Hello, hello! I am apparently on a talking-about-books kick these days, because once again I’ve finished reading something and am absolutely dying to talk about it. This time the book is Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which I started reading while on vacation in Hawaii, because “breezy beach reads” aren’t actually a real thing I don’t care what anybody says I’ll read literary classics while lounging in the sun if I want to and nobody can stop me. Nyah, nyah, nyah.
Alright, so maybe that last sentence got a little immature, but that’s entirely appropriate in this instance because the main character of this book, Florentino Ariza, is a whiny man-child who needs to get over himself. Everyone else is great, though! I liked the book a lot!
The cover of my copy of this book (pictured above) states that Newsweek called it “A love story of astonishing power….” I don’t know what book Newsweek was reading, though, because there is nothing astonishing or powerful about this love story. In fact, it’s not even really a love story. It’s the story of Florentino Ariza, who spent 50 years obsessively pining over/stalking Fermina Daza, who utterly rejected him and married the charming and wealthy Dr. Juvenal Urbino instead. It’s a desperately-clinging-to-unrequited-love-while-completely-forsaking-good-sense-and-basic-human-decency story of astonishing power. Forentino goes on to have 622 love affairs, all while telling himself that he is staying pure for the woman he loves, while Fermina just goes about her life not giving a good goddamn about him. Most of the women he had affairs with also don’t really care about him. Actually, most of this book is a people-not-caring-about-Florentino-Ariza-fest. It’s great.
That said, it’s clear that the author–Marquez–loves Florentino a great deal, and he goes to great lengths to try to illuminate the sad tragedy of Florentino’s inability to get over this changeable woman who does not love him. O WOE BE TO FLORENTINO, THAT HE IS FORCED TO LIVE A SUCCESSFUL BACHELOR LIFE FULL OF HOT LADIES. There is very little to like about Florentino, except perhaps that he is a moron, and it is therefore funny to watch him get shit on all the time. And he does get shit on. A lot. It’s just that the book wants you to think it’s a tragedy, when it is, in fact, a hilarious comedy.
People don’t ever talk about how silly this book is, so the sheer absurdity of it caught me off guard–but I was pretty thrilled about it. Yes, it’s a Literary Classic, and it does a great deal of Meditating On the Meaning of Life and Nobility of Love in All Forms, but it’s also…well…let me quote you a passage from my translation:
…he had so much love left over inside that he did not know what to do with it, and he offered it to unlettered lovers free of charge, writing their love missives for them in the Arcade of the Scribes. … His most pleasant memory of that time was of a very timid young girl, almost a child, who trembled as she asked him to write an answer to an irresistible letter that she had just received, and that Florentino Ariza recognized as one he had written on the previous afternoon. He answered it in a different style, one that was in tune with the emotions and the age of the girl…. Two days later, of course, he had to write the boy’s reply with the same hand, style, and kind of love that he had attributed to him in the first letter, and so it was that he became involved in a feverish correspondence with himself.
Tell me that is not the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever read in a “literary classic”. Seriously, this book is silly beyond all measure. But that’s what I love so much about magical realism; it intentionally takes the absurd and fantastic and treats it as though it were commonplace, and delightful things ensue, and Marquez is the master of it all.
This book is also surprisingly feminist, which was refreshing to me since I went into it expecting to hear about manpain for 348 pages. Don’t get me wrong–there was lots of manpain–but there was also a whole host of interesting female characters, including some (though not enough) with relationships independent from the men in their lives who passed the hell out of the Bechdel test. Fermina Daza is maybe one of my new favorite characters ever. Her whole character design is just “smart and easily pissed off.” The only thing wrong with her is the contrived ending where she for some reason falls in love with Florentino again, but I guess when it’s magical realism you just have to accept the fantastical and unrealistic things that happen.
For the most part, I recommend this book pretty enthusiastically. It’s a bit slow in places and you have to be able to laugh at Florentino so that the narrative’s love affair with him doesn’t irritate you too much, but the characters and setting are really vibrant and fun, and it’s full of entertaining silliness. There is one thing in it, though, that I am giving a HARD PASS on, and that’s the entire existence and plotline of America Vicuna. If you care about spoilers don’t read the rest of this paragraph, but she’s Florentino’s pseudo-adopted daughter, 13 years old, with whom he has a sexual relationship when he is in his 70s. As if that weren’t gross enough, when he breaks up with her because Fermina is suddenly available again, she kills herself. Yeah. I know. For a while there I thought maybe she was going to murder Fermina, because she got pretty riled up in exciting ways (though why you would bother lavishing so much effort on Florentino is beyond me), but then her plotline just fizzles into a horrible little rotten cherry on top of the story. It’s disgusting and it adds nothing to the story and I wish I could burn it out of every copy of this book in the world.
Aside from that glaring shitstain of a subplot, Love in the Time of Cholera is a pretty great book. I liked it. Maybe you will like it, too.
“No other animal was permitted in the house, with the exception of the land turtle who had reappeared in the kitchen after three or four years, when everyone thought he was lost forever. He, however, was not considered a living being but rather a mineral good luck charm whose location one could never be certain of.” –Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez