“Love in the time of cholera” was the second title by Marquez I’d chosen to read after reading “Memories of My Melancholy Whores” a few years back.
The book is set in South America and though several references to locations are made we’re never quite told where, though I got the impression it was probably Panama or Colombia.
It starts innocently enough with the death of an insignificant character and begins to timidly touch upon the lives of Dr Juneval Urbino and Fermina Daza, his wife, leading to a funny incident with a parrot and the first twist in the tale, which takes us smoothly to the beginning of this old couple’s story. Slowly we are told of Fermina Daza’s youth and her first love, a young man called Florentino Ariza, with whom she exchanged passionate letters for almost two years when she was seventeen until her father discovered them and put an end to it. Furious, he sends her away to visit family and after several months of distance, though while still maintaining secret contact with Florentino, she comes back more mature and slowly comes to the conclusion that she is no longer in love with him and breaks off all contact.
Not long after that she meets the charismatic and wealthy Dr Urbino, marries him instead, and the tale of their lives and times continues. The book is set sometime in the beginning of the previous century but again we’re not told exactly when but left to come to conclusions by references to Oscar Wilde and several civil wars. The historical references, customs and superstitions of the regions mentioned create a vivid vision of South America and the old-New World that you wish was still real. Religion, false propriety and class set a strong tone in the narrative.
As the years pass we are woven through the stories of the three main characters in an effortless and moving chronicle that progresses more like a motion picture than a book. It purposefully lacks chapters in order to keeping it snaking along and on more than one occasion I was reminded of the quirkiness of Wes Anderson films. Though it was a little outlandish and tongue-in-cheek in places, it portrays a wonderful humanity that I’ve rarely admired so much in a book and is one of the greatest and yet understated odes to love I have ever read. A classic and a masterpiece for good reason.