Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Love in the Time of Cholera — Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Taking on what Oprah was proud to call "the greatest love story" after she announced it as her recent book club book wasn't a particularly harrowing prospect. With the movie coming out this fall, I felt it would be in my best interest to read the book before seeing the movie. Granted, I was skeptical. My appreciation for love stories is vast (and a little sick), so after reading classics like Pride & Prejudice and what I consider to be the greatest modern love story, The Time Traveler's Wife, I took on this book with a sense of, "Oh yeah? We'll see."

First off, reading Garcia Marquez's work is not an easy task. His attention to detail is staggering and, at times, unnecessary. The omniscient narration covers everything, from every physical and historical fact of each character — namely Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza (the unrequited lovers), and Fermina's husband, Juvenal Urbino — to the history of every building, every town and every random ocean liner. Luckily, it flows well. After getting through the first 50 pages, it becomes less of a challenge. How this is so, I couldn't tell you; I would make it through 30 pages and wonder HOW I could have managed it without falling asleep. It's engaging, but given the expanse of information, it's not that engaging. I just couldn't tell you.

The love story is unlike any I've read, mainly because the characters struggle with their own humanity: Florentino is painfully romantic and obsessive, almost to the point of it being frightening. Fermina is selfish and stubborn, and she doesn't deserve Florentino's adoration. And like James Joyce's Ulysses, Marquez unabashedly includes descriptions of Florentino's bodily ailments, including his need for annual enemas, his loss of teeth and hair. The characters are real, and in no way romanticized. As the years pass (over 50 of them) and the character's experience their lives without each other, you realize that this book is not about their relationship at all. On the contrary, it is about how love can endure through many other loves, and can — even in old age, approaching death — be rediscovered. Life happens, and afterwards, love is still possible.

I can't say I agree with Oprah that Love in the Time of Cholera is the greatest love story, but I can see what she is saying. Like Wuthering Heights, this story is not romantic in the traditional sense. It goes against the grain, exploring love in a world that works against it, with people who are anything but perfect. The read is not easy, but if you are a fan of great writing and great literature, and stories that really do — literally — withstand the test of time, you cannot surpass this book.



  1. i just watched the trailer...if i were a faster and more active reader i would read it first. we'll see though.

  2. Great review, Stace! I'm not sure it's a book I want to take the time to read, but your simple and clear critique was really interesting, and it makes me very excited to see the movie. :)

    great job!