Books · World

Love in the Time of Cholera, Colombia

How long is “forever” in an impassioned adolescent declaration of love? What does “forever” mean at 70, when faced with the grim cognizance of one’s mortality? Colombian Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez dares to suggest that a vow of “eternal fidelity and everlasting love” could be honoured in Love in the Time of Cholera.

The scenes in the book are wrought by a master wordsmith. The depiction of Fermina Daza is set up in a way that enables the reader to experience the undeniable allure that draws Florentino Ariza to her.

“The lesson was not interrupted, but the girl raised her eyes to see who was passing by the window, and that casual glance was the beginning of a cataclysm of love that still had not ended half a century later.”

Does love at first sight exist?

Florentino Ariza contracts the affliction instantly and it is incurable for the rest of his life.

“It was the year they fell into devastating love.  Neither one could do anything except think about the other, dream about the other, and wait for letters with the same impatience they felt when they answered them.  Never in that delirious spring, or in the following year, did they have the opportunity to speak to each other.”

The early years of Florentino and Fermina’s courtship is an amalgamation of Marquez’s and his parents’ love story. Like Florentino, Gabriel Eligio Garcia was a telegraph operator who wooed Luisa Santiaga Marquez Igurán with violin serenades, love poems and innumerable letters. I had to look up Spanish naming conventions after learning Marquez’s parents’ names and the results were quite interesting:

Given Name + Father’s first surname + Mother’s first surname

So Marquez’s name is “Gabriel” (given name) + “Garcia” + “Marquez”.

I couldn’t find any information on Gabriel Eligio, but based on Florentino’s background, I think that he may not have had a father and has only his maternal surname to bequeath to his son.

Until about a week ago, I knew that Colombia was a South American country whose representative was accidentally crowned Miss World. They probably have a football team. YouTube commenters are constantly frustrated when their country’s name is misspelt as “Columbia”. And finally, here’s a quirky, ill-sourced fact: El Dorado was supposed to be a mythical chief of a Colombian tribe and The Road to El Dorado was a movie that I thought was ridiculously cool when I was 10.

Río Magdalena

Based on Florentino Ariza’s profession, I’m going to hazard a guess that river navigation played a big part in the Colombian economy at some point. A quick search proves this hypothesis correct – the name of the river is Río Magdalena.

The Colombia that Marquez describes in his book Love in the Time of Cholera has a lot more in common to India several decades ago than I would have ever imagined. Colombia was a Spanish colony much like India was a British one. The Spanish officers were called “Viceroys” too. The characters in the book speak in Spanish (the language of the original text) and the social dynamics and love story could fit anywhere in the world. As usual, with this exercise of reading at least one book from every country in the world has me astounded at the extent of similarity of the entire human race. Geography doesn’t account for much, far less than we believe, when it comes to us ape-descended life forms.

Colombia’s turbulent history is alluded to in the journey that Fermina and Lorenzo Daza undertake as her punishment when her father learns of their love.

However, the only other possible means of returning home was two weeks on muleback over the mountains in circumstances even more dangerous than the first time, since a new civil war that had begun in the Andean state of Cauca was spreading throughout the Caribbean provinces.

The civil war was fought between conservatives and disillusioned rebel liberals. Marquez’s maternal grandfather, who raised him until he was eight, fought on the side of the victorious liberals. Cauca was a state of Colombia at the time. Today, while most of it is a part of Colombia, the rest was acquired by Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

The class distinction in Marquez’s Colombia is redolent of the inequality that has plagued the world: the Indian caste system, Mujahirs in Pakistan, Hazaras in Afghanistan, racial discrimination in America. He describes slums separate from the city and how little contact the rich in the old colonial neighbourhood, like Dr. Juvenal Urbino, have with the poor. Is free nation free if its colonists and the oppressed natives are replaced with elitist natives and impoverished ones instead?

The central conflict of the book is the arranged marriage between Dr. Urbino and Fermina Daza. She marries him not for love, but for security and higher standing in society. In a curious inversion, Florentino Ariza, the would-be protagonist, assumes antagonistic qualities. He becomes a philanderer consumed by his infatuation for Fermina, precluded from forming any lasting romantic relations of his own. Only the masterful storytelling of Marquez can retrieve Florentino from the murky depths of repugnance to cheering for his happy ending. His love for Fermina is his redemption, she finally rediscovers love after half a century and the reader is left with a lingering appreciation of how love, with all its hopes and doubts, has captured our collective hearts and imaginations.

“Forever,” he said.

4 thoughts on “Love in the Time of Cholera, Colombia

  1. I read Love in the Time of Cholera sometime during college and it didn’t make much of an impression on me. Reading your review, I wonder if I would relate to it more at an older age. I’m also working on reading a book from every country. For Colombia I read and enjoyed The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vasquez, about life there after the worst years of drug cartel violence.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the recommendation! I’m interested in reading more recent books from each country but I couldn’t not read Marquez. I hope you enjoy it the second time around. =)


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