100 Years of Solitude has been the top contender as my favorite book for quite some time. After having read Marquez’s masterpiece back in 2005 I quickly began devouring many of his works including both his short fictions and novels. In many of his works my hungry pursuit for more of Marquez’s tantamount and captivating style of magical realism was satisfied until I began Love in the Time of Cholera sometime in 2008. Upon my first reading I was put off by the style, which was unlike the Marquez that I had fallen in love with and out of impatience towards the slow pace of the realistic narration, my reading was stunted somewhere around page 70 as I sought out other interests. However, after three years without having read anything by Marquez I started Love in the Time of Cholera with a clean slate and my renewed reading reawakened me to the heartbreaking beauty of this subversive novel about love. This novel is unlike Marquez’s other works, but in many ways it is a more mature exploration of his narrative technique for within Love in the Time of Cholera the technique of magical realism is applied to the idea of love itself.
At face value, the story’s idea is charming: in their youth Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love and although they exchange fewer than a 100 words in person, their love is fueled by a reciprocal exchange of love letters for over 3 years. However Fermina’s father disproves of his daughter’s feelings and he takes her away from the village of her love on a journey through desert lands in an effort to make her forget her love for Florentino. The time does cause her to forget and her heart hardens, so she rejects her young Florentino and later marries a young doctor named Juvenil Urbino. Despite his failure, Florentino swears his undying love to Fermina and professes to wait until the death of her lover’s husband for the right moment to renew his love with Fermina. So, after 50 years when Dr. Urbino ultimately dies after falling from a ladder while chasing a parrot up a mango tree, Florentino professes his undying love to Fermina at her husband’s funeral. An insulted Fermina rejects Florentino once again, however her hard hardheartedness is not so resolved with age and after another year of letters is exchanged between her and Florentino she is prompted to reevaluate the hardness of her heart. The two eventually nurture a love shared between that escapes the past and all their ties to the old world as they ride on a steam boat destined to float up and down the same river forever escaping the reality of their lives.
The subversiveness in this tragic tale of love is highlighted in the ridiculousness of its protagonist’s actions, which present themselves as a metaphor for the sickness and delusion that are coupled in the mind’s eye captivated by love. Florentino lives for Fermina, but in those 50 years of undying love for her, his devotion is easily diverted by over 622 female conquests. However when Fermina finally yields to Florentino’s undying devotion he thinks nothing of his years as a swinger and proclaims to her that he has maintained his virginity for her only. Although Fermina is not so daft to believe his lie she falls for his seduction, momentarily, and allows herself to open up her heart to him while they travel on a riverboat excursion. Fermina is grounded in reality, unlike Florentino and as their boat trip comes nearly to an end she is fearful for the loss of the magical moment that she has shared with Florentino in the twilight of their lives. Florentino, forever lost in the delusion of love and not reality uses his power as the owner of the river boat company to ensure that the boat floats on the river forever. Fermina’s true feelings are exposed in this final moment as she shudders and her eyes turn to frost as she realizes that the Florentino of her youth has captivated her on a unreal and never-ending excursion floating on a dried-up river of unrequited but forlorn love.
Read with a discerning eye Love in the Time of Cholera is a pleasing masterpiece in its own right. The final chapters were hard to put down and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know another side of Marquez and his ability to seduce this reader with his written craft. Love is metaphorically depicted alongside the consuming disease of cholera and its victims suffer a loneliness that is unimagined in the romanticism of love’s ideals. I am glad that I gave this one a second chance because it satisfied more than any of Marquez’s other works, second only to 100 Years.