Review: Love in the Time of Cholera [2★]

Someone please call the experts and ask them to explain what makes Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera such a popular and well-known classic, because the greatness of the novel is lost on me. While the writing is poetic and the topic of love is boundlessly explored, I found the characters revolting and the story depressing. 

As teens in an eighteenth century Caribbean country, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall hopelessly and irretrievably in love. Except, what they have doesn’t look like love by any wholesome definition. Fermina Daza, after promising herself to Florentino Ariza for life, rejects him on a whim and marries a wealthy, successful doctor instead. Florentino pines for her obsessively for decades, carefully constructing his whole life around chance sightings of her. While he waits with hopeful desperation for her husband to die (as all men eventually do), Florentino numbs his heartache with endless sexual affairs. His selfish “loves” break hearts, destroy marriages, end lives, and culminate in a pedophilic abuse of his own ward. 

I will concede that Love in the Time of Cholera has some truly artistic writing. The narrative is very richly detailed, and I could really imagine that Caribbean country in all of its colorful squalor and passionate heat. I could picture the slow-moving riverboats, smell the camellias’ fragrance in the afternoon heat, and hear the clatter of carriage wheels under the bells of Catholic churches. The characters were also masterfully drawn, full of nuanced traits, passionate desires, and familiar fears. 

The book’s atmosphere, on the whole, was captivating. The story, however, was revolting. It is presented as a romantic love story, but Francisco Arizo, the pining love-struck hero, was pathetic and perverted. He had no life outside of his longing for Fermina Daza. All of his actions were guided by pure, unadulterated selfish desire. His many affairs were described in unnecessary and grotesque detail. When Fermina’s husband died and she became available again, seventy-some year old Florentino was engaged in a sexual relationship with a teenager. His affair with his ward (who was also a great-niece or something), started when she was fourteen. The hero of the story, when he finally got the girl, was nothing more than a sick pedophile. 

I can only hope that the story is some sort of lesson or parody, but if so, I missed the subtle threads of morality or humor. The moral of the story as I understand it is this: young love is merely infatuation in disguise. Clinging to that infatuation may lead you to waste your life, hurting everyone around you in the process. 

Despite beautiful imagery and evocative writing, I cannot recommend Love in the Time of Cholera to anyone. Has anyone else read this book who can explain its wide-spread popularity to me?

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