I’m feeling a bit humble at my temerity. Daring to write a “review” of Love in the Time of Cholera. Greater skill and talent than mine have poured forth their riches explaining and exploring the depths of this gigantic piece of literature by a man who deserved the Nobel Prize even more than Bob Dylan. So, here goes, with the caveat that I’m writing for me and pretend not to enrich the mountain of golden criticism that already exists.
Courtly Love. A term little set forth and even less understood nowadays. However, it’s a tradition that permeates this book, and in a most fascinating way. Courtly love was a convention that emerged around the twelfth century in Europe. The idea is that genuine affection had to be expressed over time and was subject to great trials and tribulations. Usually, the knight viewed a lady from afar, was smitten, and strove to communicate his affection. Since she was surrounded by family and chaperones whose sole project was to protect her virginity, it was a rough job for a prospective lover to work his way through the defenses. It might take years. A note here, a glance there, hundreds of false tries. That’s Florentine Ariza as he pursues Fermina Daza.
He’s a sorrowful poet, waiting in the park as he sees her on her way to school. He’s a passionate lover, seemingly on the brink of consummation when she suddenly marries another. He persists.
The novel’s setting is in a city near a river which creates swamps and and marshes, so cholera is always a threat. You can make what you want of a symbol like that, and Marquez evokes an enormous amount of meaning without getting heavy-handed about it.
Poor Florentino might seem a pitiable and comical soul somewhat like Goethe’s Werther, but as the years go by he develops into a powerful businessman, well-respected and admired in the community. Fermina, meanwhile, cruises on in a basically loveless but secure and comfortable marriage. Florentino pursues her the while. This all goes on for decades.
Finally, Fermina’s husband dies in one of the great comic scenes in all of literature. I won’t spoil it all except to say that it involves a parrot, a ladder, and a birthday party.
Both Fermina and Florentino are well into old age by this time, but Florentino, as I said, has not given up. He’s not kept himself virginal over the years, but he has never abandoned his dream of a union with his first love.
Finally, there is a river voyage that not only provides a culmination of the relationship (sort of) but manages to deliver a frightening environmental message or two without preaching or interrupting the narrative.
It’s a story of young and old-age love unique in conception and composition. And it proved the perfect companion to this dreadful time in which we find ourselves. As they say, tears and laughter and great writing. Wonderful companions.