On Love in the Time of Cholera
When Dr Juvenal Urbino died, his widow Fermina Daza did not have much to grieve, their marriage was a success after all. That evening, she said goodnight to the mourners, and as she was about to close the front door, she saw a thin, impeccably dressed man standing there -- a man long forgotten, yet vaguely remembered. It was Florentino Ariza. He stepped forward, and not wasting any time, asked her what he was waiting to ask for the last 50 years: “Fermina, will you marry me?”
In Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez does not tell us what love is. He gives us the symptoms. It is very much like cholera. For one thing, both are incurable (especially in the context of the time, in the Caribbean, where the novel is set). It is the story of Florentino Ariza, poet, businessman and a casanova, and his incurable disease called love. A teenage Florentino falls in love with school-going Fermina. They have a brief courtship until her father finds out. The father tries all his might to keep them apart; one reason being, Florentino is poor and a bastard. Finally, he succeeds when rich Juvenal Urbino comes along and proposes marriage to Fermina.
Heartbroken as he was, Florentino soon decides that one day Dr Urbino is surely going to die and then he can win Fermina back. And till then he must work towards making himself worthy of her. Thus begins a long wait spanning 50 years -- a wait that defies age, time and memory, a wait interspersed with unrequited love and numerous sexual escapades.
What makes the novel extraordinary is the way Marquez embroiders upon the story of Florentino’s excessively romantic and impossibly melancholic love by adding layers upon layers of episodes, unquestionably of love, in different facets. Apart from Florentino-Fermina, Fermina-Juvenal love stories, there are also numerous affairs of Florentino Ariza.
At one point the novel becomes a collage of love stories of every possible manner. But what saves the book from being a mess is the charming presence of Florentino himself -- who refuses to dwell on the loss of love and works obsessively towards getting his love back, which he finally succeeds and how! Marquez does not tell us what love is. Instead, he introduces us to Florentino, who could say with conviction (even after his numerous affairs) to Fermina: “I have kept myself virgin only for you.”