Gabriel García Márquez won worldwide fame for himself and, to a large degree, Latin American literature with his novel Cien años de soledad (1967; One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1970). Though the works he has produced since then, such as El otoño del patriarca (1975; The Autumn of the Patriarch, 1976) and Crónica de una muerte anunciada (1981; Chronicle of a Death Foretold, 1982), have maintained his reputation as one of the world’s foremost novelists and contributed as well to his winning the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature, many critics and readers alike believe that none of these works has approached One Hundred Years of Solitude in scope and overall quality. Love in the Time of Cholera, however, is a novel that comes very close to ranking right alongside the author’s earlier masterpiece. It is a profound, complex, and at times bizarre tale of love that only García Márquez could have weaved together.
At seventeen, Florentino Ariza begins his courtship of Fermina Daza. After a two-year relationship in which the two communicate exclusively through clandestine love letters, she accepts his proposal of marriage. Her father learns of the relationship, however, and takes her on a long trip to forget Florentino. Yet she does not forget him, and the relationship grows as the two lovers continue to correspond on the sly. On Fermina’s return, however, she mysteriously rejects Florentino, explaining only that she has realized that their relationship has been “nothing more than an illusion.” Florentino is devastated. Fermina eventually is married to Dr. Juvenal Urbino de la Calle, a prominent local physician. Florentino vows that he will win Fermina back and he patiently waits for her husband to die, an event which does not take place until more than fifty years later. In the meantime, Florentino occupies himself with some six hundred “long-term liaisons,” all the while bettering his social position in preparation for the time Fermina will be available again. When Dr. Urbino de la Calle dies, Florentino is ready. On the very day of the doctor’s funeral Florentino expresses his love to Fermina: “I have waited for this opportunity for more than half a century, to repeat to you once again my vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love.” She immediately asks him to leave and soon after sends him an insulting letter. Undaunted after waiting so long, Florentino continues to pursue Fermina through another series of letters, followed by a series of visits and a climactic boat trip up the river and back. The progress of his courtship is very slow, but he finally manages to win her heart and in the process show her what love really is. The novel ends with the couple again heading upriver, hoping to remain forever in the unreal world of true love.
García Márquez’s novels are typically populated by a collection of wonderfully odd characters, and this novel is no exception. Foremost of these is Florentino Ariza, whose obsessive love for Fermina Daza permeates the novel. This aspect of his character is evident in the letters he writes, from the first one, when the two lovers begin courting—a letter which grows to seventy pages before he trims it to half a page—to the very last ones, when he is attempting to win her back after her husband’s death—letters which he writes every day, numbering each one and even beginning them with a synopsis of the preceding one.
Ironically, the character most dissimilar to Florentino is the very object of his obsessive and enduring love, Fermina Daza. While Florentino waits for years to resume the relationship they once shared, she rarely even gives it a second thought. Even at the height of their teenage love affair, she is a rather detached participant. The narrator states that during this period Fermina wrote “distracted letters, intended to keep the coals alive without putting her hand in the fire, while Florentino Ariza burned himself alive in every line.” This woman is the cool (often cold), distant...
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