Of the Sickness of Love

Last night, I decided to close the book I had been reading for months now, with a determination as unyielding as the pace with which I advanced with this book. Gabriel García Márquez “Love in the Time of Cholera” is a chronicle of love–wherein, possibly the most powerful of human emotions is in a constant tussle against a range of obstacles.

Narrating a tale that is set for a considerable part around ships, the book starts by taking the reader on an interesting voyage–with the introduction of the key characters, their strange life stories and stranger personal quirks. It is the story of the romance between two people, as dissimilar to each other as can be.  A promising story of young love, unbridled passion and an almost illogical fable of romance, marked by long letters and little more.
Fermina Daza, the female protagonist, continues this amorous association despite her father’s ruthless opposition to the same. And just as the passionate affair reaches an exciting bend, the author brings in a clever twist in the story. All of a sudden, without any provocation or apparent logic, Fermina spurns the advances of her lover, Florentino Ariza. The stage is set for an interesting drama to unfold, and I was ready for the voyage.

Except that I had boarded a ship that seemed to be without a compass. This isn’t because the author bypassed the convention of a linear narrative; it’s more than that. My problem with the novel’s middle was that it seemed direction-less and loaded with extraneous information. For page after page, equaling nearly half a century in terms of the story’s timeline, the reader is subjected to the endless affairs Florentino Ariza has with about as many different women. Yet, he doesn’t really love them, but only “uses” them to bide his time, until he can return to the love of his life. In this time, Fermina Daza has  married a wealthy doctor and is a leading lady of the elite society. We learn about the ebbs and flows of her married life, complete with certain insights on what marriage entails, which seemed to me, to be the author’s own suppositions on the institution of marriage. Basically, the story doesn’t move in this phase. One learns a lot about human quirks and their implications in varied dimensions of life–marriage, family, society, professional career, but there is so little action that bears any significance to the main plot that one wonders the purpose of it all. I struggled to remain motivated to read the book through end; the  enervated narrative  fell short of providing enough encouragement. This could have been the author’s way of reinforcing the long, almost hopeless wait that Florentino Ariza endures to reclaim his love.

I am glad my persistence paid off as the story neared its end. In the twilight of their lives, the two lovers whose paths had crossed in youth only to diverge, meet again. They are brought together by the strange dynamics of fate, as Fermina’s husband dies of a most bizarre accident. Here on, the ship that had seemed aimless for so long, suddenly cruises with a frenetic speed, along with our lovers–old in their bodies, but not in their passion. As they defy social conventions, physical constraints and even the doubts of their own minds, we celebrate their journey through the river–breezy, uncertain, excitable–not too different than their romance itself.

Cholera has been used as a motif in various places throughout the story, and in the end it becomes a device to checkmate possible hazards that come in the way of love. I tend to think cholera is also symptomatic of the fact that love is a kind of sickness. The kind in which the disease is its own cure.

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