Love in the Time of Cholera (Garcia Marquez)

Love in the Time of Cholera
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1985
Knopf Doubleday
368 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780307389732

In the late 1800s, in a Caribbean port city, a young telegraph operator named Florentino Ariza falls deliriously in love with Fermina Daza, a beautiful student. She is so sheltered that they carry on their romance secretly, through letters and telegrams. When Fermina Daza's father finds out about her suitor, he sends her on a trip intended to make her forget the affair. Lorenza Daza has much higher ambitions for his daughter than the humble Florentino. Her grief at being torn away from her lover is profound, but when she returns she breaks off the relationship, calling everything that has happened between them an illusion.

Instead, she marries the elegant, cultured, and successful Dr. Juvenal Urbino. As his wife, she will think of herself as "the happiest woman in the world." Though devastated by her rejection, Florentino Ariza is not one to be deterred. He has declared his eternal love for Fermina, and determines to gain the fame and fortune he needs to win her back. When Fermina's husband at last dies, 51 years, 9 months, and 4 days later, Florentino Ariza approaches Fermina again at her husband's funeral. There have been hundreds of other affairs, but none of these women have captured his heart as Fermina did. "He is ugly and sad," says one of his lovers, "but he is all love."

In this magnificent story of a romance, García Márquez beautifully and unflinchingly explores the nature of love in all its guises, small and large, passionate and serene. Love can emerge like a disease in these characters, but it can also outlast bleak decades of war and cholera, and the effects of time itself. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—March 06, 1928
Where—Aracataca, Colombia
Education—Universidad Nacional de Colombia; Universidad
   de Cartagena
Awards—Nobel Prize, 1982
Currently—lives in Mexico City, Mexico

Gabriel García Márquez is the product of his family and his nation. Born in the small coastal town of Aracataca in northern Colombia, he was raised by his maternal grandparents. As a child, he was mesmerized by stories spun by his grandmother and her sisters — a rich gumbo of superstitions, folk tales, and ghost stories that fired his youthful imagination. And from his grandfather, a colonel in Colombia's devastating Civil War, he learned about his country's political struggles. This potent mix of Liberal politics, family lore, and regional mythology formed the framework for his magical realist novels.

When his grandfather died, García Márquez was sent to Sucre to live (for the first time) with his parents. He attended university in Bogotá, where he studied law in accordance with his parents' wishes. It was here that he first read The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka and discovered a literature he understood intuitively — one with nontraditional plots and structures, just like the stories he had known all his life. His studies were interrupted when the university was closed, and he moved back north, intending to pursue both writing and law; but before long, he quit school to pursue a career in journalism.

In 1954 his newspaper sent García Márquez on assignment to Italy, marking the start of a lifelong self-imposed exile from the horrors of Colombian politics that took him to Barcelona, Paris, New York, and Mexico. Influenced by American novelist William Faulkner, creator of the fictionalized Yoknapatawpha County, and by the powerful intergenerational tragedies of the Greek dramatist Sophocles, García Márquez began writing fiction, honing a signature blend of fantasy and reality that culminated in the 1967 masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude. This sweeping epic became an instant classic and set the stage for more bestselling novels, including Love in the Time of Cholera, Love and Other Demons, and Memories of My Melancholy Whores. In addition, he has completed the first volume of a shelf-bending memoir, and his journalism and nonfiction essays have been collected into several anthologies.

In 1982, García Márquez was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In his acceptance speech, he called for a "sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth." Few writers have pursued that utopia with more passion and vigor than this towering 20th-century novelist.

• Gabriel José García Márquez' affectionate nickname is Gabo.

• García Márquez' first two novellas were completed long before their actual release dates, but might not have been published if it weren't for his friends, who found the manuscripts in a desk drawer and a suitcase, and sent them in for publication. (Bio from Barnes and Noble.)

Book Reviews were possible, not only to swear love ''forever,'' but actually to follow through on it — to live a long, full and authentic life based on such a vow, to put one's alloted stake of precious time where one's heart is? This is the extraordinary premise of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's new novel, Love in the Time of Cholera, one on which he delivers, and triumphantly.... He writes with impassioned control, out of a maniacal serenity: the Garcimarquesian voice we have come to recognize from the other fiction has matured, found and developed new resources.
Thomas Pinchon - New York Times

Like many great novels, Gabriel Garc ía Márquez's Love in the Time of Cholera portrays the tension between illusions and material reality, especially in the context of love. In the novel's final pages, when Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza are finally together in their old age, we are told that love "was more solid the closer it came to death" (p. 345). This statement exemplifies the novel's method—instead of saying what love is, and in this way judging the strength of its characters' grasp of reality, it articulates the relationship between love and something else, giving different perspectives but no definitions. This circling around love gives Love in the Time of Cholera the quality of capturing the ineffable.

Different ways of understanding, experiencing, and representing love are embodied by the novel's three central characters—Florentino Ariza, Fermina Daza, and Dr. Juvenal Urbino. For Florentino, love has the properties of a dream; its fullest expression occurs in art (especially in writing), and it stands in opposition to everyday reality, entirely resistant to rational understanding. Like Emma in Madame Bovary, Florentino is filled with notions of love derived from popular literature; he also becomes a comic figure when reality unexpectedly intrudes into the world of his imagination. The bird droppings that fall on Fermina's embroidery when they meet as teenagers in the park and the intestinal disruption that betrays him when they meet following Dr. Urbino's death both testify to the unavoidable fact of the material world. But Florentino's fate suggests neither acquiescence to reality nor the continuation of his belief in a wholly illusory kind of love.

As the relationship between Florentino and Fermina unfolds following Dr. Urbino's death, it seems enabled by Florentino's emergence from the imaginary world in which he has lived for so long—the very existence of his imaginary world is made possible by Fermina's absence from it. The letters Florentino writes to her after Dr. Urbino's death possess, in Fermina's words, "a foundation in reality" (p. 330), as opposed to the letters of his youth, inspired by "half-baked endearments taken whole from the Spanish romantics" (p. 75). But other aspects of the novel's conclusion complicate this interpretation. Before making love, Florentino tells Fermina, "I've remained a virgin for you" (p. 339). In light of his many trysts and affairs, in what sense could this be true other than an imaginary one? When asked how long their ship will sail, keeping up its deception by flying the yellow cholera flag, Florentino answers, "Forever" (p. 348), as if to specifically deny the reality of death.

Because of his belief in the power of the rational mind, Dr. Urbino often appears more grounded in reality than Florentino. He considers marriage "an absurd invention" (p. 209), and his marriage to Fermina represents a lifelong effort to defeat the absurd and replace it with something that can withstand logical analysis. After his death, Fermina recalls his belief that "the most important thing in a good marriage is not happiness, but stability" (p. 300). On the night they consummate their marriage, Dr. Urbino readily admits to himself that he does not love Fermina, but "he was sure there would be no obstacle to their inventing true love" (p. 159). He thinks of love not as an unruly passion, but as if it can be brought into existence merely by an act of will. But his determination to avoid the chaos of emotion can make Dr. Urbino seem just as divorced from reality as Florentino. In his dissertation, Dr. Urbino asserts that, given the human organism's "many useless or duplicated could be more simple and by the same token less vulnerable" (p. 158-59). Is this idea any less illusory than the most extravagant of Florentino's ecstatic proclamations of his love for Fermina?

Between the extremes of Florentino and Dr. Urbino is Fermina. When Dr. Urbino first tells her about the importance of stability, she hears in it a "miserable threat," but when she remembers his words after he dies, she thinks of them as "the lodestone that had given them both so many happy hours" (p. 300). She ends her first affair with Florentino by telling him in a letter that "what is between us is nothing more than an illusion" (p. 102). As coldly precise as this declaration is, Fermina is nevertheless open to the emotional upheavals that attend her marriage to Dr. Urbino. When he confirms her suspicion of his adulterous affair with Barbara Lynch, she wishes he had denied it, preferring the illusion of his fidelity to the feeling that "her rage would never end" (p. 251). Sharing memories of Dr. Urbino with Florentino, Fermina "could not conceive of a husband better than hers had been, and yet when she recalled their life she found more difficulties than pleasures," admitting to Florentino that she does not "really know if it was love or not" (p. 329).

It is tempting to see Fermina as encompassing both the illusory and the real, but such symmetry would reduce her to a thematic device, as opposed to a fully alive character, capable of expecting nothing more from life after her husband dies and then falling in love with Florentino. The fact that neither she nor the novel ever arrive at a fixed definition of love suggests that its elusiveness is part of its very nature.

(Copyright 2007 by the Random House Publishing Group. Permission for use granted by Random House Inc.)

Discussion Questions 
1. Why does García Márquez use similar terms to describe the effects of love and cholera?

2. Plagues figure prominently in many of García Márquez's novels. What literal and metaphoric functions does the cholera plague serve in this novel? What light does it shed on Latin American society of the nineteenth century? How does it change its characters' attitudes toward life? How are the symptoms of love equated in the novel with the symptoms of cholera?

3. What does the conflict between Dr. Juvenal Urbino and Florentino Ariza reveal about the customs of Europe and the ways of Caribbean life? How is Fermina Daza torn between the two?

4. Dr. Urbino reads only what is considered fine literature, while Fermina Daza immerses herself in contemporary romances or soap operas. What does this reveal about the author's attitude toward the distinction between "high" and "low" literature. Does his story line and style remind you more of a soap opera or a classical drama?

5. After rejecting Florentino's declaration of love following her husband's funeral, why is Fermina eventually won over by him?

6. Why does a change in Florentino's writing style make Fermina more receptive to him?

7. What does Florentino mean when he tells Fermina, before they make love for the first time, "I've remained a virgin for you" (p. 339)?

8. Why does Florentino tell each of his lovers that she is the only one he has had?

9. What does Florentino's uncle mean when he says, "without river navigation there is no love" (p. 168)?

10. Do Fermina and Dr. Urbino succeed at "inventing true love" (p. 159)?

11. Set against the backdrop of recurring civil wars and cholera epidemics, the novel explores death and decay, as well as love. How does Dr. Urbino's refusal to grow old gracefully affect the other two characters? What does it say about fulfillment and beauty in their society? Does the fear of aging or death change Florentino Ariza's feelings toward Fermina Daza?

12. Compare the suicide of Jeremiah de Saint-Amour at the beginning of the book with that of Florentino's former lover, América Vicuña at the end. How do their motives differ? Why does the author frame the book with these two events?

13. Why is Leona Cassiani "the true woman in [Florentino's] life although neither of them ever knew it and they never made love" (p. 182)?

14. When Tránsito Ariza tells Florentino he looks as if he were going to a funeral when he is going to visit Fermina, why does he respond by saying, "It's almost the same thing" (p. 65)? (Questions issued by publisher.)

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