Thursday, April 4, 2013

As if the darkness had a soul itself that was the sun’s assassin hurrying to the west as once men did believe, as they may believe again

The first time I picked up Love in the Time of Cholera, I thought to myself, "I don't want to read this." The same thing happened with Toni Morrison's Beloved; however, Love in the Time of Cholera appeared much more attractive the second time it fell into my hands, so I decided to revisit Beloved and ... I'm reading it now! Morrison's sentences are simple but hardcore/echoing/billowing (not sure if 2/3 of those adjectives apply, but that's literally how I feel when reading this book). So far, it's incredibly haunting and chilling... her writing is so concise (so I have to pay rapt attention at all times).

Love in the Time of Cholera


...Yes. I have returned from a 11-day absence to announce that I have finally finished reading Love in the Time of Cholera and that the predilections I established the last time I posted about this book turned out to be... inaccurate/irrelevant.

"How does the love between Jeremiah and his lover differ? We will find out," I wrote.

We don't find out. We do not. Jeremiah and the parrot essentially vanish for the remainder of the book (?!??). I'm currently part of a Goodreads forum that tackles this exact issue; hopefully any wisdom-nuggets I glean from that will ameliorate my confusion.

Jeremiah's fleeting appearance, however, gives us mini-glimpses of grand themes to come: age (life-death) and love. His death also indirectly causes Urbino's death, which causes the arrival of a certain individual (who later develops into an extremely unlikable protagonist) - Florentina Ariza - who avows his apparent unfaltering love for Ferminana Daza (yes, Urbino's widow; what?). To complete the compendium: the rest of the novel revolves around the relationship (not using the word love here, you'll see why in a moment) between Florentina Ariza and Fermina Daza.


In a way, Ariza is akin to a Spanish Romeo, more concerned with the effects of apocryphal love on him than the reality of the women he is infatuated with. Initially, a myriad of clandestinely delivered letters between the two (and the occasional camellia) is all that encompasses their love... the two are maddeningly wedged within the abyss of enchantment. Young, betrothed, ready-to-wed, it is only when Daza sees Ariza in the square, that she thinks to herself (incredible line):
“Today, when I saw you, I realized that what is between us is nothing more than an illusion.”
... Naturally, her rejection renders Ariza abject. She maintains an equanimity throughout the foundering of their 'love' while Ariza is still endorsed under the spell of his "self-absorbed love,"even after Daza eventually weds Urbino.
“She knew that he loved her above all else, more than anything in the world, but only for his own sake.”
“He asked himself, with his infinite capacity for illusion, if such pitiless indifference might not be a subterfuge for hiding the torments of love.”
Ariza has an "insatiable need for love" and is therefore actuated by all things amorous. His constant infatuation/obsession can honestly tire readers out; I constantly fluctuated between "stop being a creep" and "forget about her and find someone new."

Technically, throughout the book he has occasional flings with widows (ironic as later Daza becomes a widow anyway), and even a young girl (who commits suicide after Ariza, the prick, runs off to woo Daza after Urbino's death), but in the end, Daza has always been his target.

He 'deserves' empathy, but piteously so. Nonetheless, don't bash on him too much. As Daza's aunt said: “he is ugly and sad... but he is all love.”


So what are effects of this illusory love?

All that was needed was shrewd questioning, first of the patient and then of his mother to conclude once again that the symptoms of love were the same as those of Cholera. The doctor prescribed infusion of linden blossoms to calm the nerves and suggested a change of air so he could find consolation in distance but the man longed for just the opposite, to enjoy his martyrdom.

Throughout the novel, connections are constantly being drawn between love and cholera
This, for me, was the most fascinating parallel this book offered; love as a disease. Heartbreak as a sickness. To be consumed by love and driven to death's doorstep by it. To be incurable. The pitfalls of love and the effects of cholera are not so different when looked at in this perspective. Considering the feverish and insatiable state Ariza is in for the entire book, this makes a lot of logical sense. Urbino, a doctor, cured many cholera cases. It is ironic to think that the man who was the most overwhelmed with 'cholera' was infatuated with his own wife.

Cholera makes a symbolic reappearance at the end, too, when Daza and Ariza are on the boat.


The latter part of the novel progresses chronologically, and ends with Daza and Ariza both old and withered. Ariza has pursued Daza to the age where, already old and feeble, she can no longer throw huge tantrums to dismiss him. It is also the age where neither can get too physically involved (; perhaps the bodily attrition of both renders them capable of sustaining a companion-based relationship. Their young past is behind them. This is best illustrated in the quote below:

“It was the first time in a half century that they had been so close and had enough time to look at each other with some serenity and they had seen each other for what they were: two old people, ambushed by death, who had nothing in common except the mercy of an ephemeral past that was no longer theirs but belonged to two young people who had vanished and who could have been their grandchildren.”

Growing old is a theme Marquez throws at us in the first chapter (arguably the first page). Jeremiah avoided it by setting a death-date, Urbino avoided it like the plague by being a health guru, but neither Daza nor Ariza really considered the reality of the "humiliation, suffering and frightful loneliness" of old age until they were smack in the middle of it.

“It was as if they had leapt over the arduous cavalry 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.”

^Chilling, isn't it? What's even more chilling is the last page of the book; the captain of the boat inquires, "how long do you think we can keep up this goddamn coming and going?" Ariza replies, "'Forever.'"

DOES that sound like an acceptance of old age/death to you?? ... I don't think so (lord, Ariza is so detestable). At the end, Ariza succumbs to his illusions/love/'cholera.'

In conclusion... this novel is just teetering with symbolic significance and powerful themes that throw romance in a plague-like perspective, and its antipathy-attracting protagonist fits right into the core of it all. The novel is impressively constructed (and the version I read: Kudos to Edith Grossman for a fluid translation). It's just a shame us readers weren't exposed to Jeremiah's storyline!!

 One final quote:
The years of immobilized waiting, of hoping for good luck, were behind him, but on the horizon he could see nothing more than the unfathomable sea of imaginary illnesses, the drop-by-drop urinations of sleepless nights, the daily death at twilight. He thought that all the moments in the day, which had once been his allies and sworn accomplices, were beginning to conspire against him.