“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.” From the very beginning, the sensuality of the language in Gabriel García Márquez’s novel Love in the Time of Cholera warmly invites the reader to contemplate the very physical nature of love—what it feels like, what it tastes and smells like—as Márquez guides the reader through the oftentimes sad, but beautiful lives of his protagonists.
Progressive yet eccentric Dr. Juvenal Urbino, unassuming and dedicated Florentino Ariza, and beautiful Fermina Daza collectively form the framework of Márquez’s story: three intricate characters caught in a complex web of love and circumstance.
Love in the Time of Cholera recounts Florentino Ariza’s patient wait for the love of his youth, Fermina Daza, as she passes the years married to the handsomely charming Dr. Urbino. The novel finds an unlikely hero in Ariza, a willowy, fragile man who possesses neither incredible wit nor charisma––just an ideological (and sometimes outrageous) sense of love that is capable of overshadowing all else.
Ariza remains “emotionally” loyal to Fermina Daza, though, in the course of his lifetime, he engages in 622 affairs with other women: widows, young girls, and even one escapee from a nearby asylum.
The near-endless accounts of Ariza’s trials and affairs, as well as Fermina Daza’s exploration of her marriage into the privileged class tend to slow the pace of the novel towards the middle, but the most significant portion of the novel’s literary merits stem not from the pace or the plot, but from Márquez’s curiously vivid and haunting descriptions of the setting.
As the plot winds its way in and out of time, the one constant is the unnamed Caribbean island that serves as the backdrop for the story. The lyrical quality of the description is almost sickeningly entrancing; the reader must take caution not to fall too deeply into the streets “full of paper garlands, music, flowers, and girls with colored parasols and muslin ruffles” lest he forget the actual narrative of the novel. Still, the effect is dazzling.
Through contrasting descriptions of the “city of the Viceroys” and “the old slave quarter,” where “everything [looks] wretched and desolate,” Márquez brings a rich history to his fictional Caribbean island city that feels real enough to be a true historical account. The reader becomes “an easy victim to the charitable deceptions of nostalgia” as he experiences an inherent pull towards an island he has never known and that frankly, may only exist in the imagination of the author.
But the nostalgia works also as a literary tool, connecting the reader to the plight of Ariza, whose desire to return to the youthful days of his feverish and half-secret romance with Fermina Daza consumes almost every one of his thoughts.
Love in the Time of Cholera never moralizes; it only presents the reader with numerous situations that seem to represent the exception to every rule. Along the sensual, eccentric, quietly humorous journey, the reader will catch himself defining and redefining the traditional ideas of love, fidelity, and the human experience.