Book Review: “Love in The Time of Cholera”

Rating - 9 out of 10 Love in The Time of Cholera (translated from Spanish by Edith Grossman) is the first book I’ve read by Gabriel García Márquez.

It’s a masterfully written love story that I just diminished by calling it a love story because it just happens to be about a guy so obsessed and in love with a woman in his youth that he’s willing to wait a lifetime for a chance to make his move, but it’s also packed with astute observations about every kind of human behaviour under the sun, and I bought into every bit of it.

It’s a pleasure to read because the writing is eloquent but raw, no messing around, something compelling and vivid on every page, but also absurdly humorous, which helps.

The story spans generations without losing sight of its central question — something to do with the nature of love, whatever that is, but I won’t say more — and it’s hard not to marvel at the literary accomplishment along García Márquez’s insights into human nature.

And I love the ending. It’s likely to be one of the most memorable novels I’ve ever read.

About Phillip

Phillip Cairns is a beekeeper in St. John's, Newfoundland, who writes about beekeeping at MudSongs.org.
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4 Responses to Book Review: “Love in The Time of Cholera”

  1. Michelle says:

    Sucked, I couldn’t get past the first chapter, and that is pretty bad considering I’ve managed to get through a lot of crappy novels.

  2. Jody says:

    I first heard about this when Dad bought it around when it was published, 1985 or so. It’s one of the many thousands of books in my house I haven’t read yet. Some day.

    • Phillip says:

      I remember seeing “Love in the Time of Cholera” and “100 Years of Solitude” around for years and years (in a boxed set maybe?), but neither one ever grabbed me whenever I read the first page or so. (That’s one thing I appreciate about growing up in our house, I was always aware of the renowned authors because between Dad’s books and your books, they were everywhere, all the classics, etc. I’m glad I waited until I was older to read most of them. I doubt I’d appreciate a novel like this while living at home. Anyway…) The writing is dense, not a quick and easy read. I had to give it my full attention, but it was worth it.

      There are no breaks or standard chapters in the novel. Instead it’s divided into 50-60 page sections written like self-contained short novels that focus intently on a single aspect of the overall story. The first section sets the scene for everything that follows, and I was compelled to find out how the story would resolve itself, but I still couldn’t tell where it was going until more than half way through the book. There’s not much dialogue and the descriptions are nearly endless, but take them in slowly, stop and re-read them, which I did many times, because they have a greater impact as the story builds. The writing is elegant but not ornate. Every description seems well placed and there for a reason.

      I could have made notes of many passages in the book. This is the first one I decided to type out, but stopped after this, even though I came across better passages, because I would have typed out half the novel.

      From pages 113-114:

      Since he could not reach the spot that itched, he asked his son to scratch him with his nails, and as the boy did so he had the strange sensation of not feeling his own body. At last his father looked at him over his shoulder with a sad smile.

      “If I died now,” he said, “you would hardly remember me when you are my age.”

      He said it for no apparent reason, and the angel of death hovered for a moment in the cool shadows of the office and flew out again through the window, leaving a trail of feathers fluttering in his wake, but the boy did not see them. More than twenty years had gone by since then, and Juvenal Urbino would very soon be as old as his father was that afternoon. He knew he was identical to him, and to that awareness had now been added the awful consciousness that he was also as mortal.

      Cholera became an obsession for him.

      Those are some profound thoughts, and the book is full of them, but Garcia Marquez’s style makes them easy to take in because most the language is accessible and down to earth, a bit fantastic at times but presented in a manner that isn’t trying to show off. That’s another aspect of the novel I was pleased with — Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a literary giant. How could little measly me approach and appreciate a writer of such esteem? But it wasn’t intimating at all. It was no-nonsense good solid writing and storytelling. I’ve read plenty of highly successful authors whose novels gradually become bloated because their editors are afraid to edit them, and they know the books will sell anyway. But “Love in the Time of Cholera” didn’t feel like that at all. Every sentence, every description adds something significant to the whole.

      I’ve read some online reviews now. The plot summaries give away too much and make it seem like a romantic love story, but that barely touches the surface. Every turn in the story was unexpected to me. That added to my enjoyment of it. Most of the online reviews are favourable. The negative ones complain that it’s too descriptive, nothing happens, it’s boring. I can understand that perception. It’s not a breezy novel that should be read over a weekend (it was a long, slow read for me). If I hadn’t paid close attention during the first section, I might not have been able to follow everything that came after it. But I was in the right head space and it’s grabbed me from the start.

      I’m re-reading the first section again.

      Now forget everything I’ve said and pick the book up someday when you’re in the mood for it. It’s a good read.

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