Love in the Time of Cholera
There are several reasons why it was hard for me to get into this book. I think I would have understood it better if I had had more time and energy to analyze the complex motifs, and if I had not been so preoccupied with other thoughts (this week was especially stressful for me, for various reasons). I definitely understand why it won Márquez a Nobel Prize; his challenges to society’s perceptions of love are quite astute. However, it was hard for me to really identify with most of the characters, which made it difficult for me to enjoy the story, even as I appreciated his skill at story-telling and social critique.
Márquez does an excellent job of complicating different misconceptions of love. These range from perfect love, as in Fermina’s marriage to Dr. Juvenal Urbino, to depraved love, as in Ariza’s sexual relationship with his fourteen year old charge, América Vicuña. The love between Fermina and Dr. Urbino is perceived by society as perfect, but it is actually marred by infidelity and stubborn pride, so that neither of them know how to compromise or resolve an argument. In fact, Fermina continues to berate her husband for his betrayal even after he dies. Meanwhile, Ariza is plagued not by his incestuous relationship with América but by the fear that society, and especially Fermina, might discover their love. And when Ariza ends their affair, he does not suspect that América would become so depressed that she kills herself, rather he is only thinking about his pursuit of Fermina. While Ariza is depraved for beginning the relationship with this young woman in the first place, he is selfish for ending the relationship so abruptly without considering her feelings.
There are times when I want characters to do something that defies the story that the author is trying to tell, and this is definitely one of those times. I loathe Ariza, and I wanted him to be out of the picture entirely, but instead he stuck around, pining pitifully for Fermina, even when she eventually married and made her own life without him. Fermina and Ariza eventually become lovers in their seventies after her husband dies. I think I understand why she chooses him (nostalgia, compassion, loneliness) but she could do better, and it bothers me that they end up together. Márquez seems to be saying that finding new love in one’s “golden years” should not be so reviled as it is by society. If you, dear reader, have any idea what else he is suggesting with this ending, please let me know. Wikipedia has not yet sated my desire to understand this book.
According to the Wikipedia page on Love in the Time of Cholera, the title has double meanings. The story does take place during a severe cholera epidemic in Colombia and other parts of the Caribbean. However, the term for cholera in Spanish, cólera, can also mean hatred or ire, which refers both to Ariza’s anger with Fermina’s marriage and the civil wars and societal upheaval that provide the setting for this story.
I’ve read three books for this blog so far from Latin America, admittedly a very small sample, but nevertheless I’m intrigued that I picked three stories focused on themes of romantic love, set amid turbulent times of bloody conflict. This post is my homage to the father of magical realism, and I intend to read many more stories that follow a similar style.
P.S. I’ve been trying to update every Wednesday, but this post has been a little late. I appreciate your patience, dear reader. I will try to get another one up next Wednesday about The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho.