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Love in the Time of Cholera

Book Notes

This book has been on my reading list for a while now. I thought it was older than it is, having been published in 1985, in English in 1988. When I think about it, I am not surprised this book is in my awareness, as it was popular when I was working in bookstores. 100 Years of Solitude is also on my list, also by Gabriel García Márquez, which goes to show you that, like The Beautiful and Damned, I keep reading the other book, instead of the one actually on my reading list.


This book is a love story. Sorta. It's also a book about growing old.

It is a love story that tells you that love sucks when it is an intense longing that lasts. It is a love story that tells you that love is beautiful and enduring when it is a reciprocated one that lasts. It is a love story that considers love as a disease, something to endure and recover from. So many different ways to view love.

The book was a slow read for me, which means either I was deeply invested into the characters, or the book had a lot of words (or both). Translators affect how readable a book is (the translation for Inkheart, for example, spoils the beauty of the book), which is why I'm unsure if the translation affected my reading speed also.

What I liked most about the book, however, was the flawed characters. Fiction books are made up, and in that making up, authors can create lovable if flawed characters who still Do Something Impressive™. In this book, we have Fermina Daza, the woman who fell in love with the idea of Florentino Ariza, but realizes said love is actually a fantasy. So, yes, wow, the recognition of love as a passion that often has no basis in reality, go Fermina.

Yet, okay, Fermina is quick to anger, blames others even she is at fault, and is written as a mercurial person. Her husband, Juvenal Urbino, recognizes all of this and balances his world, changes his reactions, to accomodate her personality. Isn't this what we do for our loved ones? How long relationships last when we find the person whose quirks we can live with, accept the other person as who they are, and adapt without losing ourselves.

Or maybe more of our stories are fiction than we realize.

I enjoyed the book. It's a classic, so "of course" it's worth reading, if only for the beautiful imagery. I'd hand it to a friend who is asking for a slow, languid love story to read over the course of a couple weeks. Or for a literature course where you need 18 different interpretations to discuss to make the class interesting.


No other animal was permitted in the house, with the exception of the land turtle who had reappeared in the kitchen after three or four years, when everyone thought he was lost forever.

He, however, was not considered a living being but rather a mineral good luck charm whose location one could never be certain of.
Page 21

Little by little she had been discovering the uncertainty of her husband’s step, his mood changes, the gaps in his memory, his recent habit of sobbing while he slept, but she did not identify these as the unequivocal signs of final decay but rather as a happy return to childhood. That was why she did not treat him like a difficult old man but as a senile baby, and that deception was providential for the two of them because it put them beyond the reach of pity.
Page 26

The incident, of course, gave them the opportunity to evoke many other trivial quarrels from many other dim and turbulent dawns. Resentments stirred up other resentments, reopened old scars, turned them into fresh wounds, and both were dismayed at the desolating proof that in so many years of conjugal battling they had done little more than nurture their rancor.
Page 28

He had had it removed for hygienic reasons: the bathtub was another piece of abominable junk invented by Europeans who bathed only on the last Friday of the month, and then in the same water made filthy by the very dirt they tried to remove from their bodies.
Page 30

No: that fear had been inside him for many years, it had lived with him, it had been another shadow cast over his own shadow ever since the night he awoke, shaken by a bad dream, and realized that death was not only a permanent probability, as he had always believed, but an immediate reality.
Page 31

In the midst of the cataclysm Aminta de Olivella seemed to be everywhere at once, her hair soaking wet and her splendid dress spattered with mud, but bearing up under the misfortune with the invincible smile, learned from her husband, that would give no quarter to adversity.
Page 34

But what disturbed him most was his lack of confidence in his own power of reason: little by little, as in an ineluctable shipwreck, he felt himself losing his good judgment.
Page 40

She prayed to God to give him at least a moment so that he would not go without knowing how much she had loved him despite all their doubts, and she felt an irresistible longing to begin life with him over again so that they could say what they had left unsaid and do everything right that they had done badly in the past. But she had to give in to the intransigence of death.
Page 47

He received the telegram as if it were the continuation of an ominous dream. Florentino Ariza observed his livid eyes with a kind of official compassion, he observed his uncertain fingers trying to break the seal, the heartfelt fear that he had seen so many times in so many addressees who still could not think about telegrams without connecting them with death.
Page 54

All that was needed was shrewd questioning, first of the patient and then of his mother, to conclude once again that the symptoms of love were the same as those of cholera.
Page 62

“Take advantage of it now, while you are young, and suffer all you can,” she said to him, “because these things don’t last your whole life.”
Page 62

At least once a week he ended the evening with a little night bird, as he called them, one of the many who sold emergency love in a transient hotel for sailors.
Page 63

It was the year they fell into devastating love.
Page 68

Such the perfect adjective for love.

His godfather, the homeopathic practitioner, who happened to be taking part in the conversation, did not believe that the wars were an obstacle. He thought they were nothing more than the struggles of the poor, driven like oxen by the landowners, against barefoot soldiers who were driven in turn by the government.
Page 73

... but the person who ran it for him was a lean, one-eyed little man with a polished head and a heart so kind that no one understood how he could be such a good manager. But he was.
Page 74

Ever since she had taught him to read, his mother had bought him illustrated books by Nordic authors which were sold as stories for children but in reality were the cruelest and most perverse that one could read at any age.
Page 74

But he made no distinctions: he read whatever came his way, as if it had been ordained by fate, and despite his many years of reading, he still could not judge what was good and what was not in all that he had read.
Page 75

It was difficult to imagine the number of things that men left after love. They left vomit and tears, which seemed understandable to her, but they also left many enigmas of intimacy: puddles of blood, patches of excrement, glass eyes, gold watches, false teeth, lockets with golden curls, love letters, business letters, condolence letters—all kinds of letters. Some came back for the items they had lost, but most were unclaimed, and Lotario Thugut kept them under lock and key and thought that sooner or later the palace that had seen better days, with its thousands of forgotten belongings, would become a museum of love.
Page 77

Fermina Sánchez, however, settled on her desire with the blind determination of love when it is opposed, and she married him despite her family, with so much speed and so much secrecy that it seemed as if she had done so not for love but to cover over with a sacramental cloak some premature mistake.
Page 86

One night she came back from her daily walk stunned by the revelation that one could be happy not only without love, but despite it.
Page 87

The reality was that one could not see anything more, or anything more exciting, through the spyglass than one could see on the street, but there were many clients who came every Sunday to wrangle over the telescope for the pure delight of tasting the insipid forbidden fruits of the walled area that was denied them.
Page 94

[She] saw, a hand’s breadth from her eyes, those other glacial eyes, that livid face, those lips petrified with fear, just as she had seen them in the crowd at Midnight Mass the first time he was so close to her, but now, instead of the commotion of love, she felt the abyss of disenchantment. In an instant the magnitude of her own mistake was revealed to her, and she asked herself, appalled, how she could have nurtured such a chimera in her heart for so long and with so much ferocity.
Page 102

He was still too young to know that the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.
Page 106

That is how they were: they spent their lives proclaiming their proud origins, the historic merits of the city, the value of its relics, its heroism, its beauty, but they were blind to the decay of the years. Dr. Juvenal Urbino, on the other hand, loved it enough to see it with the eyes of truth.
Page 111

It ended as suddenly as it had begun, and the extent of its ravages was never known, not because this was impossible to establish but because one of our most widespread virtues was a certain reticence concerning personal misfortune.
Page 112

Until then Dr. Juvenal Urbino and his family had conceived of death as a misfortune that befell others, other people’s fathers and mothers, other people’s brothers and sisters and husbands and wives, but not theirs. They were people whose lives were slow, who did not see themselves growing old, or falling sick, or dying, but who disappeared little by little in their own time, turning into memories, mists from other days, until they were absorbed into oblivion.
Page 113

Accustomed to large scattered families in houses where no one was certain how many people were living or eating at any given time, Hildebranda could not imagine a girl her age reduced to the cloister of a private life.
Page 129

Inside the shell of a soulless merchant was hidden a genial lunatic, as willing to bring forth a spring of lemonade in the Guajira Desert as to flood a solemn funeral with weeping at his heartbreaking rendition of “In Questa Tomba Oscura.”
Page 165

No one described him better than he did when someone accused him of being rich. “No, not rich,” he said. “I am a poor man with money, which is not the same thing.”
Page 167

Love this quote.

Without intending to, without even knowing it, he demonstrated with his life that his father had been right when he repeated until his dying day that there was no one with more common sense, no stonecutter more obstinate, no manager more lucid or dangerous, than a poet.
Page 168

Two things surprised him. One was the character of his father’s handwriting, identical to his own although he had chosen his because it was the one he liked best of the many he saw in a manual. The other was finding a sentence that he thought he had composed but that his father had written in the notebook long before he was born: The only regret I will have in dying is if it is not for love.
Page 169

Nevertheless, Florentino Ariza discovered the resemblance many years later, as he was combing his hair in front of the mirror, and only then did he understand that a man knows when he is growing old because he begins to look like his father.
Page 170

... he took his watch and chain out of the buttonhole in his vest and took off his glasses and put them in his boots so he would be sure not to forget them. He always took that precaution, always without fail, whenever he undressed in someone else’s house.
Page 178

He would say: “You treat me as if I were just anybody.”

She would roar with the laughter of a free female and say: “Not at all: as if you were nobody.”
Page 178

“They were for a love that has gone all to hell,” he said.
Page 182

Last of all was the confusing General Section, its name alone suggesting the vagueness of its functions, where problems that had not been solved elsewhere in the company went to die an ignominious death.
Page 184

From that night on, any cloud there might have been between them was dissipated without bitterness, and Florentino Ariza understood at last that it is possible to be a woman’s friend and not go to bed with her.
Page 188


And then he wiped him from his memory, because among other things, his profession had accustomed him to the ethical management of forgetfulness.
Page 189

He was taken by surprise. In reality, Florentino Ariza attended every concert and opera performed in the city, but he did not feel capable of engaging in a critical or well-informed discussion.
Page 190

“That may be the reason he does so many things,” she said, “so that he will not have to think.”
Page 192

“What hurts me is that he has to die,” he said. “Everybody has to die,” she said.
Page 192

... he had arrived along with many others who stayed here until they died, living in Chinese, reproducing in Chinese, and looking so much alike that no one could tell one from the other.
Page 193

And yet that first experience, although cruel and short-lived, did not leave her bitter; rather, she had the overwhelming conviction that with or without marriage, or God, or the law, life was not worth living without a man in her bed.
Page 197

Her abundant sexuality was withering without glory, her lovemaking was slowed by her sobbing, and her eyelids were beginning to darken with old bitterness. She was yesterday’s flower.
Page 200

In less bitter circumstances he would have persisted in his pursuit of Sara Noriega, certain of ending the evening rolling in bed with her, for he was convinced that once a woman goes to bed with a man, she will continue to go to bed with him whenever he desires, as long as he knows how to move her to passion each time.
Page 201


In the restorative idleness of solitude, on the other hand, the widows discovered that the honorable way to live was at the body’s bidding, eating only when one was hungry, loving without lies, sleeping without having to feign sleep in order to escape the indecency of official love, possessed at last of the right to an entire bed to themselves, where no one fought them for half of the sheet, half of the air they breathed, half of their night, until their bodies were satisfied with dreaming their own dreams, and they woke alone.
Page 203

Ever since she was a little girl, when a plate broke in the kitchen, when someone fell, when she herself caught her finger in the door, she would turn in dismay to the nearest adult and make her accusation: “It was your fault.” Although in reality she was not concerned with who was responsible or with convincing herself of her own innocence: she was satisfied at having established it.
Page 204

She had felt him leave her body with a sensation of relief at freeing herself from something that did not belong to her,
Page 207

At first she had a ritual phrase that affirmed her freedom of thought: “To hell with a fan when the wind is blowing.”
Page 208

It was against all scientific reason for two people who hardly knew each other, with no ties at all between them, with different characters, different upbringings, and even different genders, to suddenly find themselves committed to living together, to sleeping in the same bed, to sharing two destinies that perhaps were fated to go in opposite directions. He would say: “The problem with marriage is that it ends every night after making love, and it must be rebuilt every morning before breakfast.”
Page 209

In any case, she never saw him with indifference, and she was always pleased by the good news she heard about him, because that helped to alleviate her guilt.
Page 223

It had taken them by surprise in the repose of their maturity, when they felt themselves safe from misfortune’s sneak attacks, their children grown and well-behaved, and the future ready for them to learn how to be old without bitterness.
Page 234

... des pingouins, the novel that everyone was reading in those days, and he answered without surfacing: “Oui.”

She insisted: “Look at me.”
Page 240

So, the "look at me" to know I have your attention thing did NOT originate with the internet. Excellent.

Dr. Juvenal Urbino had met her four months earlier as she waited her turn in the clinic of Misericordia Hospital, and he knew immediately that something irreparable had just occurred in his destiny.
Page 240

Once, soon after he had married, a friend told him, with his wife present, that sooner or later he would have to confront a mad passion that could endanger the stability of his marriage.
Page 241

In the deliriums of passion he promised everything, but when it was over, everything was left for later.
Page 245

His professor of children’s clinical medicine at La Salpêtrière had recommended pediatrics as the most honest specialization, because children become sick only when in fact they are sick, and they cannot communicate with the physician using conventional words but only with concrete symptoms of real diseases.
Page 246

He distracted them with palliatives, giving time enough time to teach them not to feel their ailments, so that they could live with them in the rubbish heap of old age.
Page 246

Before he knelt down to pray before the altar in the bedroom, he ended the recital of his misery with a sigh as mournful as it was sincere: “I think I am going to die.”

She did not even blink when she replied. “That would be best,” she said. “Then we could both have some peace.”
Page 249

Something definitive had happened to her while he slept: the sediment that had accumulated at the bottom of her life over the course of so many years had been stirred up by the torment of her jealousy and had floated to the surface, and it had aged her all at once. Shocked by her sudden wrinkles, her faded lips, the ashes in her hair, he risked telling her that she should try to sleep: it was after two o’clock.
Page 249

But she did not, of course, so that as he spoke she began to cry again, not with her earlier timid sobs but with abundant salty tears that ran down her cheeks and burned her nightdress and inflamed her life, because he had not done what she, with her heart in her mouth, had hoped he would do, which was to be a man: deny everything, and swear on his life it was not true, and grow indignant at the false accusation, and shout curses at this ill-begotten society that did not hesitate to trample on one’s honor, and remain imperturbable even when faced with crushing proofs of his disloyalty.
Page 250

However, she was going to learn very soon that her drastic decision was not so much the fruit of resentment as of nostalgia.
Page 251

F'ing nostalgia.

A few years later, however, the husbands fell without warning down the precipice of a humiliating aging in body and soul, and then it was their wives who recovered and had to lead them by the arm as if they were blind men on charity, whispering in their ear, in order not to wound their masculine pride, that they should be careful, that there were three steps, not two, that there was a puddle in the middle of the street, that the shape lying across the sidewalk was a dead beggar, and with great difficulty helped them to cross the street as if it were the only ford across the last of life’s rivers.
Page 256

The years of immobilized waiting, of hoping for good luck, were behind him, but on the horizon he could see nothing more than the unfathomable sea of imaginary illnesses, the drop-by-drop urinations of sleepless nights, the daily death at twilight.
Page 259

From the moment he saw the first hairs tangled in his comb, he knew that he was condemned to a hell whose torments cannot be imagined by those who do not suffer them.
Page 261

His only consolation was that his raging baldness meant that he would not have to watch his hair turn gray.
Page 262

Most of his business associates viewed those disputes as if they were matrimonial arguments, in which both parties are right.
Page 267

In just the same way that he had done and thought everything he had done and thought in life, he had scaled the heights only because of his fierce determination to be alive and in good health at the moment he would fulfill his destiny in the shadow of Fermina Daza.
Page 268

Still, they continued to be intermittent lovers for almost thirty years, thanks to their musketeers’ motto: Unfaithful but not disloyal.
Page 269

With her Florentino Ariza learned what he had already experienced many times without realizing it: that one can be in love with several people at the same time, feel the same sorrow with each, and not betray any of them.
Page 270

That memory helped her to escape the mangrove swamps of grief.
Page 281

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