On Gabriel García Márquez’s Love In The Time of Cholera

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.

Affirmation for the Artist

Since I decided to pursue my dream of being an author, a number of revelations have occurred to me. The one I want to share today is this: that as writers, artists, musicians, and other independents (at least in the vocational sense)– especially unpublished, un-commissioned, and struggling ones– our affirmation comes largely from within; and as such we must either be strong for ourselves or fail.

Paychecks. Publications. Praise. These things are all hard for the struggling artist to come by, especially in the beginning. How is one to go on when nothing– no money, no prestige, at times even no one– exists to validate our work? When we even have negative funds, reproach, and discouragement working against us?

I’d think the answer’s the same no matter where we are in our journey: our affirmation must come first and foremost from within us. We must believe in the work we are doing and the integrity of the effort we’re giving it. We must believe in ourselves at all times– especially when nobody else will.

I think, when one becomes comfortable with this idea– with relieving oneself of the need of the approval of others– it is immensely freeing. Yes, there will still be agents and representatives and business people and business deals and guidelines to be worked with along the way or at the end of Rejection Brick Road, but if you’re happy with who you are and what you’re doing– what else do you really need? You’re your own well, spring, and fountain.

And if you’re gonna be a fountain, you might as well look like this.

ALRIGHT, yes, a paycheck would be nice.

But you get the idea.

In Awe of Libraries

In search of material on obsessive-compulsive disorder, death and grieving, and Leonardo da Vinci– all potential story fodder– I made a trip to my local library.

There, clutching a scrap of paper with a few call numbers I’d penciled down on it as I traced the books to which they belonged, I stopped amongst the shelves and had a series of revelations:

Look how easy this is.

Look how much information is piled neatly before me.

I forgot my list and wandered among the shelves, inspecting spines.

Textbooks. Sciences. Languages. Cooking. Artists. History. Politics. Poetry. Foreign countries and customs. Gardening. Biographies. Flora and fauna. Pets. Nutrition. Medicine. Physical health. Mental illness. Memoirs, maps, records, scores.

Volumes upon volumes– categorized. Cataloged.

And all utterly at my disposal.

I can’t tell you exactly what order these thoughts occurred in– maybe it was all at once, maybe it was a gradual dawning. But as I wound between the rows, marveling, the collection reminded me:

  1. The world is a vast and incredible place full of fascinating things.
  2. I could read forever and not know 1% of everything there was to know.
  3. I could pick up a different book by a different author on a different topic (even if it wasn’t an original topic, every person’s experience is unique) and never, ever be bored.

How boundlessly amazing are libraries? They’re not just posterity, records, and places of entertainment– they’re community hubs, endless doors to endless places, cornerstones of education accessible to everyone. FOR FREE.

Anyone can walk into a library and walk out with something that will change their life.

That is all.