Some stories live on long after the last page is turned!
Only Marquez can write about pure, unadulterated, and innocent love, even in its unrequited form, for more than a hundred pages and leave the reader aching for more. Love In The Time Of Cholera tells the tale of the sentimental Florentino Ariza falling irrevocably in love with the young Fermina Daza through a chance encounter, whereby an epistolary romance of epic proportions is birthed. As the title suggests, the work is an unusual amalgam of love in its purest form with love’s embodiment in everyday experiences. Our hero, stung by the romanticism of a bygone century, cannot help but wax lyrical even in business letters, and as such, establishes love as his raison d’être – following its shadow everywhere, yet unable to grasp at its essential light. Fermina, on the other hand, is seen to vacillate between the ends of idyllic love dreams and the nuptials of convenience – until the fast ticking clock of life closes down on her movement.
After their first meeting, the young lovers pour their love in letters and exchange nominals of love until Fermina suddenly rejects him (after returning from an exile imposed by her father, who disapproves of Florentino for reasons of class), being now-well-aware of the ways of the world to look beyond the naïve love and dreamy-eyed passion of her adolescence. She proceeds to solemnize a marriage of convenience with Dr. Juvenal Urbino, who serves as a foil to Florentino’s overblown romanticism. This is where the pragmatic and rational approach of Urbino to ‘invent’ love for Fermina, even as he didn’t feel it whilst consummating his marriage, stands in direct contrast to the undying devotion that Florentino has for Fermina – his soul remaining untouched and virginal, even as his body is consumed by flames of passion on his 622 erotic assignations.
Florentino continues to live on this Proustian nightmare for more than half the length of Love In the Time Of Cholera. A nightmare that evokes Fermina’s memories at every turn and which makes him cling to the nostalgia with every ounce of strength in his being – like an addict to his next high – until after about half a century, upon Urbino’s death, he manages to put an end to his self-imposed emotional exile and verbalize his ‘vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love’ for Fermina at her husband’s funeral. The ill-timed proposal isn’t accepted well, and yet, Florentino persists until their ethereal courtship ends in the finality of earthly temporality.
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Their longest time together is the final voyage up the Magdalena river, where images of decay and death posit a sharp contrast with a love, eternal and everlasting. And Marquez, like the artful master he is, weaves it beautifully in this haunting passage from Love In The Time Of Cholera:
“Fifty years of uncontrolled deforestation had destroyed the river: the boilers of the riverboats had consumed the thick forest of colossal trees … the alligators ate the last butterfly and the maternal manatees were gone, the parrots, the monkeys, the villages were gone: everything was gone … At night they were awakened not by the siren songs of the manatees on the sandy beaches but by the nauseating stench of corpses floating down to the sea.”
And yet, right beside it remains the hope he had nested in his hero’s heart, whilst subtly planting it firmly in the heart of every reader ‘waiting’ with Florentino for love:
“Both were lucid enough to realize, at the same fleeting instant, that the hands made of old bones were not the hands they imagined before touching. In the next moment, however, they were.”
And the love lives on…