(UWIRE) “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is an iconic example of fiction at its finest, its most powerful, emotional and fantastic.
This book is set in an unnamed Caribbean city in the late 19th century, and a portion of the plot, especially later in the book, takes place in the riverboat docks where one of the main characters, Florentino Ariza, begins his career as a telegraph operator and eventually works his way to working side-by-side with his uncle in operating a riverboat company.
The attention to the rivers, its shifts and changes, and likewise the changes in technology throughout the century, act as a backdrop that magnifies the main theme of the book: Unrequited love.
Many forms of love are at play in this book: The familial love of Florentino and his uncle and Florentino and his mother, who is a great influence on his life; the capitulated love between Fermina Daza and Juvenal Urbino; and, perhaps most importantly, the young and ultimately agonizing love that develops between Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza.
It is the latter love that encompasses the entirety of the novel. As adolescents, the quirky yet idealistic Ariza falls madly in love with the beautiful and headstrong Daza, daughter to an up-and-coming member of the city’s high social class. Incidentally, Ariza is a member of the lower social tier.
This may sound like the beginnings of the tale of young love that has been told and retold many times, but Marquez doesn’t go the formulaic route with this novel; he doesn’t tell the tale one might expect to hear, instead he takes the reader on an unexpected and delightfully agonizing journey of a longing that lasts over half a century.
Daza and Ariza spend months in secret contact as her father tries to keep them apart, and eventually after a trip through the country, Daza comes to the surprising realization that she doesn’t care for Ariza.
As one might expect, Ariza is crushed, but it is here that the novel goes into unexpected territory. Ariza makes a vow of eternal love for Daza that he keeps, even as Daza goes on to marry the young doctor, Urbino.
We follow both Daza and Ariza as the years pass. Their lives change dramatically during this time, the rivers change course, dry and swell, and the town goes through spectacular changes as the airplane is invented and telephones and typewriters become part of the townspeople’s daily habits.
These technological changes are symbolic of Ariza’s time as a young, energetic romantic coming to a close as he slips into old age — once the telephone and typewriter is used regularly throughout the town, gone are the days of handwritten love letters scented with camellia petals.
In this time, Ariza becomes the owner of his uncle’s riverboat company, becoming part of the social elite, and Daza and her husband likewise become one of the city’s most prominent couples.
Despite all the changes, however, Ariza keeps his vow of eternal love for Daza, and he sees her develop from afar, taking every opportunity to see her, even going as far as buying a mirror that once belonged to her from a thrift shop because her reflection once graced its front. Marquez does not disappoint in the final portion of the book.
Daza is windowed late in her life when Urbino passes away while retrieving his pet parrot from a mango tree. For his part, Ariza never married, waiting as he was for the day when he could pursue Daza, though he had many romps with young women — some 700, according to the book’s back cover description — in his many single years.
It is 51 years, nine months and four days after Daza’s original wedding, the night of Urbino’s funeral, that Ariza arrives on Daza’s doorstep to repeat to her his vow of eternal love and fidelity.
“Love in the Time of Cholera” builds a timeless but always surprising story on the age-old basis of unrequited love.
Marquez is a master storyteller, subtly weaving elements of the fantastic into his exploration of love in its many forms, its many heartbreaking yet beautiful moments, showing the immense scope of a life, a time, and the reverberations of a love that stays alight even when seemingly smoldered by all the years.
“Love in the Time of Cholera” is highly recommended. Like the love of Florentino and Fermina, this is a story that will be with you always.