Thoughts on “A Love In The Time of Cholera” (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

“A Love in the Time of Cholera” is a novel written by Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It revolves around Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza, who in their youth, fell in love but did not end up together. Fermina marries Juvenal Urbino, a doctor, whom she thinks can offer her stability and love. On the other hand, Florentino vows to wait for the right time to reiterate his undying love to his beloved.

Fifty-one years, nine months, and four days.

This caught my attention when I was browsing the book’s cover. This is how long Florentino waited to express his feelings for Fermina and pursue her again.  In the course of this half-a-century time frame, Fermina lived her married life with all its ups and downs even though for most people, the marriage appeared to be perfect. Florentino, on the other hand, rises up in his business career but has involved himself in 622 affairs. Among these many trysts, there had been possible genuine loves as well. After the death of Fermina’s husband, Florentino seizes the chance and relentlessly laid siege to her heart.

image from amazon.com

Fifty-one years, nine months, and four days.

That’s an awfully long time to wait for someone you love, isn’t it? Honestly, I have mixed feelings and thoughts about this novel. Let me start with the not-so-good.

First, I was bordering on admiration and exasperation with Florentino’s obsession with Fermina. Imagine, pining for her for more than fifty years while she goes on with her life. Furthermore, at some point in the book, I felt and questioned whether Florentino was really in love or that he was just adamant or obsessed with her because he cannot have her.  His love is more of a disease which consumed him. At this juncture, Marquez was successful in depicting love as a sickness or disease, which affected Florentino physically and emotionally. Second, there were times that I got angry with Florentino because of how he treated women. Typical male! Of course, it takes two to tango and most of his partners were consenting adults. But I cannot shake off my irritation most especially when he discards women just like one sheds off one’s clothes. Case in point, the maid whom he assaults, impregnates and then asks some man to marry the girl to hide what happened. And let’s not forget America Vicuna who was entrusted by her parents to him as his ward but whom he seduces and eventually engages a relationship with. America sunk into depression, which also lead to her suicide when she finally learned that the affair was over.

Of course, Florentino is not the only womanizer in the novel. There’s his father and Juvenal too. But I will stop at this

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point because I think I have made my feelings clear enough as regards to womanizers.

On the other hand, what I really liked about this book is how it also revolved on Fermina Daza. At first, when she rejected Florentino, I was mad at her. But when she realized the reason why she rejected him, I saw the wisdom behind it. I also came to like her – a woman who made choices in her life and despite all that has happened to her, she faced it all bravely and gracefully.

Although I have some complaints about the book, Gabriel Garcia Marquez again scored a good one in this novel. I can understand why a lot of people were blown away by this tale. There is something romantic about a man who waited for fifty-one years, nine months, and four days to be able to reiterate his feelings to his true love. Moreover, the idea of having a second chance at love is so appealing. However, it is not only a love story, it also dwells on themes such as growing old and death.  It makes one reflect on humanity and mortality.

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Thoughts on “One Hundred Years of Solitude” (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

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“One Hundred Years of Solitude” is a saga about the seven generations of the Buendia family and the rise and fall of the town of Macondo, which the family patriarch, Jose Arcadio Buendia founded.

I never thought that I could finish this novel in such short a time. I feared that it would take me at least two weeks or even longer to finish it because I made several attempts on reading the first few lines but I never got past the entire first page.

Now I understand how for some people, it took them longer to read this novel. I could think of a few reasons. First, there are a good number of parts where the narrative and descriptions of events, things, places or personalities would be lengthy. Mind you, it’s not at all boring. But the reader has to get used to Marquez’ style of storytelling. It transports the reader into the world that the author has created. For instance, I really felt the tranquility and idleness of the town at some point that I felt that my reading adapted a slowness in its pace. However, there were also times that I would read on and on and couldn’t put the book down when there is a build-up of events. Personally, I think that the way Marquez engages the reader is just brilliant.

Second, the reader just has to get used to the author’s use of “magical realism, a style of writing where the supernatural is presented as part of ordinary/everyday life, and the ordinary as supernatural. This is also one of the major themes of the novel. The supernatural or extraordinary events are well incorporated in everyday life that it ceases to be supernatural. For instance, the visitation of ghosts and the levitation and ascension of Remedios the Beauty are treated as normal occurrences. The author maintained a tone which is the same from the beginning till the end, which blended the mundane and extraordinary. The reader would then pause and be taken aback and question the realities of such phenomena.

image from cinelatinotrieste.org

Third, the time element can be confusing because there is a matter of swinging back and forth from the past to the future and vice versa through the use of flashbacks and leaping to future events. Again, the reader has to get used to this scheme; as if time is boundless, which I guess in another theme of this novel. However, what struck me is the circular and repetitive history of the Buendia family, which is further manifested in the replication of names and characteristics. For instance, almost all Jose Arcadios possess physical strength and inquisitive dispositions while almost all the Aurelianos possess lean physiques and quiet dispositions. I had to refer to the family tree many times so that I won’t be lost in the family’s history. I also remembered muttering to myself, “Can’t they think of other names to give to the children? It’s getting downright confusing!”

Another recurring theme in the novel is the tendency of the Buendia family to commit incest. The first to commit is the family patriarch, Jose Arcadio Buendia, when he married his first cousin, Ursula. All throughout the generations, the tendency and possibility was always there. Well, until it comes to fruition in the person of Amaranta Ursula and Aureliano Babilonia. I’m not so sure how readers then react to incest.

Lastly, solitude is another theme of the novel. The solitude of the town of Macondo located at the remote jungles of the forest; the solitude of the Buendia family apart from the townspeople; and yes, even the individual family members are prone to have their own solitary dispositions too. I’m not sure though for what purpose – escape? or just plain egoism?

I’ve written some factors why some readers find the novel difficult or why it took them longer to finish. But I would also like to emphasize that these are also the reasons why there are readers who find this novel interesting. I admit that reading the book was challenging and intimidating. But once I got used to the writer’s style, I was drawn into the world of the Buendia’s and the life at Macondo.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is definitely one of the literary geniuses. He is a powerful storyteller! Despite the seriousness of his tone, he made me laugh several times while reading the book. I am looking forward to read his other works.

“North and South” Reflections

I am just grateful that I discovered BBC’s 2004 adaptation of “North and South.” For without it, I would not have unearthed a truly wonderful novel with the same title. I will try my best to limit referring to the series and focus on sharing my thoughts about the book.

“North and South” explores the journey of Margaret Hale and her family, as they move from the idyllic, slow and agricultural Helstone (southern part of England) to Milton, an industrial town in Northern England. The ways of the North are obviously different from the South and such has affected Margaret in her perception of the town and its people. She meets the Higgins family whom she befriends and John Thornton, a young cotton mill owner whom she dislikes. As she struggles with everyday life, she discovers that things are not always as they seem.

The novel was written by Elizabeth Gaskell between1854-1855 during the Victorian era. An era where there was an archetype for “ideal women,” that they are seen as pure and clean; their role is to have children and their place is in the home. Women have no legal rights and are expected to behave in a certain manner – be weak and helpless, fragile delicate flowers incapable of making decisions beyond selecting the menu and ensuring that their many children are taught moral values.

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Why did I describe the women’s status during that era? Because, it is important to note that despite the time, the novel is not in any way Victorian, well, at least to me. Having Margaret Hale as the outspoken, strong-willed, intelligent and independent protagonist breaks the typical mold of women during that time.  She has a mind of her own, is not afraid of speaking her mind and does what she thinks is right, regardless of what others might think or say. Margaret was a very headstrong heroine, as described: “…fulfilled one of her seaside resolves, and took her life in her own hands… But she had learnt, in those solemn hours of thought, that she herself must one day answer for her own life, and what she had done with it; and she tried to settle that most difficult problem for woman, how much was to be utterly merged in obedience to authority, and how much might be set apart for freedom in working.” (Gaskell 1855, p.521-522). This is what I liked best about this novel, the presence of a strong heroine.

For a novel in the Victorian era, I dare say that the work is brimming with passion. Mrs. Gaskell wrote eloquently and vividly. It was so rich and enriching. I can feel the power of her words.

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On John after being rejected by Margaret:

He said to himself, that he hated Margaret, but a wild, sharp sensation of love cleft his dull, thunderous feeling like lightning, even as he shaped the words expressive of hatred. His greatest comfort was in hugging his torment; and in feeling, as he had indeed said to her, that though she might despise him, contemn him, treat him with her proud sovereign indifference, he did not change one whit. She could not make him change. He loved her, and would love her; and defy her, and this miserable bodily pain. (p. 256-257)

I particularly liked how Mrs. Gaskell described John’s disposition after leaving Margaret’s home after his rejected proposal. Oh poor, Mr. Thornton!

When Mr. Thornton had left the house that morning he was almost blinded by his baffled passion. He was as dizzy as if Margaret, instead of looking, and speaking, and moving like a tender graceful woman, had been a sturdy fish-wife, and given him a sound blow with her fists. He had positive bodily pain,—a violent headache, and a throbbing intermittent pulse. (p. 256)

But to liken Margaret to a sturdy fish-wife delivering a sound blow to the large-framed Mr. Thornton! What a description!

On Margaret’s thoughts after she rejected Mr. Thornton:

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For, although at first it had struck her, that his offer was forced and goaded out of him by sharp compassion for the exposure she had made of herself,—which he, like others, might misunderstand—yet, even before he left the room,—and certainly, not five minutes after, the clear conviction dawned upon her, shined bright upon her, that he did love her; that he had loved her; that he would love her. (p. 245)

More than a love story

“North and South” is more than just a love story between two people, who I think have more things in common. John and Margaret are strong-willed, intelligent, outspoken and passionate about things or people they care about. Even Mrs. Thornton acknowledged the fact, “If John and you had come together, he would have had to keep a tight hand over you, to make you know your place.” (p. 395) But personally, I don’t think John will have to keep a tight hand over Margaret, he loves her too much to do that. But I digress. Going back to the novel being more than just a love story, the novel delves into various realities of the period, which were depicted by Mrs. Gaskell in an honest and graphic manner.

The novel illustrates the social and economic condition of the time. It was the industrial revolution and Mrs. Gaskell vividly showed the growing issues between the “masters” and the workers. It further describes how the masters think as regards their profits, management of businesses and workers. On the other hand, it also portrays the difficult situation of workers as regards their health and living conditions. It also gives a brief discourse of the Union – as perceived by the masters, Higgins, Boucher, Margaret and Mr. Hale (Margaret’s father). The novel clearly shows the social divide and thus reflects how the different classes in the society view each class and themselves.

image from richardarmitageonline.com

The novel also resonates with religious beliefs. Well, it cannot be helped as one of the characters is a parson, Mr. Hale. And Margaret is one character who believes in God and is a woman of faith. However, I particularly liked how three different characters were brought about to pray: “Margaret, the Churchwoman, her father the Dissenter, Higgins the Infidel, knelt down together. It did them no harm.” (p. 289) I guess Mrs. Gaskell wanted to “unite” people regardless of their religious beliefs/affiliations.

The author’s use of the original language of the classes, most particularly those of the workers is another unique element in this novel. I’d say, to add realism in the dialogues. Lastly, the novel tackles several moral issues – love of family and struggle between telling the truth and saving a family member, to name a few.

This is already  a very long entry regarding my thoughts about the novel. I do have some more musings about it but I believe that there’s another time for that. To finally sum up and close my discourse, “North and South” is one brilliant read. It has all the elements which I look for in a book – great characters and a plot riddled with various controversial issues. One classic piece of literature that is certainly one of the greatest works of the modern era.