Book Review: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Book 97

Love in the time of cholera

‘It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.’

Fifty-one years, nine months and four days have passed since Fermina Daza rebuffed hopeless romantic Florentino Arizo’s impassioned advances and married Dr. Juvenal Urbino instead. During that half century, Florentino has fallen into the arms of many delighted women, but has loved none but Fermina. Having sworn his eternal love to her, he lives for the day when he can court her again.

When Fermina’s husband is killed trying to retrieve his pet parrot from a mango tree, Florentino seizes his chance to declare his enduring love. But can young love find new life in the twilight of their lives?

Love in the Time of Cholera is a book about love in its many forms and although it contains many love stories, is not in my opinion a love story on the whole.  The book starts like many do, at the beginning of the end, and then goes back and follows the lives of the two main characters (Fermina Daza and Florentino Arizo) from when they first met.  Garcia’s writing style leaves the reader with a comprehensive view of the world that he writes about, not only describing what you cannot see, but also what you cannot hear or smell.  I found sometimes the descriptions went on too long and I would lose track of the storyline and have to reread a passage.  But on the whole I felt I really could imagine the world the characters inhabited just as Garcia saw it and could feel the changes in their world as time moved from the 19th to the 20th century.

What I liked about this book: I enjoyed the character of Fermina, she was almost a modern woman in the way she thought and how she acted, even though she was born in the 1800’s.  Her character was in keeping with the period of the book, she knew her place as a woman, but her fiery personality gave her some backbone and she was not afraid to stand up for herself when it mattered.  She wanted love and romance, but she was intelligent enough to know what was practical in her situation and that a fortuitous marriage was more important than any kind of love.  I feel if the book had allowed her to look back on her life, she would not have regretted any of her decisions.

What I didn’t like about this book: Mainly the character of Florentino, but also some lack of relationship building between his and his many conquests.  Florentino starts out as a love struck teenager trying to woo a school girl several years younger than him.  At this stage in his life, I pitied Florentino; his whole life revolves around his first crush on a girl he never really got to know.  After Fermina rejects him, Florentino’s moral code becomes quite warped and as he gets older he cares less about the effect of the relationships he has with other women to replace Fermina.  He believes that as long as he never truly loves all the women he sleeps with then he is not harming his chances of winning Fermina back.  At first the women he sleeps with are women who need his attentions maybe as much as he needs theirs, but as time goes on he treats these women with less and less respect and I was no longer filled with pity for Florentino, but disgust.  When I neared the end of the story (which is also the beginning) and both Fermina and Florentino are in their seventies, I felt Florentino had not deserved Fermina more in his life than at that moment.

This book has so many good qualities and maybe if I had the time to read it again I might understand the meaning of it a bit more, but on my first read I couldn’t appreciate how the relationship between Florentino and Fermina turned out as I felt Florentino became a despicable man who did not deserve Fermina.  I found the book hard to get back into every time I picked it up (10 days to read a book for me is unheard of) and I would not rush out to read any of Garcia’s other works.

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4 comments on “Book Review: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

  1. It’s a tricky book this one, isn’t it? I really love the way Marquez writes – his way with words is just beautiful – but he does ramble on a bit, and for me I felt like the first and last quarters of this book were great, but the middle was a bit boring and tedious, and I very nearly gave it up at points. I have heard, however, that some of the other work by Marquez is quite good, and I am probably going to have a shot at One Hundred Years of Solitude by him soon to find out.

    • Theotherwatson – Yes I did feel that too much of the story was given over to their lives apart, and there seemed to be too many superfluous characters as well. When reading other peoples’ thoughts on this book, a lot did say that 100 Years of Solitude was also a good book, but completely different to Love in the Time of Cholera. It appears that it has a lot of action in it and does not have the same slow pace, so it is probably worth a try.

    • Steve – I know I thought I was going to go mad, it was such a relief to finally finish it! I will definitely get another book read this week and hopefully make a good start on the next one.

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