“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of unrequited love.”
That is the first sentence of the novel, Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
It tells you all you need to know about what is to follow. For this is a novel of unrequited love and about all the other kinds of love as well. And they are many. There is the central love triangle between Floerntino Ariza, Fermina Ariza, and Dr. Juvenal Urbino. But there are other kinds of love too: old and young, faithful and unfaithful, respectful and shameful, sexual and chaste, and everything in between.
Bitter almonds always remind me of death. That is also what this novel is about. Old age and death. One character takes his own life at age 70 rather than living to become old and feeble. Other characters live into their 70s and 80s and suffer all the ailments of old age lovingly detailed by the author.
Cholera features heavily in the book as the title suggests. This was a time when cholera was endemic to the geographic setting of the novel. It breaks out many times during the course of the book, causing death and motivating characters to move, and creating a constant state of fear. It is also a metaphor for love. One of the main characters falls ill several times throughout the novel and it is said of him, “The symptoms of love are the same as those of cholera.”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez spins his magical tale like a spider spins a web, each sentence a silken thread that creates a web of intrigue that ensnares the reader’s imagination and draws them into the fold of the story.
When Florentino Ariza is denied the love of his life, Fermina Daza, when she marries Dr. Juvenal Urbino, he vows to wait for her. He realizes it might be a long wait. He realizes he might have to wait until her husband dies, which he does 60 years later. Meanwhile, Florentino wastes no time getting involved with other women, always in the hopes of finding something that resembles love, but without the problems of love.
When Florentino visits the Widow Nazaret, she proclaims, “I adore you because you made me a whore.” He taught her that nothing one does in bed is immoral if it perpetuates love. “One comes to the world with a predetermined allotment of lays and whoever does not use them for whatever reason, one’s own or someone’s else’s, willingly or unwillingly, loses them forever.” A tragic loss I might add.
Every character Is drawn with intricate detail both inside and out. From the time Florentino first falls in love with Fermina, when Dr. Juvenal Urbino is struck by the lightning of his love for Fermina, until 60 years later when Florentino has her finally in his grasp after Juvenal falls to his death at age 81 from a tree trying to catch a wayward parrot, each character having lived a life in full. At last Florentino and Fermina are together as they cruise up and down the river Magdalena, under the flag of Cholera, in the last phase of their own lives, “forever.”