Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Love in the Time of Cholera: Book Review

After 3 months, 4 days and one 8 hours of feverish reading in one day I finally finished Love in the Time of Cholera this Sunday. I tried to write about my reflections on the book over the last few days but I think I was still entrenched in the world of Fermina and Florentino and needed some time to exorcise the story from my body and consciousness.

Like our heroine Fermina Daza had with woeful hopeless romantic Florentino Ariza I had a love/hate relationship with this book. Several years ago I picked it up full of innocent longing for a good story, but after reading several dozen pages I decided that the that it didn’t have the chops to keep my attention for the long haul. It was exiled to the book shelf, out of sight and out of mind for several years passed (though nowhere near the 51 years and some change that Florentino patiently idled away his time in love affairs to break the monotony of endless pining for Fermina while he waited for her husband to die so he could once again put the moves on her). Out of the blue, the book became an Oprah book club selection and started generating a lot of buzz. This piqued my curiousity and I slowly warmed again to the idea of reading the story. Perhaps I had made a mistake the first time around.

Here is a brief plot summary: Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza were childhood sweethearts. Although they never shared a proper conversation, they steal surreptious glances and fan the flames of young love with a secret correspondence of love letters. When Fermina decides that what exists between she and Florentino is not love, but some kind of adolescent illusion, she rejects him and leaves him tormented and brokenhearted. Fermina goes on to marry and have children, but Florentino spends his entire life carrying a torch for Fermina. While he stays devout in his singular love and devotion for Fermina Daza, he finds comfort in a multitude of secret love affairs of the flesh. 51 years, 9 months and 4 days go by since the days of their earlier letters when, upon the death of Fermina's husband, Florentino steps out of the shadows to once again profess his everlasting fidelity .

While it wasn’t my very favorite book of all time and I would be cautious recommending this book to just anyone, I enjoyed the story and the rich portraits of the characters spanning two centuries in Colombia. Florentino Ariza was at the same time a devoted and caring and borderline maniacal and stalkerish suitor. Fermina was haughty and obstinate, a woman whose identity was spirited identity is traded for the stable life of a wife and mother. Gabriel Garcia Marquez can write vivid heart breaking descriptions of the joy and agony of love in all of its many forms like no other. I also think he perfectly captured the inherent contradictions in human character.

On the downside, I found that the meticulously detailed descriptions that drew me into the story and kept me wanting more also served to repel me at other points in the narrative. Sometimes in the middle section of the book I thought I could take a slow boat to Paris and back before the plot would move forward.

After reading the story of Florentino and Fermina's early days of exchanging letters and her ultimate rejection, I felt like this was one of the best books ever written. It make me feel as though I wanted to stimulate my brain with some more challenging classics (although this is a more contemporary classic as I later found out this book was written in 1985) but at other times I felt like I was just gritting my teeth and pushing through. That said, I felt satisfied but weary and did feel like I should get a medal for conquering the marathon of books when I finally reached the final page.

Next up:
My next Girls Book and Wine Club selection:
Him Her Him Again The End of Him by Saturday Night Live writer alum Patricia Marx.


Anonymous said...

so glad youre writing about books. i really need to find a good one.

any tips?

Jessica said...

What kind of books do you usually like to read? Fiction? Memoirs? Travel stories?

2cool2care said...

i didn't read the book. but i saw the movie. yes i saw it twice and i liked it...

Anonymous said...

If you are going to write, perhaps you should edit your work. Are you allergic to sentence structure? Unless you are 15 years old, and even then, this is an absolutely dreadful blog.

The Layman said...

It's a marathon book indeed :)
Took me three months too.

Some parts are so well written that you keep on reading wanting more and at other times it feels like you you are making your way through a thick forest of descriptions.

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