Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Adventure classics -- Love under the shadow of death

Love in the Time of Cholera

by Gabriel Garcia Marquez


Fermina Daza has a problem. It’s the day of her husband’s funeral--the man who for fifty years devoted himself to medicine, to good works, and to her. “Before they closed the coffin, she took off her wedding ring and put it on her dead husband’s finger, and then she covered his hand with hers,” Gabriel Garcia Marquez writes in his tragicomic chronicle, Love in the Time of Cholera. “‘We will see each other very soon,’” Fermina promises her dead beloved.

Then Florentino Ariza, the man she refused decades earlier, steps out of the crowd of distinguished mourners. “For many years she had erased him from her life, and this was the first time she saw him clearly, purified by forgetfulness.”

But not forgotten for long. Because Florentino has come on this day to Fermina to declare his undying love for her. What’s a grieving widow to do? Scream at his untimely importunity? Show him the door? All that. Only to wake the next morning realizing “that while she slept, sobbing, she had thought more about Florentino Ariza than about her dead husband.”

In fact, this “book about love”--the lost and reclaimed love of Fermina and Florentino--was Garcia Marquez’s own love letter to his parents, Gabriel Eligio Garcia and Luisa Santiaga Marquez. Barely winning the consent of Luisa’s family after a tumultuous courtship, the young couple left their first child, Gabriel, nicknamed Gabo, in the custody of Luisa’s parents while Gabriel Eligio worked as a pharmacist in a larger town. The family was not reunited for another decade, a reunion which wrenched young Gabo away from the grandfather he adored. It was a personal story Gabo hadn’t been willing to divulge until then.

For the better part of sixty years, biographer Gerald Martin reports in Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A Life, father and son had barely talked. By 1984, acclaimed for novels such
as One Hundred Years of Solitude, and winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize, Garcia Marquez was attempting a reconciliation with his parents. And then, in December 1984, his father unexpectedly died. “The death of his father and the anguished widowhood of his mother,” Martin writes, “obliged Garcia Marquez to think not only about love and sex but also, once more and even more, about old age and death.”

Garcia Marquez had already written the first part of Love in the Time of Cholera.  But would the book have received its hopeful ending if it hadn’t been an atonement of sorts for his parents’ life and marriage?

“It’s the story of a man and woman who fall desperately in love,” Garcia Marquez said in an interview reported by Martin, “but can’t get married at the age of twenty because they are too young and can’t get married at the age of eighty, after all the twists and turn of life, because they are too old.”

Will they ever manage to marry? Garcia Marquez declines to answer. He leaves the pair on board a river boat whose sympathetic captain raises the yellow quarantine flag signaling cholera on board to avoid stops, passengers and cargo, while the pair of elderly lovers reaccustom themselves to each other. “After all, everyone knew that the time of cholera had not ended despite all the joyful statistics from the health officials. . . All that the captain asked was that they stop to pick up someone who would accompany him on the voyage: he, too, had his secret heart.”

Fortunately (and perhaps tactfully), Garcia Marquez set the story of Fermina and Florentino about fifty years earlier than that of his parents, enabling it to fit in this Adventure classics’ May of historical fiction.

(Next Wednesday--Adventure classics continues a May of historical fiction with A Fable, by William Faulkner, one of the writers whose work inspired Garcia Marquez. I’d promised Faulkner for today, but the recent death of Garcia Marquez made me scramble to include one of his stories instead. For other updates to this and future months’ schedules, see the Previews: 2014 Adventure classics page at this site.)

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