Love in the Time of Cholera

I don't like this book.

I'm not exactly sure how to get around talking about it without letting out a whole bunch of secrets, so ... here:


There. You were warned.

This is the latest book club book, chosen by one of the Emilys. She talked about it with a lot of passion and excitement, so I thought it was going to be really great.

I knew going in that it had been translated to English from Spanish, and that the prose was going to be a bit fanciful because of that. And, in fact, I thought the writing was quite beautiful; it was the story that sucked.

Somewhere in the Caribbean, in the late 1800s, a young man named Florentino Ariza falls in love with a girl named Fermina Daza. He sees her one day and ZAP! falls in love. She doesn't notice him at all, but he follows her around everywhere until she finally realizes that she has a stalker. She is, of course, enchanted rather than disgusted, and while she gives no outward appearance of paying any attention, she begins to look for him when she is walking to school and so forth, and he is always there.

They begin a secret correspondence, which ends when Fermina Daza's father finds out, and he is absolutely NOT OKAY with his daughter being in love with an illegitimate son of a guy named after a Pope (that part's not important; I just thought it was funny in an ironic way). Fermina Daza's father did not work and save and bully his way into the upper echelons just so his daughter could throw it all away on a nobody. So he takes her on a three year trip, thinking that she will forget all about Florentino Ariza, except that all the telegraph operators along the journey keep Florentino Ariza updated (he is a telegraph operator himself), and they manage to keep their secret love alive.

Then Fermina Daza comes back to town--her father having deemed it safe now--and when she sees Florentino Ariza in the market, she basically has a "What was I THINKING????" moment and falls out of love with him right then. This is the only part of the book I liked. Well, Florentino Ariza can't take it, and he is like a big baby about it, and stalks her even more, and makes me want to puke, and it's all very annoying, both to me and to Fermina Daza.

So one day, Fermina Daza's not feeling well, and her dad thinks she has the cholera so he sends for a doctor, Dr. Juvenal Urbino. She doesn't have the cholera, but Juvenal Urbino is immediately struck by her beauty, or something; he's not in love with her, exactly, but he knows she is meant to be his wife.

And they get married. They fall in love on their honeymoon, but reality hits when they get home (two years later), and they start to have some problems. They live in relative peace, though, and eventually take another honeymoon and fall in love all over again.

In the meantime, Florentino Ariza has made a promise to himself that he will remain true to Fermina Daza, and that he will love her forever, and what this means is that he will sleep with over 600 women, but it's okay as long as he doesn't love them. His definition of fidelity is weird. Anyway, he does sort of fall in love with a couple of them, but always, always, he goes back to this idea that he and Fermina Daza are meant to be together, and eventually it's been fifty years and he is unmarried and sleeping with his fourteen-year-old ward, whose parents entrusted her to him.

Now, the book had begun to go off the rails for me fairly early in, but this was the last straw. I mean, really. [It's not even a big part of the book; it's miniscule, really, hardly even mentioned. I am just very touchy about that, as you know, because of my job.]

Juvenal Urbino dies in a tragicomic accident, when he is up on a ladder trying to coax his pet parrot out of a tree, and then he falls off the ladder. And the day of the funeral, Florentino Ariza shows up at the house and is all, "AT LAST WE CAN BE TOGETHER!" But Fermina Daza is having none of it, and she sends him away. He's so confused--"I thought she loved me all these years!" he thinks, as he begins redecorating his house so she can move in (even though she has, in the meantime, written him an angry letter about his presumption).

So then he starts writing letters to her, and she is charmed by them, and he breaks up with the teenager, and they go on a cruise together. They are both in their 70s by now, and one night they are going to have sex, and he says to her, "I've remained a virgin for you," and I literally had to put the book down because I was so angry. He's a liar, and she knows it, but she lets it go and then they have sex, I GUESS.

They put up the cholera flag on the boat so nobody will bother them, but when they get into their home port, the officials won't let them come ashore, so they turn around, and evidently they're going to spend the rest of their lives (?) sailing up and down the river.

P.S. The fourteen-year-old kills herself.

Here is why I don't like this book:

I don't like the characters. (This was going to be a list, but then I realized that this is the only reason I have.)

Florentino Ariza is a baby. Seriously, his mom gives him whatever he wants, and she tries to make everything all right for him, and he is very, very ... if he lived today, he would be one of those emo kids with the dyed black hair and the eye liner and the journals full of bad poetry (he does write bad poetry, in the book), all "Nobody gets me," and just a grating, time-sucking, high maintenance type. He rationalizes his behavior in whatever way he can, so he never feels that he is doing anything wrong.

I grew impatient with him fairly quickly; I wanted to wring him by his neck and yell, "GET OVER IT!!!" I have no tolerance for that kind of behavior.
Sometime during the Seduction of the 600, it says that Florentino Ariza thought that when a woman said no, she really meant something else (that's a paraphrase). This is another thing I have no tolerance for. So, when he persisted in his attentions to Fermina Daza, even after she'd made her own feelings quite clear (TWICE), and she came around to his way of thinking, it justified his behavior. I don't think he should be rewarded for that. I think he should be kicked to the curb.

p.s. He was over 70 when he got involved with the teenager.

p.p.s. Hers was not the first death he was responsible for; he'd labeled one of his lovers with paint, and her husband saw it, and he sliced her throat.

Fermina Daza was almost likable; I was almost there with her, but then I realized that there wasn't anything really likable about her. She was efficient and organized, she was well-behaved, and she was boring. Why did men love her? What did she have to offer? I DON'T KNOW.

I did like Juvenal Urbino. Of course he dies in the first chapter.

One thing I thought about as I was reading the book was the names of the characters. Using my two years of high school Spanish and my four years of root-word study for my freshman reading class, as well as this site and this site, I jumped to a few conclusions.

Fermina Daza:
assuming her first name comes from the Spanish word fermento (ferment)
Fermina Daza does often seem agitated; she cannot make up her mind at times and will go back and forth before making a decision. She has a placid appearance, but she bubbles with anger under the surface.

Florentino Ariza
assuming his first name is from the root flor (flower) with variation florecer (to flourish)
Everything about Florentino Ariza is TOO MUCH. His clothing, while it's not puffy shirts and golden embroidery, is funereal and old-fashioned. When he falls in love with Fermina Daza, he writes an eighty page letter to tell her so (he doesn't give it to her). His poetry is over-written, his behavior is too melodramatic. In every way, he goes too far.

Juvenal Urbino
assuming his first name is from the Spanish word juvenil (juvenile, duh)
He is very childlike in his behavior. He sees something he wants, so he makes a big fuss until he gets it. He dislikes conflict. He depends too much on his mother, then on his wife. He is self-centered, but not in a malicious way; he just thinks the world revolves around him because no one's ever told him anything different.
assuming his last name is from the Spanish word urban (you can guess what it means)
Juxtaposed with Juvenal, his name is almost an oxymoron: the urbane (sophisticated) juvenile (child). But he is very worldy in terms of his knowledge; he studies hard, but he is also very idealistic. He is fond of his city and sets about to make it a place that reflects his tastes.

There are a few other characters whose names seem to have been specially chosen to reflect their personalities as well; after the first few pages I began to look for meanings in names, and I admit that this is what helped me to keep reading.

It seemed to me that the book dragged on FOREVER; I kept looking ahead to the end of a chapter and sighing, "Forty-two more pages." (The chapters are long.) Even though two weeks doesn't seem like a long time, it's a long time for ME to be reading a book, particularly one that isn't a thousand pages long and written in Elizabethan English.

I didn't think this was any kind of love story. Like Wuthering Heights, it's more a love-gone-wrong story, or an obsession story; none of the characters really displayed any of the traits that I would associate with love, one which--the chief one, I would say--is selflessness. None of them were willing to put anyone else above themselves, and maybe that's why I didn't particularly care for them, or for this book.


Anonymous said...

Perfect summary.

I tried to read the book but never made it half way through.

I bought the video but between what I read and what you wrote pretty much puts it all together.

I'm glad I didn't waste my 3 weeks. (I'm a slow reader)

So many people claim this is their favorite book.

Is it just that so many things found acceptable in the book are frowned upon in our society and so some people find it facinating in a way?

A lot of guys like the book and list it as a favorite book and I wonder is it because.

1. They like to imagine themselves having made love to over 600 women in a different place and time?

2. Does it remind them of first person they ever loved or crushed on? --But since nobody really forgets that, you don't really need a book or movie to remind you.

3. Are they facinated with Fermina even though she is boring she is attractive on the outside? A lot of people guys and girls never get over the "grass is greener on the other side" syndrome. I mean if Sex in the city had the girls in great monogamous relationships the show would have never lasted that long, Despirate house wives, Lipstick Jungle. No need to go on....some people alway wonder if the grass is greener in other pastures.

4. Is it the 50 year process to tame a shrew? All the while pollenating over 600 other "flowers" while your shrew "ferments" into a delicious wine? If Florentino would have ended up with her sooner would she have just been a sour grape?
Your name meaning study rocks

5. Is it the feeling that most young people have when they get an overwhelming "crush" on someone and they refuse to give up on that person but then they eventually do give up on that person and move on.

And then once in a while in their adult life they sit and question "What If I hadn't given up?". And they imagine what might have happened.

But to actually read about a stalker is sickening.

Imagining "What if" is not bad as long as it is not carried too far.

Also, some people imagine what would I do if my spouse died?

Would I go continue to sail the course I have traveled all these years and continue to go downstream or would I paddle back up stream and search for the one I did love or thought I loved years ago. I'm sure the old flame has traveled downstream as well and back peddling wouldn't do much good. .......I know my old high school looks different and it isn't filled with the same people I remember there.

The internet makes it easier to track old aquiantances but take it too far and now you are a real live stalker.

6. Also, cholera is a sickness but I have heard it used as a word to describe anger and rage torward another person(s).

So if it were rage and not sickness the title is talking about then we know Garcia is talking about a love/hate relationship and maybe that is why Florintio slept with so many others because he wanted to get back at Fermina, not over her.

Then he claims to be pure when he finally has sex with her when he is really lucky to still have private parts at all.

So, they make love in a time when he is still angery and bitter about her not spending her life with him.

So, even though she thought she had cholera (the disease) but didn't actually have it, it was her sickness that brought love and the doctor to her and Florintino was the one who ended up with cholera (the rage, emotions) for real.

So, Fermina found love in the time of sickness and Florintio found rage in the time of love.

So in the end everything will go full circle when Fermina is probably going to find STDs in the time of making love which will bring about rage.

And Florintino's rage or revenge (having sex with 622 ladies and then Fermina) will turn back to love but it doesn't matter because she will be filled with cholera toward him when the genital warts start forming and things go bad down south.

Mei said...

Interesting analysis.

The word choler means angry; according to dictionary.com, it is the Greek word for a disease, mostly likely the one we now know as cholera. Apparently people once thought that cholera (the disease) was caused by choler (the anger).

Also, according to dictionary.com, cholera is characterized by intestinal problems, which Florentino Ariza suffered from throughout his life. I'm wondering now if Florentino had a sort of cholera himself, like he was a carrier but was not fully affected. Wikipedia doesn't say anything about a strain of cholera like that, though, so it's likely that he had what was called cholera morbus, or what we know now as gastroenteritis.

Is it possible, though, that the title refers to Florentino's disease, if he did indeed have it? The author does take liberties with the history of cholera (as Wikipedia doesn't list any epidemics in the Caribbean, unless he counts the 1866 outbreak in North America; could he also have played with its biology?

I don't know why people like this book. I definitely don't know why someone would read it if he didn't have to?

The reasons you gave seem sound, but I would guess they would differ depending on the person's age.

Anonymous said...

Hahahaa! I enjoyed your comments and totally agree but still liked the book! GGM's writing was definitely better than the story and some of the subtleties combined with the clear references within the names etc. were nice. I did love the conversational style of the book. I am still wondering what in the heck Jeremiah St. Amore had to do with anything though.

Jan Priddy, Oregon said...

Thank you. I hated it for all the same reasons, but you have said it better.

Jan Priddy, Oregon said...

Thank you. I hated it for all the same reasons, but you have said it better.


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