I had heard about this book forever, but the first time I really noticed it was at the Kinokuniya bookstore in Shibuya. There the title was available not only in its original language (Spanish) but the also local language (Japanese) as well as the one I’m actually fluent enough in to read without having to consult a dictionary several times a page. Which is really pretty impressive, given that the whole of Japan is smaller than California and there isn’t a lot of space or market for books in foreign languages there, even in cities that see significant tourist traffic like Tokyo.
Without going into an incredible amount of detail, I’d like to say that having read the book I can now see why it earned its place in several languages on Kinokuniya bookshelves.
For starters, format. This book is unlike any other I have ever read. A word to the wise: Love in the Time of Cholera is NOT for the impatient. Flip through it and you will see very little white space. That’s because Márquez likes his prose. He likes it a lot. If lengthy paragraphs were foodstuffs, Márquez would probably butter his toast with them morning, noon, and night and have seven or eight cups throughout the day besides. There is spoken dialogue, but it is very limited, and rarely more than a single line at a time.
And yet, unlike Robinson Crusoe (the only other book I have read that is comparable in this sense), which was dry and hard to read, Love in the Time of Cholera is romantic. It WOOS you. There is poetry in that prose and it is divine. You warm up to it and it serenades you, not unlike Florentino Ariza’s Waltz of the Crowned Goddess played at a distance from Fermina Daza’s window in the evening darkness. That said,
The story’s direction is also unusual: gradual and roundabout rather than linear. It is organic: like a story told by a grandparent.
Subtlety. This is a work that is subtle in every sense. Its drama is subtle, its humor is subtle, is victories are subtle. There is a scene near the beginning that is at once hilarious and painful and mundanely relatable in which Dr. Juvenal Urbino and Fermina Daza stop talking to one another and almost destroy their marriage over a bar of soap. True story.
Humanity. Love. Vulnerability. Passion and dreams, disappointment and shortcomings. And yet– beauty through the pain. These are the things found in Love in the Time of Cholera, and the makings of a not only historical but profoundly human experience. Consider Florentino Ariza’s attempts to recover purportedly sunken treasure off the Colombian coast via diving and rowboat. His purpose is noble: the treasure will enable him to marry Fermina Daza. But when Florentino shows his mother the pearls and jewels his hired diver has recovered, she tests them and reveals that they are fake: he has been duped. And what about the Doctor who is successful but socially awkward, and uses the magical, generic question “Do you like music?” to formulaically propose friendship?
The novel is poignant: both cutting and beautiful.