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Book Review: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

 

For some, this is the time of year when one day has the power to change our lives forever. With rose petals falling from the sky and a string quartet in the background, the elusive one has 24 hours to sweep us off our feet. Then there are of course those who argue that the magic of the 14th of February is found only in its power to turn red roses into an original gift, and sticky jelly hearts into food for adults. Terrified or ecstatic, we must all acknowledge that like George R. R. Martin’s winter, Valentine’s Day is coming. To understand the kind of love that is the origin of this month’s madness, we must turn to Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez and his Love in the Time of Cholera.

When published in 1985, García Márquez’s heart wrenching novel became an immediate classic. Following the lives of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, it is a story of fates that momentarily entwine and love that endures all. From the moment he first sees her, Florentino’s entire existence is defined by a passion that cannot be fulfilled, forgotten or even faithful. Marrying the prominent Dr Urbino, Fermina remains out of reach for 51 years only to realise that the man she knew as the lover of her youth still imagines them together.

Mixing the tenderness of Florentino’s voice with descriptions of his frequent visits to prostitutes, the novel still surprises with its emphasis on love’s carnality. Without doubting that which governs his life, Florentino clings to every shape of the female body. To survive a love this strong, relief must be sought in momentary obliteration of the self; a state only achievable through sex, drugs and pain. Like a tropical disease, love consumes Florentino’s body. Spreading from his ruined heart, it attacks his mind and alters his perception of reality. As Dr Urbino fights against the cholera epidemic that infests the Caribbean, Florentino willingly surrenders himself to its power.

Having fallen in love with Fermina in a garden, Florentino’s memories of her are defined by the scent of gardenias. When she does not reply to his letters, his desire drives him to consume the version of her that he can reach, namely the flowers. The eating of the gardenias have long divided readers over the question of how far we should go for true love. Depending on the answer, Florentino comes across either as an obsessed stalker or a faithful romantic. As our interpretation of this moment defines how we view the whole novel, we must look closer at Florentino’s behaviour. He does not meet his beloved in the garden by appointment, rather, he studies her movements until he knows where to place himself to get the best view of her daily walk. Later, when he first makes himself known to her, he impersonates the Holy Spirit only to frighten her with the frenzy of his love.

In the world outside literature, the world so many term “real”, we believe that love is expressed through stuffed bears and hearts made of chocolate. We claim not to believe in love at first sight, but decide if we have chemistry with a person by looking at a photo for a second. We are on the lookout for “creeps”, but before making contact we stalk our crushes on Facebook and stare at their photos on Instagram. Ending the evening of the gardenias in a pool of his own vomit, the hero of Love in the Time of Cholera may have taken these things a bit too far. Still, considering our own irrationality and lack of boundaries in matters of the heart, we cannot dismiss Florentino’s behaviour as insanity without casting a shadow on our own.

As disturbing as it is beautiful, García Márquez’s modern classic dissects love and leaves all emotion exposed to the core. Challenging the notion that love can be sane, Love in the Time of Cholera is the perfect story to turn to as we irrationally start to crave heart shaped chocolates and pink champagne. A novel that fascinates the determined cynic and supports the hopeless romantic, it is both an anthem of enduring love and a tale of suicidal obsession.

Written by Hillevi Sellén


 

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