By Gurjeet Singh
My sole reason for choosing this novel Love in the Time of Cholera is the Colombian Nobel prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his other text One Hundred Years of Solitude. I was fascinated by the style of the book and the storytelling prowess of Marquez. Consequently, I decided to devour it, and what could be a more propitious time than the pandemic COVID-19 for reading a book that features Cholera in its title?
The novel was initially published in the Spanish language in 1985 and later translated into English in 1988. It is set in Northern Colombia (1875-1924). The story unfolds at Dr. Juvenal Urbino’s return after analyzing the body of his friend and chess co-player Jeremiah de Saint-Amour. He tries to put his pet parrot in a cage and dies after falling from the ladder. Following his death, Florentino Ariza goes to his house and informs his wife Fermina that he has waited for her and has remained chaste. She finds this action highly insensitive and asks him to leave and never return.
Florentino did not stop at that, and he sent her a letter expressing his ideas about life, which solaced her. Through the omniscient narration, readers are informed that Florentino had numerous affairs and rumors of homosexuality, but he desperately had yearned for Fermina’s love. At that moment, we are thrown back to flashbacks about their youthful years when Florentino Ariza used to deliver telegrams. He pursued Fermina, who was inevitably accompanied by her aunt at the time. Initially, she refuses to accept letters from him, but sooner or later, she takes them. When she doesn’t reply to him soon, he falls sick and receives a favorable reply after a long wait. For the next two years, they only saw each other from a distance and continued to write to each other. Florentino proposes her for marriage, and she agrees, but they are soon caught by Fermina’s aunt and sent away from Florentino. At this place, we come to see the control of Fermina’s father in her life and how he took all her essential decisions for her. We equally see descriptions of civil war and Cholera. Civil wars comprise an integral part of Latin American history, and it is an essential aspect of the book One Hundred Years of Solitude as well.
Florentino waits for her, but when Fermina sees him again, her mind changes, and she thinks of their affair as a soft play. So she asks him to forget her. This rejection makes Florentino feel utterly miserable, but yet he could not stop loving her. As the story advances, Fermana falls ill too and fears that she might have Cholera. Dr. Juvenal Urbino takes a look at her and reveals that she does not have Cholera. Starting here, Dr. Urbino is captivated by her beauty and begins pursuing her. After the initial presentation of anger and refusal, she ultimately allows him to talk to her father for marriage. They both get married and go on their honeymoon.
Meanwhile, Florentino is sent far away so that he can forget her but decides to return. He had few sexual encounters with women and started to use this Cholera of sex to get temporary relief for his pain. The description of war again takes place. Even though he has sexual affairs, he, however, wants Fermina and decides to wait for her husband’s death. In Fermina’s side of the story, she becomes pregnant and gives birth, and it is highlighted that even though their marriage is stable, it is far from perfect, and they lack love in their relationship. Life goes on like that. Florentino is an illegitimate child, He is provided a job by his uncle in his company, and after his retirement, Florentino becomes president of the company. He continues to enjoy his affairs during that time, but since he decided not to marry, it gives rise to the rumor of him being homosexual. Dr. Juvenal Urbino also had a brief affair, but he is confronted and decides to mend his ways. It demonstrates problems in their marriage.
After Dr. Juvenal Urbino’s death, Florentino Ariza goes to his house and tells his wife Fermina that he has waited for her, and we are brought back to the present. He starts visiting her, despite objections due to their age. Gradually they grow closer. He asks her to join him for a sea journey, and they consummate their love for the first time when the ship is about to return Florentino Ariza, being president of the company, orders the captain to raise a cholera flag on the boat so that no port will accept them and their journey of love will continue.
The book is fascinating just like One Hundred Years of Solitude, and the most beautiful part about this, in my opinion, is that it sees love in context long term. While love might feel passionate and intense during youth, very few works portray it as just one part of a broader picture of life. In a way, it suggests that no matter how life goes on, eventually, love is what we make it. Love was different for both Florentino and Fermina, and they both lived a long time without each other. In a way, the novel has a diverse and realistic approach to meditation on love. Apart from this, it makes us think about aging and inevitable death. It reveals to us the value of seemingly simple things that add to happiness. It equally informs us that we have only one life, and hence it is never too late to do what we want to do. Florentino sacrifices all his money and company for Fermina, and she sheds tears of the judging society to do what she wants to do in her life. Control of men in Fermina’s life also raises questions about patriarchy in the community. The novel conveys some ordinary aspects of life and forces us to rethink them in a modern light by adding aging and death to the forefront.
The language of this book feels very poetic in itself. Despite being narrated from a third-person narration, the pain of love and other emotions are portrayed wonderfully. Sentences are lengthy with several commas in each sentence, just like One Hundred Years of Solitude. These poetic essences touch the narration, and descriptions are incredibly vivid.
Just like One Hundred Years of Solitude, the book has frequent jumps in timeline. The book begins with the present but has references to the past, and then most incidents from the past form the majority of the novel. And this difference in time is not a small duration but more than fifty years. The description of war, flowers, birds, and water touches our senses and creates a fictional yet very realistic image of the District of Viceroys, which is designed as a port in the tropical Caribbean.
Characters and the plot is built gradually, and we become more invested as the story progresses. The in-depth details soothe us in visualizing the story and getting into that world.
It is challenging to deny that the book is worth the praise that it gains. Little more details about Cholera and its effect should have made the book more relatable to the present Corona situation. Yet the book in itself is lovely and fascinating. It is a gripping and unique story that compels us to think about love uniquely from most literary works. It is amazingly realistic to delineate that the idea of love is usually up to marriage with, and they lived happily ever after. This sentence does not do full justice as life is very complex, both with or without love, and it is these experiences often ignored but need to be expressed.