Love in the Time of Cholera
by Gabriel García Márquez

Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Some people see an endearing romance in Gabriel García Márquez’s
Love in the Time of Cholera, and are ready to
grant this novel a place on their shelves next to
Romeo and Juliet, Pride and Prejudice, the DVD
Titanic, and The Collected Works of Erich
. After all, we never get tired of love stories,
do we?

But Márquez is setting you up. As the author
himself has warned: "You have to be careful not
to fall into my trap." Readers are so fond of love
stories, and so comforted by their stereotypes,
that they even find ways of romanticizing the
criminal intentions of Humbert Humbert or the
self-delusions of Emma Bovary. When the subject is love, we let our
guard down. As with Nabokov and Flaubert, Márquez takes
advantage of this, as he explores the ways love turns into an
obsession, a way of deceiving ourselves, or even a type of illness.

Of course, the title is a dead giveaway. The marketing department
could have told you before the end of the first focus group that you
don’t put the word “cholera” on the cover of a novel. (Okay, maybe
it could have been worse: have you seen the episode of The
Simpsons, in which Marge is reading a book called
Love in the Time
Of Scurvy
?) In truth, Márquez wants to undermine the marketing
department. One of his goals is to show how easily people are
afflicted and betrayed by their romantic notions –- how they get
caught up in the hype, so to speak.  In
Love in the Time of Cholera,
this is seen most clearly in the character of Florentino Ariza, who is
rejected as a young man by Fermina Daza, a “beautiful adolescent
with . . . almond-shaped eyes . . . [who] walked with natural
haughtiness, her head high, her eyes unmoving.”

Despite his failure to impress the young lady, Ariza cannot give up
his hopes. He has the psychological profile of a stalker, so deep is his
obsession with Daza. Even after she marries Dr. Juvenal Urbino, and
enjoys a modestly happy life with her husband, Ariza continues to
pine. And he waits . . . and waits and waits.

Ariza doesn’t quite hold out for the whole hundred years of romantic
solitude. Only a half-century, give or take a few months. Even
during this period, his fidelity to the great love of his life co-exists
with 622 hardly-worth-mentioning affairs of various durations. But,
of course, he turns to other women only to stifle the painful longing
for his one true love. Then, finally, he gets another chance to court
Fermina Daza.

Daza’s husband dies in a ridiculous accident, while trying to retrieve
a parrot from a mango tree. Ariza seizes the opportunity and travels
to the widow’s residence to repeat his promise of “eternal fidelity
and everlasting love.” The way Márquez’s romance plays out from
this point onward is almost a parody of courtship, one in which petty
concerns, physical infirmities, vanity, petulance and ignorance play
key roles.

Are all romances so clouded in self-deception? Perhaps Márquez
wishes to make this point. But by matching the crescendo of his love
story with diminuendo of his characters’ senescence, he is calling
particular attention to the foolish aspects of love. We miss this angle
when the romantic leads in a story look like Brad Pitt and Angelina
Jolie. But superficial glamour no longer cast a beguiling veil around
the proceedings when both lovers are in the grips of advanced

In short, Gabriel García Márquez has given us the great anti-love
story of our time. Instead of the so-called “magical realism,” for
which this author is well known, he offers us a different type of
realism, more sobering and freed from the typical clichés of
romances. The magic is in tatters, and if we are deceived by the
enchantment, it is simply because we haven’t been paying attention.

If that doesn’t sound appealing, you can always go back to the DVD
Titanic or The Collected Works of Erich Segal.  Love in the Time
of Cholera
is not that type of story. But for the thinking person, an
expose of this depth and scope should be worth more than a
hundred banal tales that end happily ever after.
The New Canon focuses on
great works of fiction
published since 1985.  These
books represent the finest
literature of the current era,
and are gaining recognition as
the new classics of our time. In
this installment of
The New
, Ted Gioia reviews
Love in the Time of Cholera
by Gabriel García Márquez.
The New Canon
The Best in Fiction Since 1985
The New Canon

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Love in the Time of Cholera

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