>> Thursday, July 17, 2014
TITLE: Love In The Time Of Cholera (read in Spanish: El Amor en los Tiempos del Cólera)
AUTHOR: Gabriel García Márquez
SETTING: Late 19th and early 20th century Colombia
In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina eventually chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is a romantic. As he rises in his business career he whiles away the years in 622 affairs--yet he reserves his heart for Fermina. Her husband dies at last, and Florentino purposefully attends the funeral. Fifty years, nine months, and four days after he first declared his love for Fermina, he will do so again.
Well, shit. I pick this book for book club myself, and then I get so revolted before I get to the end that I can't even finish.
No summary from me, as the one above is perfect and to the point. I'll start with the good. First: the language. The language is incredible. García Márquez plays with it, stretches it one way and the other, mixes baroque, dense language with earthy content in ways that sound almost surreal. The tone suits his setting perfectly, the Old World, elegant charm of the patrician families, but living in a tropical, messy, smelly and disease-prone Caribbean town. His metaphors and imagery are vivid, often surprising and even puzzling, but in ways that serve the effects he was looking for (e.g. a woman Florentino lusts after has "Portuguese eyelids that made her seem even more aloof" - my first reaction was "huh?", but the mystery of the image somehow made the woman seem more mysterious herself). In short, the man can write.
It's an entertaining story, too. The characters are too exaggerated (albeit with a kernel of truth in them) for me to particularly care about, but they kind of had to be that way for the author to be able to illustrate love as a physical, rather than only emotional, affliction, which is one of the themes here.
But then we immediately get to the negatives. All throughout the book, I found myself very disturbed by the portrayal of women (and I've had the same issue with other Latin American writers, such as Mario Vargas Llosa and Isabel Allende). Women here are always male fantasies. They are subservient to men, all they want in life is to be loyal and loving to men, most of whom treat them cruelly. These men cheat on their women, completely disregard them, but the women portrayed positively are all pathetically, dog-like loyal anyway, basically gagging for it. They fall madly in love with their rapists and seek to find them again for the rest of their lives. They're forever available, forever ready to be used. I hated it.
Bad enough, but then we get to one of Florentino's latest "conquests" at the time Fermina's husband dies. América Vicuña is 13 and has been sent by her family to the city, to be in the care of Florentino, who's a distant relative. What happens then is portrayed in the book as Florentino seducing her into a passionate affair, but it read quite clearly as what it actually was: a vile, dirty old man grooming a child and raping her. I was repulsed by the events themselves, but it was the way they were written that made me physically sick and made me want to throw up. The narration doesn't seem to feel there's anything too wrong with Florentino's actions. They're naughty in the same way as his affairs with married women are naughty, that's all. América is not harmed by this at all... in fact, after a few years of this, when Fermina's husband finally dies and Florentino indicates that their "affair" (sorry for the constant quote marks, but I just can't bring myself to leave them out) is at an end, she reacts like a jealous mistress who wants to keep her man. No, just, no. I could quote some choice sections if I wanted to make you all want to feel sick, but I'm not that evil (if you think I'm exaggerating, follow this link, which includes the English translation of a particularly horrific passage and explores how this is a problem in other of this author's books).
MY GRADE: It was a DNF.