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Posts Tagged ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’

As an unabashed fan of García Márquez (‘Gabo’), I’ve been rationing the unread stories of so they can last me a while longer, but I couldn’t resist pushing Chronicle of a death foretold up the pecking order of the TBR list after Sue over at Whispering Gums recently listed it as one of her ‘most unforgettable books’ . The story is a recreation of an actual murder and reads as a fusion of reportage and true crime, with Márquez’s signature lyricism toned down but still a delectable presence. It is a strange, strange tale. Santiago Nasar is identified right from the opening sentence as the man who will die. The rest of the story pieces together the almost unbelievable sequence of events that lead to his death in a form of ‘honour killing’. I say unbelievable, because the whole town knows he is to be killed—the killers announce as much to all and sundry (hence the title)—but no-one believes twin brothers Pedro and Pablo Vicario will actually carry out their threat. Indeed, we are left wondering, as are some of the characters, whether they want to kill him at all; maybe their announcements are pleas for someone to step in and stop them. But because no one believes them capable, the killing perversely takes on a dark inevitability. Santiago himself hears the warnings, but is similarly afflicted by the implausibility of the looming catastrophe, walking around in a “bewilderment of innocence.”

Beware: spoilers in this next paragraph

The brothers Vicario are out to reclaim the lost honour of their sister Angela, after she is ‘returned’ to her mother on the night of her wedding by Bayardo San Román, who has discovered that he was not the first to deflower her. After a good beating from her mother for the shame she has brought on the house, she is asked who has stolen her virginity. She claims it was Santiago Nasar, though the narrator suggests that he’s an unlikely candidate as the two of them had never been seen together. It seems that, knowing her brothers will be duty-bound to go and avenge her lost honour, she opts to protect the identity of the man she loves by framing Santiago, a man whose wealth might make him untouchable. As miscalculations go, it’s right up there! There is a sickening sense of injustice, made worse by the fact that she never shows remorse. One wonders what is going on inside her mind, whether the protection of a loved one was worth the death of an innocent man.

[Okay, you can come back now!]

But of course, she is not the only one to blame. The whole town knew in advance. It is, says one, “a death for which we all could have been to blame.”  It is a marked example of how a prejudice plays itself out, and indeed the investigating judge writes in the margins of his report: “Give me a prejudice and I will move the world.”  So, so true.

Some well-known Gabo motifs make an appearance, such as almond trees and solitude. And there is his classic lyricism breathing just beneath the surface. When Bayardo first sees Angela walking across the town square from the comfort of a hammock, he asks his landlady to remind him when he wakes up that he is going to marry her. When he is courting Angela, he asks her which of the town’s houses is the one she most admires. The answer is house owned by the widower Xius, and off sets Bayardo on a mission to buy the house for her. Poor Xius caves in, unable to resist the lure of the ridiculous amount of money Bayardo offers him, and dies soon thereafter because of it, with the local doctor saying the old man “was healthier than the rest of us, but when you listened with the stethoscope you could hear the tears bubbling inside his heart.” That’s the kind of writing that makes my feet jiggle about with a kind of glee, and though the story is mesmerising, the tenor of the writing adds to the sense of haunting: there is humour, love, darkness and disaster. It is, just as Sue said, unforgettable.

There is also a sense of what is to come in his next major work—Love in the time of cholera (see my review here). Angela writes letters to Bayardo over a period of 17 years, and he finally gives into her, arriving one day with her two thousand love letters (which are unopened), saying simply, ‘Well … here I am.’ The way the two lovers unite when half a life has gone is similar to the way Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza get together in Love in the time of cholera after so many years apart.

One last point, it won’t surprise many to hear that Chronicle was made into a movie, but it might surprise some to hear that it was adapted into a Tony-Award-nominated Broadway musical! Now that’s the sort of musical I’d like to see.

Chronicle of a death foretold by Gabriel García Márquez

1981

Perennial Classics

90 pages

ISBN: 9780060932664

Source: the local municipal library

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There have been many enjoyable reads this year.  The Boat by Nam Le got 2011 off to a great start with a collection of disperse and riveting ‘long’ shorts.  I then had the pleasure of re-visiting two of Peter Carey’s great novels in Oscar and Lucinda and Illywhacker.  One of the standouts of the year was That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott, winner of the Miles Franklin.  I thoroughly enjoyed David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten – so clever and absorbing, the way the inter-linkages worked was very impressive.  Then onto another debut novel, this time from an Australian, with Favel Parret’s wonderful Past the Shallows.  There was time for some great classics too, like Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  Later in the year I was thrilled and appalled by Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch – what a ride!  And speaking of rides, what a way to end the year with The Savage Detectivesby Roberto Bolaño: part road story, part loss of innocence, every part fantastic.  You can find the reviews of any of these by searching or by clicking on the tags at the end of this post.

What were your favourites this year?

As for 2012, I’m not about to go in for any challenges.  I just plan on reading more classics, both old – Anna Karenina – and more recent – Bolaño’s epic 2666.  And I shall keep abreast of some hot-off-the-press works.  Apart from that, I shall go where the wind takes me.

I hope you join me for future musings!

All the best for the new year.

John

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It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.

So opens the masterful Love in the Time of Cholera.  Dr Juvenal Urbino has been called to the suicide of a man he played chess with.  It is an interesting structural choice made by Marquez, to start the novel with someone other than the two main protagonists, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, whose relationship is the core of the story.  And yet there is much to be gleaned from that one sentence.  For, as it turns out, when we go back fifty years to find Florentino and Fermina’s youthful love, their few face-to-face meetings are held beneath almond blossoms… [p64]:

Years later, when [Florentino] tried to remember what the maiden idealized by the alchemy of poetry really was like, he could not distinguish her from the heart-rending twilights of those times.  Even when he observed her, unseen, during those days of longing when he waited for a reply to his first letter, he saw her transfigured in the afternoon shimmer oftwo o’clockin a shower of blossoms from the almond trees where it was always April regardless of the season of the year.

The above passage tells you all you need to know about Marquez’s lyricism.  There is a sense of the magical everywhere, from winds so strong they carry away small children, to dolls at the ends of beds that seem to grow as a child would.

Unfortunately for Florentino, those almond blossoms are indeed the very factory of unrequited love, for Fermina rejects his amorous advances and settles instead for Dr Urbino.  Not to be deterred, Florentino decides to ‘wait’ for Fermina, to prove his love was real.  Of course, his ‘wait’ is quite idiosyncratic – he proceeds to engage in love affairs with some 622 woman over many years, some more involved than others.  It is during these long decades that we see a different side of Florentino’s obsessive love, for some of his (many) trysts have perverse and tragic outcomes: there are women who love him but know that he is unobtainable, there is one who is killed by her husband after he finds out the truth of her affair, and there is the fourteen year old girl, America, who is placed in his care as his ward, and whom he seduces into a relationship which ends with predictably harrowing results.  There is also the realisation that the Riverboat Company that he has run for most of his adult years has destroyed the luxuriant rainforest along the river.  And yet, despite these very human frailties and the collateral damage they cause, we want Florentino to win, to get his girl.

Meanwhile, life has dealt Fermina some of her own lessons.  She realises, only after Juvenal’s death, that he conducted an affair during their marriage, and was not really the man he seemed at first to be.

So we see love in all its guises and disguises.  We see, also, one of the great ideas of the novel: the celebration of ageing and how love can conquer time.

Of course, the other side of the word ‘cholera’ is ‘choler’, being “anger; irritability”.  So while we have the over-arching love theme set against the backdrop of the cholera epidemics that sweep through the townships along the Magdalena River, we also have a darker side, expressed in the never-ending civil war, and there are times when victims of one are confused with victims of the other.  It is one of Dr Urbino’s goals to improve the sanitation of the city and townships and rid the country of the recurrent epidemics.

Few other authors can match Marquez for the evocative depiction of setting, in this case a tropical city on theMagdalenaRiverinColumbia.

Take for instance this example, [p17]:

In summer an invisible dust as harsh as red-hot chalk was blown into even the best-protected corners of the imagination by mad winds that took the roofs off the houses and carried away children through the air.

And this… [p120]:

There was a full moon.  The patio, idealized by anisette, floated at the bottom of an aquarium, and the cages covered with cloths looked like ghosts sleeping under the hot scent of new orange blossoms.

The difficulty is in not quoting more, for there is something on every page that I’ve found myself underlining and pondering.

Love in the Time of Cholera is right up there with One Hundred Years of Solitude.  There is so much to like about it, from the deliciously magical images, to the mirth, the darkness, the poetic themes, the many faces of love, and the sublime ending.  I’m an idealist, so the notion that love can win over time is for me a comforting thought.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

(translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman)

Penguin

1985

ISBN: 9780140123890

348 pages

Source: personal library, (aka ‘the bookshelf rainbow’)

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