“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.” And with that poignant line, Gabriel Garcia Marquez begins his masterpiece “Love in the Time of Cholera.”
The novel may seem quite a challenge at first glance to some readers with its seemingly endless paragraphs and little to no dialogue. This is not the kind of book a person can rush through over the course of a weekend. No, this book demands your time and if you give it, reading the words at the pace Garcia Marquez seems to mark in his prose, you will be rewarded with a work of pure literary genius.
“Love in the Time of Cholera” follows the lives and loves of three characters. For Florentino Ariza, our romantic, love is like an illness. He is so in love with the idea of love that he even has a hard time writing a business correspondence without including the heart. On the opposite side is the realist, Dr. Juvenal Urbino. He is kind but in many ways emotionless. And in between these men is the beautiful Fermina Daza, independent, headstrong, and a little cold, who seems to find more joy in her pets than in people.
These are obviously not perfect individuals, and for each of them their actions and decisions have ramifications just like for us. There are affairs, disease and ruin skirting around every page. You might not always like these characters, but by the end of the book you will miss them, just as much as a friend you haven’t seen in years.
If the book were to have a fourth main character, it would be death. For death is always around the characters, it’s part of their world. If there’s a cruise, bodies may be in the water, and love affairs many times end tragically. So it is not surprising that one of the most profound and moving images in the book is that of a young Florentino serenading his heart’s desire, but having to do so from a cemetery.
The novel even begins with a suicide. A local photographer kills himself, determined not to live into old age. In a way, with that death, Garcia Marquez challenges himself to prove that character’s philosophy wrong. Life is always worth living, there is beauty to be found even in the darkest moments and love is always possible, no matter the age.
I have only recently finished this book, and I already want to return to it. I want to walk the arcade of the scribes, read in the parks, and speak with the characters. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s vision of Colombia is hauntingly real, and he was beloved throughout his country. And while he may be gone, in this book, his soul will forever carry on, sailing down the Magdalena River with a yellow flag hanging from the staff.
Current State contributor Scott Southard is author of the novels “A Jane Austen Daydream" and “Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare." More of his writing can be found at his blog, The Musings and Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard.