Picks and Pans Review: Love in the Time of Cholera

updated 06/27/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/27/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Gabriel García Márquez

"Two old people, ambushed by death, who had nothing in common except the memory of an ephemeral past that was no longer theirs." Such are Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, the main characters in this rich and tantalizing novel, a book García Márquez has said was inspired by his parents' courtship as well as the "image of two old people dancing on the deck of a boat, dancing a bolero." In Florentine's heart there had never been any woman other than Fermina, who rejected him when she was a teenager, to whom he restates his love more than half a century later, around 1880, at the funeral of her husband. To Fermina, Florentino has remained throughout those years a pitiable sort of enigma, "the shadow of someone she had never met." Following these two as they rekindle their relationship, despite mistrust, disillusionment and old age, is like tracking a sunflower's imperceptible pursuit of the sun. And it is just as miraculous. Told in large, slowly paced chapters, the novel chronicles some 50 years in an unnamed Caribbean seaport. Weddings, deaths, plagues and the benefits of the Industrial Revolution shape the narrative. In its sweep, the book is not unlike García Márquez' 1970 classic, One Hundred Years of Solitude. But Love's real focus is on the simple human elements—a passing thought, a little gesture or the sight of an empty park bench—that let a reader identify with the characters' most intimate, personal concerns. While combing his hair, for example, Florentino looks at his image in the mirror and understands "that a man knows when he is growing old because he begins to look like his father." And Fermina, lonely on her first night as a widow, realizes that "while she slept, sobbing, she had thought more about Florentino Ariza than about her dead husband." In Love, García Márquez also puts the brakes on his often dizzying prose, opting instead for language that is simple and elegant. "She began to speak of her dead husband in the present tense," says the narrator, describing a conversation near the end of the book, "and Florentino Ariza knew then that for her, too, the time had come to ask herself with dignity, with majesty, with an irrepressible desire to live, what she should do with the love that had been left behind without a master." The answer to this question, delivered on a boat called New Fidelity, leads to an aptly unresolved, Fellini-esque ending to a remarkable, joyful meditation on aging, sex and love. In Nobel laureate García Márquez' hands, the meditation is another masterpiece. (Knopf, $18.95)

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