Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Love and Death: An Excellent Combo - Who Would Have Thought?

Currently Reading: Thursday Next: First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde

I’m desperately attempting to squeeze in one more blog post before the year ends.

Ordinarily when it takes me this long to write a new blog post, it’s due to a combination of extenuating circumstances, a lack of motivation, and a severe case of procrastination. While December did bring about some expected distractions – another wedding and the holiday season – what really kept me from writing was plain old writer’s block.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is one of those rare books that’s so beautiful and challenging that it’s seemingly impossible to write about it. Every time I would sit down to write about this layered story, my thoughts would fly about and suddenly my pen would transform into a useless butterfly net, desperately trying to catch them and eventually pin them down into a logical order. Not an ideal situation. Partly because the idea of pinning butterflies is abhorrent to me and partly because I would end up frustrated and feeling stupid – how smart can you feel with a butterfly net?

There are so many aspects of this novel I want to discuss, but I refuse to write another post like I did for Brave New World, as I feel that disjointed mess almost shamed the book rather than praised it. So I’m going to do my very best to limit myself and make this post cohesive.

If nothing else is conveyed clearly in this post, I want to make this point undeniably clear:

This book was so well written!

Marquez is an unquestionably talented author. No matter what else I feel about this book, I know that I would love it just for the writing. In addition to rich, unique descriptions and multidimensional, flawed yet lovable characters, Love in the Time of Cholera has some of the most impressive transitions I have ever seen. Marquez effortlessly moves from one aspect of the story to the next; from one character's point of view to the other's. Reading this novel feels like floating on a lazy river, when you become so relaxed and engrossed with the glorious calm that you barely notice that you’ve drifted to a completely different part of the world. The smoothness of his writing flow made the journey through his novel an easy, enjoyable ride despite the complexity of the characters and the story.

The graceful writing almost disguises just how complicated some of the ideas of this story are. After all, Love in the Time of Cholera dares to take on two of the most confusing aspects of life – love and death – and handles them with equal parts romance and practicality.


It begins with a childish love story between Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza, who fall deeply, passionately in love in their adolescence despite barely exchanging more than twenty words in person. Instead, they communicate through love letters and eventually agree to marry, inducing a series of intense eye-rolls from this somewhat jaded reader. However, the lovers’ plans are thwarted by Fermina’s father, who takes the irrational girl away to visit family in the hope that she will forget her fiancĂ©, whom he has deemed unworthy. When the love-struck girl finally returns and is reunited with her love, maturity instantly clears her childish vision and she is shamed and horrified that she ever thought she truly loved Florentino.

Time continues on. Fermina marries another man, but Florentino continues to devote his life to someday gaining another chance to be with Fermina, who he has decided is his one true love. After a lifetime of patience, Florentino is rewarded when Fermina’s husband dies – in an almost slapstick manner – and he has the opportunity to woo her once again. However, this time he has learned and is able to make a more mature pursuit, one that is equal parts romantic and pragmatic.

In the end, the couple is at last united and despite their old age, they are reinvigorated with their love for one another and ultimately reclaim their youth. Even if you are skeptical of their love story throughout the novel, the lovers’ end is so adorably sweet and refreshingly realistic – including a disappointing first time after decades of anticipation – that it will melt your heart.

I think what makes Love in the Time of Cholera such a wonderful love story is that it handles all the various types of love out there. It doesn’t just examine the tumultuous, passionate, and fantastical first love. It explores the hardships and benefits of marital love, sustained flings, and the too-hot love of one-night-stands. While most stories view one as more important or truer or more honorable, this story acknowledges each relationship as a type of love and treats each as just as valid a type of love as the romantic, passionate one. It was revealing and refreshing and even uplifting.

Perhaps part of what makes this story feel like an accurate depiction of love is (oddly) the ever-looming presence of death throughout. Fermina and Florentino’s love story is not set in a fairy tale land where the world seems to stop and death only appears as a plot convenience. Instead, it is ever-present, casting a shadow on the love story from the very first page. After all, the novel begins with a suicide of a minor character who has consciously made the choice to die rather than grow old. Hell, the whole book takes place during a cholera epidemic, when people are constantly dying of the disease. It’s a little hard to escape death when it’s all around you, even if you are pining for your one true love.

Though at times this focus on death is rather morbid and a bit creepy, I actually believe it adds to the power of the story. It serves as a consistent reminder that time is limited, which makes you want to cherish the love in your life all the more, no matter what kind it is.

I highly recommend this book.

Even if the story between Florentino and his ward at the end is completely perverted and beyond revolting…