Love in the Time of Cholera is a celebration of life over death, love over despair, and health over sickness. It is the story of Florentino Ariza, who was rejected by Fermina Daza in his youth. He maintains a silent vigil of unrequited love for fifty-one years, nine months, and four days, until he meets Fermina again at her husband’s wake and renews his suit. The novel spans a period from the late 1870’s to the early 1930’s, and it is set in a South American community modeled after Cartagena, Colombia, and besieged by civil wars and plagues.
Florentino, an eighteen-year-old apprentice telegraph operator, sees thirteen-year old Fermina and falls madly in love. Fermina’s father finds out and sends his daughter on an extended trip to remove her from temptation. She returns years later, rejects Florentino, and accepts the proposal of a cultured physician and cholera specialist, Dr. Juvenal Urbino. Although Florentino continues to love Fermina throughout the years, he also continues his own social relationships—engaging in 622 long-term liaisons, which he records in a series of notebooks—and becomes president of a riverboat company. Then Florentino learns that eighty-one-year-old Juvenal has died, falling off a ladder trying to capture a condescending, bilingual parrot. Although Love in the Time of Cholera does not have the extended fantasy of One Hundred Years of Solitude, touches of unexpected, delightful humor—like the parrot—abound. In the midst of careful detailing, it is almost as if García Márquez winks and turns his head to tell the reader a private joke.
When Florentino attends Juvenal’s wake at the Urbino home, Fermina orders him to leave. Undaunted, he launches a fervent, youthful courtship and eventually triumphs, consummating his passion on a riverboat during a trip on the Magdalena River. The ship is unable to dock because of an outbreak of cholera on board, and the crew and passengers are running low on supplies. Florentino is focused on life, not death. At the end of the novel, the captain asks Florentino how long he thinks they can keep going up and down the river, and Florentino responds, “Forever.”
This novel differs considerably from much of García Márquez’s previous fiction. It is a more precise and simple story, in contrast to his often complicated multiple narratives. Except for a brief section in the beginning, the plot proceeds chronologically. Although reality and fantasy intermingle, the fantastic in this novel is not as fantastic as in other works, and the line between the two is less blurred. Critics have suggested that Love in the Time of Cholera reads like a nineteenth century novel in the majestic narrative tradition.
García Márquez continues to address his enduring themes of love and destiny; this novel is an optimistic celebration of life. Evil and negativity are present, and this time his characteristic plague is cholera. In this novel, however, such situations make people want to live more, not less. García Márquez has explained that Fermina and Florentino’s romance—which is based on the relationship of his father and mother—was sparked by an image that he once saw: an elderly couple, very much in love, dancing on the deck of a ship. García Márquez told an interviewer that he could not have written Love in the Time of Cholera when he was younger because it includes points of view that he did not have in his youth. He continued, “I think that aging has made me realize that feelings and sentiments, what happens in the heart, are ultimately the most important.”
Dr. Juvenal Urbino has been called to the residence of his friend Jeremiah de Saint-Amour, who had taken his own life the previous evening. From a letter that his friend left him, Urbino learns that Saint-Amour spent his final night with a female companion and that he was actually a fugitive who had indulged in cannibalism. Devastated by this knowledge, Urbino finds his whole day unsettled. Late that afternoon,...
(The entire section is 1,488 words.)