“Wisdom comes to us when it can no longer do any good.”
Have you ever read a proclaimed ‘classic’ and found it wanting? This is the experience I had with “Love in the Time of Cholera,” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I have read other books from Marquez, notably “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and both books delivered an emotional journey in an astonishingly lyrical way. But where “One Hundred Years of Solitude” left me feeling wondrous, “Love in the Time of Cholera” only left me confused.
Dr. Juvenal Urbino has the typical life of a wealthy doctor. Fabulous house and beautiful wife. Yet that typical life does not stop him from leaving it in a spectacularly and random way; he dies trying to get a parrot out a tree. Poor Juvenal is not even in the ground before Fermina receives a declaration of love from Florentino Ariza.
You see, back when she was a young and adventurous young woman, Fermina Urbino fell in love with Florentino. Theirs was a secret love, aided by the help of Fermina’s Aunt. Their youthful love was pure and exciting, only to be quashed quite suddenly when Fermina’s father finds out about it. Fermina and Florentino try to maintain a relationship against all odds but Fermina decides to leave Florentino. “The heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burdens of the past.”
The jilted Florentino suffers from this rejection. His lovesickness manifests itself emotionally and physically. Yet throughout all of this, Florentino is still a young man and so decides to forget Fermina by being with a lot of women. LOTS of women. But through it all, he still loves and yearns for Fermina and so dedicates his life to winning her back.
However, Fermina is living her life. She and Juvenal raise children; they travel. Fermina starts to see that she has given up some independence being a married woman, but overall is happy. When she discovers that Juvenal has been having an affair, she leaves him for two years but eventually returns. Meanwhile, Florentino works hard and becomes President of the River Company of the Caribbean, the firm that his father and uncles founded. He believes this increase in social and financial status will help win over Fermina.
Eventually, their two worlds converge when that stubborn parrot causes Juvenal’s demise and Florentino sends his oddly timed love letter. Fermina is understandably infuriated. Florentino inexplicably persists. And against all odds, they end up together due to Florentino’s dedication and Fermina’s practicality; she recognizes their advanced age leaves little for her future.
So, all in all, this should be a ‘true love wins’ story. Except that Fermina and Florentino have full lives before getting back together in their old age. And some of the things they did in the intervening years are a bit cringe–worthy (Hello Florentino and your highly suspect love affairs). I can’t say I wasn’t moved by their second act love. There is something authentic and genuine when people find each other after being apart for so many years. My biggest challenge came from the way Florentino conducted himself in the intervening years. Perhaps I am jaded, but I can’t see someone dedicating their life to one person while at the same time, becoming involved with a slew of others. But this is the world of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, so in the end it actually made sense. I may not have been in love with Florentino the character, but I was in love with the writing and the concept because of this:
“He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”
What classic fell short of your expectations? And why?
Thank you for reading!