World Book Night: G.M.Márquez’s Love in the time of cholera

World Book Night provided me with 48 copies of this novel by Gabriel García Márquez. All have now been distributed to a wide variety of people. It is many years since I last read this novel, and reading it in English is a ‘novel’ experience in itself. Working as a translator in retirement, and knowing some of the complexities of rendering a text into another language so as to conserve the meaning and style of the original text, I am very impressed at the sheer quality of Edith Grossman’s translation. She is an effective voice for Márquez’s prose in the English language.

For those who enjoy the thrills and spills of crime and spy fiction, or look for a crisis-at-the-end-of-every-chapter style of fiction, this is not for you. The narrative is long and meandering, delving deeply into human relationships, using the historical flashback as a fictional device to unearth the background of characters and circumstances. It is hard to read this book in snatches, because you will quickly lose the thread. Allow yourself time to follow the narrative, enjoy the breadth and variety of its language, and pierce the inner skin of the characters portrayed.

I’ve been a life-long fan of  D.H.Lawrence, whose narrative prose requires some perseverance to stay with the threads of character portrayal and the stream of consciousness that many of the characters manifest in their relationships with each other. Márquez is different in many ways to Lawrence, but there is a similarity in the narrative language used, and the depth of description of the characters that populate his fiction.

Although the story is told in the 3rd person, our view of the world is largely controlled by Florentino Ariza, and we are led to sympathise with his plight to win the heart of Fermina Daza. The reality of Floretino, if we step aside from his self-portrayal, is one of a predatory lover and sexual abuser, who spends his life using and abusing women until, finally, he commits the ultimate crime of seducing a 14 year old relative, who eventually commits suicide at a tragically young age. This conduct seems justified in his eyes because he is trying to overcome the desperate emotional loss of  Fermina in his teens, which has endured over 50 years. But is he a character you might meet in the real world? Is the lovesick Ariza, at the age of 80, really credible? Can we accept that what he felt for Fermina in his teens has continued, unchanged, into his 80s?

The term “cholera” in the title has an interesting double meaning. We know from the narrative that the disease ‘cholera’ is endemic throughout this region of Colombia, but the Spanish ‘cólera’ also means ‘rage, anger’, and probably refers to the anger that Ariza has felt throughout his life at losing the one woman he loved in his teens. There are also constant references to the many civil wars that provide the backdrop to the story. It is an age in Colombia of recurring conflict and destruction between Liberals and Conservatives.

If this novel by Márquez is not to your liking, don’t give up on him. Try any of his short novels. (Nobody Writes to the Colonel, In Evil Hour, Big Mama’s Funeral and the Story of the shipwrecked sailor). There’s not a lot of action and suspense, but rather a lyrical exploration of the human situation that blends a little bit of fantasy with reality (ie. ‘magic realism’).

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About Frank Burns

Looking for the extraordinary in the commonplace………taking the road less travelled……..striving for the ‘faculty of making happy chance discoveries’ in unremarkable circumstances. Click on the Personal Link below to visit my webpages.

Posted on March 7, 2011, in Book reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Frank Badcock

    I am very grateful to have received a copy of this book and read it from cover to cover. Would I recommend it to a friend? Of that I am not sure.
    After an earlier but unsuccessful experience with G G Marquez I was determined to persevere and started with enthusiasm which I managed to retain for almost half of the book. However it then became clear to me that the plot that I was searching for did not exist – it was not that kind of book ! Perhaps I did not approach it with the right attitude of mind but, sadly, I did not find the experience a satisfying one. My expectations were not fulfilled.
    I shall nevertheless pass it on, probably to my daughter, who I know is a GGM enthusiast.
    Frank Badcock

    • I agree Frank, this is not a piece of fiction with an identifiable plot that has a beginning, middle and end, with a few interweaving sub-plots to distract the attention. You do have to be a fan of ‘magic realism’ to like this kind of novel…………………..all part of the rich tapestry of fiction!

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