that last page was a struggle sometimes.

And for that reason, I think the challenge has been a huge success for me. It's kept me reading and inspired me to branch out into subject matter I wouldn't ordinarily have chosen. I want to thank Karlene for hosting and all the other challenge members for taking part – I've really enjoyed reading all the wonderful reviews and I've picked up quite a few titles that I want to check out for my future reading lists.

Addendum (Sunday, 16 March): One thing I forgot to include in the above – my favorite character in the book was the parrot. Wish he hadn't disappeared so early in the story.

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