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!
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!