Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
Love in the Time of Cholera is a love story, but not in the traditional sense. It spans decades (over half a century, in fact) and tells both of the all-consuming passion of the bloom of young love and the more subdued, but no less powerful magnetism of companionship and shared lifetimes. We follow the lives of Fermina Daza, a young daughter of a sketchy businessman in South America, Florentino Ariza, the eclectic son of a notions merchant, and Dr. Juvenal Urbino, a second-generation aristocrat and enterprising doctor. The book begins with the death of Dr. Urbino after nearly 50 years of marriage to Fermina Daza, and traces back to the love affair between Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza that predates her marriage, and begins anew after her husband's death. Love emerges in both classic and entirely unexpected ways, in various iterations and permutations. The end result is not, therefore, a straightforward, linear tale of two lovers, but a stunning portrayal of love in all its forms.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here
I loved this book. If you know me personally and you've chatted with me while I was reading the earlier stages of the book, you know that I wasn't wild about it when I first started it. But, much like Hemingway's novels, the book crept up on me. The language was undeniably magnificent, and the imagery sublime, but it wasn't until over halfway through that I felt the poignant tenderness of Florentino Ariza's unswerving passion for Fermina Daza, and her complicated path of maturity and journey to motherhood and beyond. If you haven't read it, I'd highly recommend it. I do recommend you enter into the book with an open mind, and perhaps even more importantly, a good dose of patience.
- Dr. Urbino's library (#iwantit)
"But no other room displayed the meticulous solemnity of the library, the sanctuary of Dr. Urbino until old age carried him off. There, all around his father's walnut desk and the tufted leather easy chairs, he had lined the walls and even the windows with shelves behind glass doors, and had arranged in an almost demented order the three thousand volumes bound in identical calfskin with his initials in gold on the spines. Unlike the other rooms, which were at the mercy of noise and foul winds from the port, the library always enjoyed the tranquillity and fragrance of an abbey." As a side-note, Florentino Ariza is also an avid reader, but since he isn't as well off as Dr. Urbino until much later in his life, it says Florentino lovingly sewed his novels into cardboard covers. What a sweetheart. <3 adorable="" i="">3>
I am always most struck by the moments in books that seem piercingly relevant to life today. Dr. Urbino and Fermina Daza have a big fight after several very calm years of marriage, and, as is often the case, the fight is not over anything substantial, but in fact, over whether or not Fermina Daza had remembered to restock the soap. I loved the moment when, after an extended period of being confined to another room each night, Dr. Urbino falls asleep on their bed, and when Fermina Daza tries to shake him awake and send him off, he finally relents, and just mumbles, "Let me stay here, there was soap." :)
- Florentino Ariza, when he sees Fermina Daza on Christmas Eve
"In the din of fireworks and native drums, of colored lights in the doorways and the clamor of the crowd yearning for peace, Florentino Ariza wandered like a sleepwalker until dawn, watching the fiesta through his tears, dazed by the hallucination that it was he and not God who had been born that night."
- Love without speaking (Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza (the first time around)
"It was the year they fell into devastating love. Neither one could do anything except think about the other, dream about the other, and wait for letters with the same impatience they felt when they answered them. Never in that delirious spring, or in the following year, did they have the opportunity to speak to each other."Can you imagine falling in love with someone in this day and age and not being able to speak to them for over a year?
- Soul crushing agony - when young Fermina Daza rejects young Florentino Ariza
"Now, instead of the commotion of love, she felt the abyss of disenchantment. In an instant the magnitude of her own mistake was revealed to her, and she asked herself, appalled, how she could have nurtured such a chimera in her heart for so long and with so much ferocity. She just managed to think: My God, poor man! Florentino Ariza smiled, tried to say something, tried to follow her, but she erased him from her life with a wave of her hand." and later, "Today when I saw you, I realized that what is between us is nothing more than an illusion." I died a little in my heart when this happened. I knew the passion of their youthful amour was too effusive to last, but I never expected her to totally rescind her affection!
- 51 years, 9 months, and 4 days
is how long Florentino Ariza waits to re-confess his love for Fermina Daza. I'm not sure there's anything in my life I would wait 51 years for. Maybe if you told me I could have a million dollars in 51 years, or a super-fantastic house, or a multi-year vacation across the globe. But still, I'm not sure. 51 years is a Long, Long time.
- Fermina Daza's cousin, Hildebranda, on meeting the newly spurned Florentino Ariza
"He is ugly and sad, but he is all love." possibly my favorite description of a protagonist ever.
Florentino Ariza's appearance: "The only area in which he persisted in defying time and fashion was in his somber attire, his anachronistic frock coats, his unique hat, the poet's string ties from his mother's notions shop, his sinister umbrella." I could just picture Florentino Ariza, standing in today's relentless rain, staring back at me and clutching his sinister umbrella.
- Letters from Florentino
"This was the period when he spent his free time int he Arcade of the Scribes, helping unlettered lovers to write their scented love notes, in order to unburden his heart of all the words of love that he could not use in customs reports." Florentino has too much love to know what to do with, so he starts writing love letters for other people. Amusingly enough, this leads to him writing both sides of some love affairs:
"and so it was that he became involved in a feverish correspondence with himself."hehe, oh, Florentino. such a romantic!
- Florentino, on a love letter wooing Fermina Daza after the death of her husband
"It had to be a mad dream, one that would give her the courage she would need to discard the prejudices of a class that had not always been hers but had become hers more than anyone's. It had to teach her to think of love as a state of grace: not the means to anything but the alpha and omega, an end in itself."
- Love is love at any age. Take that, Ofelia!
Ofelia Urbino Daza (Fermina Daza and Dr. Urbino's daughter), to her brother, on her mother's late blooming affection for Florentino Ariza: "Love is ridiculous at our age, but at theirs it is revolting."
Fermina Daza's response: "The only thing that hurts me is that I do not have the strength to give you the beating you deserve for being insolent and evil-minded. But you will leave this house right now, and I swear to you on my mother's grave that you will not set foot in it again as long as I live." that's right, Fermina Daza! you tell her!
- On Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza
Fermina Daza, and Florentino's hope that she may have room to love him after all his waiting: "She began to speak of her dead husband in the present tense, as if he were alive, and Florentino Ariza knew then that for her, too, the time had come to ask herself with dignity, with majesty, with an irrepressible desire to live, what she should do with the love that had been left behind without a master."
- Don't worry, it's not cholera - it's love
When Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza finally get together (in their seventies), they sail on a riverboat full of companions. The trip to their destination is fine (they're in the early stages of companionship), but they're horrified by the public nature of the audience they would need to share their love with on their return, so Florentino Ariza, who runs the riverboat company, tells the captain to fly the boat home with a cholera flag (which suggests the ship is quarantined, and would require only Florentino Ariza, Fermina Daza, and critical crew members on the ship).
- "If such things were done for so many immoral, even contemptible reasons, Florentino Ariza could not see why it would not be legitimate to do them for love."
- "During the day they played cards, ate until they were bursting, took gritty siestas that left them exhausted, and as soon as the sun was down the orchestra began to play, and they had anisette with salmon until they could eat and drink no more." sounds perfect to me!
My favorite passage in the whole book, on Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza together (at last) in their seventies:
"It was as if they had leapt over the arduous calvary of conjugal life and gone straight to the heart of love. They were together in silence like an old married couple wary of life, beyond the pitfalls of passion, beyond the brutal mockery of hope and the phantoms of disillusion: beyond love. For they had lived together long enough to know that love was always love, anytime and anyplace, but it was more solid the closer it came to death."
Particularly Pleasing Passages
- "In summer an invisible dust as harsh as red-hot chalk was blown into even the best-protected corners of the imagination by mad winds that took the roofs off the houses and carried away children through the air."
- on Florentino Ariza's serenades: "One of his favorite spots was the paupers' cemetery, exposed to the sun and the rain on an indigent hill, where turkey buzzards dozed and the music achieved a supernatural resonance. Later he learned to recognize the direction of the winds, and in this way he was certain that his melody carried as far as it had to."
- on daily life at a brothel where Florentino made an unusual number of friends (just regular friends, readers - he had plenty of special friends while he waited for Fermina Daza, but oddly enough not at the brothel): "It was a daily fiesta that lasted until dusk, when the naked women marched, singing, toward the bathrooms, asked to borrow soap, toothbrushes, scissors, cut each other's hair, dressed in borrowed clothes, painted themselves like lugubrious clowns, and went out to hunt the first prey of the night. Then life in the house became impersonal and dehumanized, and it was impossible to share in it without paying."
- on Fermina Daza and her father's return home from their journey: "Fermina Daza was no longer the only child, both spoiled and tyrannized by her father, but the lady and mistress of an empire of dust and cobwebs that could be saved only by the strength of invincible love."
- Dr. Juvenal Urbino, trying to fall asleep the night after his return 'home' from school in Paris: "He was tormented by the hallucinating screams of the madwomen in the Divine Shepherdess Asylum next door, the harsh dripping from the water jar into the washbasin which resonated throughout the house, the long-legged steps of the curlew wandering in his bedroom, his congenital fear of the dark, and the invisible presence of his dead father in the vast sleeping mansion."
- "Then there was such a diaphanous silence that despite the disorder of the birds and the syllables of water on stone, one could hear the desolate breath of the sea."
- "From time to time, fragments of fugitive voices escaped through open balconies, bedroom confidences, sobs of love magnified by phantasmal acoustics and the hot fragrance of jasmine in the narrow, sleeping streets."
- on Fermina Daza and Dr. Urbino's marriage: "Together they had overcome the daily incomprehension, the instantaneous hatred, the reciprocal nastiness and fabulous flashes of glory in the conjugal conspiracy."
- "The wind from the Caribbean blew in the windows along with the racket made by the birds, and Fermina Daza felt in her blood the wild beating of her free will."