Even before starting the book, the foreword promised me that the book would be better than ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ which I incredulously put it in a corner of my mind. I thought the artistry of words in ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, the breath of magic in every sentence, incorporating every shade of charm is definitely unbeatable and, of course, unrepeatable. There are a few places where this whim was beaten and bruised.
The novel opens with the suicide of Jeremiah de Saint Amour which he commits by inhaling the fumes of gold cyanide (it usually forms a crystal in the heart!) He is inspected by Dr. Juvenal Urbino, a renowned doctor, who happens to be the deceased’s close chess friend. Dr. Juvenal Urbino has been the Godfather of the town where he was the one to take initiative to bring about several changes in the town. He had been there for all the developments and discoveries. He is married to Fermina Daza: a woman of charm with a dove-like gait in spite of the age.
They are a couple who fight over whether there was ‘soap’ or ‘no soap’ in the bathroom. A perfect husband: who never picked up anything from the floor, or turned out a light, or closed a door. It is a marriage of innumerable quarrels, deception, and space. Catastrophically, Dr. Juvenal Urbino dies when he tries to catch his runaway, world-renowned, talking parrot sitting on the mango tree.
Who shows up during the mourning period and unconditionally volunteers himself to help is Florentino Ariza, Fermina Daza’s former love!
“Fermina,” he said,”I have waited for this opportunity for more than half a century, to repeat to you once again my vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love.”
What could have been an ordinary triangle-love story, Gabriel Garcia Marquez alone has the power to transform it into a Life! Shifting the points of time and perspective aids the cause: what are the chances, in Life, of not thinking about the past?
Florentino Ariza is a sentimental lover who writes pages of love poems, serenades for his lady, and even goes to the verge of recovering an unattainable catch: the treasures of San Jose, a sunken Spaniard vessel – an episode that would leave any adventure lover with a quivering heart.
“Symptoms of love are the same that of cholera.”
Hence, the title! ‘Cholera’ is tied to almost all the incidents and the character; they all live in an age when the epidemic was much rampant. The theme of forgetfulness, the power of letters, and senility runs in every word.
The childish affair is opposed by Fermina’s father who takes her on a long journey to forget the memory of it, but as Love’s little deceit, she gets letters from her love to all the places in her itinerary. But shockingly, Florentino Ariza is rejected outright in a lightning flash of unreality by Fermina Daza: “Today, when I saw you, I realized that what is between us is nothing more than an illusion.” She marries Juvenal Urbino, but the marriage was nothing more than a scheme of her father and Urbino himself and not out of love.
Rejected by the Fermina Daza’s fickleness, Florentino Ariza vows to stay virgin till he has her for him and lives by another conviction: Juvenal Urbino would die before her for him to have her! The latter conviction does come true, but the former is broken by the first accidental encounter with an unknown, unidentified woman in a ship. He fornicates with all the women in the town, even a fourteen-year old girl under his custody, that too when Juvenal Urbino dies. He becomes anxious that his wish has come true, what to do with the skin of the tiger that he had slain!
What follows is, Gabriel Garcia Marquez takes up his readers through pages filled with the monologues of human passion and questions of fidelity. In the 348 pages, we are moved from hate to love, from love to hate, from youthful passion to the scent of old age that reeks towards the final pages of the fiction. We witness the love affair of a seventy-eight year old man who finally wins!
“And how long do you think we can keep up this goddamn coming and going?” he asked.
Florentino Ariza had kept his answer ready for fifty-three years, seven months, and eleven days and nights.
“Forever,” he said.