Posted by: Corri van de Stege | June 10, 2008

Love in a Time of Cholera – and some more

Of Love and Other DemonsLove in the Time of Cholera

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is one of the authors who won the Neustadt Prize for Literature.  Of course, he’s also a Nobel laureate, however, I chose his Love in a Time of Cholera as part of the Neustadt challenge.  He has written a raft of books, all in Spanish and I read the Penguin edition, translated by Edith Grossman.  In fact, it means that I have completed the Neustadt Challenge.  I must say I’ve greatly enjoyed this and will probably go on to read more of these authors: they are simply gorgeous!

For good measure, I also read Of Love and Other Demons, which is very gothic, truly magical realism, which mixes legends, myths and pure fiction into a wonderfully tragic story of a young girl, Servia Maria, who is bitten by a dog that has rabies.   ‘Cases of rabies were neither limited nor insignificant in the history of the city’ (p.11).   Servia Maria is twelve years old when this happens, the daughter of Bernarda Cabrera and the Marquis de Casalduero.  What follows is a dark story about superstitious beliefs, a callous and indifferent mother who is slowly descending into drug induced madness and abandons her daughter to live with the servants rather than acknowledge her, and a father who seeks the advice of the church, and eventually realises he actually loves the girl, but then it’s too late.  A raft of catholic dignitaries, nuns, priests and other officiados eventually subject Servia Maria to exorcism.  She is supposed to be full of evil powers and their unclean spirits must be expelled.  However, the priest who has taken on the care of her in the convent ruled by a wicked Abbess realises that she is not possessed and in fact falls in love with her. 

Every sentence, every paragraph is crafted in Marquez’ style, not a word too many, near gothic and able to evoke the superstitious environment in which the story is set, the middle ages. 


I liked Love in a Time of Cholera even better though.  It really is a love story, romantic fiction, but with all of Marquez’s power of words and ability to evoke all the different kinds of love one could think of, ranging from high-brow love Florentine Arizan feels for Fermina Diaz to the quick satisfaction found with street walkers and in bordellos.  This book is more measured, while at the same time it evokes the fantastic imagination of this love story, with characters that stay true to themselves from a very young age until well into their seventies, and even eighties.

Florentine Ariza has one love affair after another, while waiting for the day that Fermina Diaz, his first love when she is thirteen and a schoolgirl, becomes available again after she has spurned him and married Doctor Juvenal Urbino instead.  This marital love is steady and comforting and sees her through her life.   However, Florentine Arizan cannot forget her and his life goal is to have her back.

Each character is totally real and believable, however irrational they may appear at times, and irritatingly unlikeable, or perhaps it is because they come across so human through their stages of irrationality.  This is how people act out their lives; one person’s sanity is another person’s disbelief and incomprehension.  Florentine Arizan’s love life takes him from old woman to young girl and back again, and he is always resisting commitment in his enduring wait.  There’s a Lolita phase in which he uses a young girl in his charge to satisfy his obsession with women, and she kills herself when she realises that FA is serious about the now 70-odd year old widow Fermina Diaz.  She has become available once more after her husband died a tragic death trying to retrieve his pet parrot from a tree.  He had taught this parrot to speak languages and be cultured.

The richness of prose, the evocation of the scenes, characters and locations are intricate and masterful.  Wish I had half this author’s gift!

There’s the ending when the old couple renounce all life, duties and impositions to sail off into the sunset, the cholera flag flying.  Isn’t that how we would all wish to end our lives?

In an interview with the New York Times when the book is about to be published, and in answer to the question why he wrote a love story (the theme and style so very different from what he had written before) Marquez answers that ageing made him realise that feelings and sentiments, what happens in the heart, are ultimately the most important.  He says he could not have written this book when he was younger because when 60 ‘one becomes more serene in everything.’  Cheers to that!





  1. I’ve never read any Marques, but I do own a copy Of Love and Other Demons. You make me feel very keen to read it!

  2. Thanks for your review! I’ve had difficulty reading Marquez in the past, but Love in the Time of Cholera sounds like something I would enjoy.

  3. Litlove: it definitely is a good start!
    ex libris: I had difficulty in the past as well, perhaps one needs to be older (and wiser ?) to really appreciate him? 🙂

  4. Love your review. 🙂

    I’ll re-read Love in the Time of Cholera, one of my favorite books. It’s got this magic touch on love and how one sticks with the feeling the whole life.

  5. The sad news is that Gabriel Garcia Marquez is extremely ill with a terminal linfatic cancer. I am sorry to have myself to give you this news.

  6. John:mmmmm, life just gets in the way some times, doesn’t it? If only…

    Jose: This is very sad news, Marquez is such a great writer. If anyone celebrates life in words than he surely is it.

  7. The conversation with my friend this morning nudged to the direction of marriage. The first thing came off my head was Love in the Time of Cholera, which, I think, is reinforcing what holy and special marriage should be. I told him I do not really believe in marriage but if someone can love me as much as Florentine loves Fermina, I’ll give marriage a try.

  8. Matt: This is great comment on the book and love! It’s what relationships should be about, with or without marriage. If he’s the one then go for it – congratulations xx

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