Lingua Mea Vita

BBC Book Challenge — Love in the Time of Cholera

I chose to read this book first because the title of one of my favorite artists’ albums comes is a reference to this book (Emiliana Torrini’s Love in the Time of Science).


Love in the Time of Cholera is really just that: 348 pages of grandiose love dribble that makes me want to catch some nearly deadly bacteria that makes me head to the toilet every 30 seconds.

I’m not a romance girl, can you tell?


The book starts off with the lovelorn suicide of a photographer and Dr. Juvenal Urbino coming to inspect the body. This exchange I can’t even call it an exchange because there’s a dead body involved, is the first 50 pages of the book. We don’t meet our main characters, the ones who are engaged in the “great love affair” in which the book revolves around,  until 50 pages in.


With some irony, the Dr. Urbino dies by falling off a ladder trying to catch his pet bird the same day as  the photographer . His wife, Fermina Daza (one half of the main couple) goes to the funeral and sees the man who has been obsessed with her over the past 50 years, Florentino Ariza. I am bothered by how similar their names are, especially when Gael Garcia Bernal Gabriel Garcia Marquez refers to them by first and last name for the entire book.

We get some back story between these two:

Florentino first sees Fermina when he was 13 when he was working as a delivery boy, falls in love her at first sight while she’s teaching her ironically named Aunt Escolastica how to read. He writes a 60-page love letter (What 13 year old boy is actually writing 60-page love letters? I know passionate, adult men who have issues writing 60 pages of anything), but decides to give her an abridged version as to not creep her out. She tells him that she can’t accept it, because her father is  the Tony Soprano of Colombia (Lorenzo Daza) and she needs his permission to breathe. He tells her to get his permission, and Tony Soprano grants it until Fermina gets thrown out of her big, fancy Catholic school for writing a love letter.

Tony Soprano is so pissed off that he kicks her Aunt for encouraging her to get with Florentino and takes her away…where her cousin helps her write more love letters. She’s able to return to town after she’s 17 and filled out. Florentino says “hubba hubba” and Fermina says, “WTF was I thinking?”. Though she doesn’t really want to, Tony Soprano has her marry Dr. Urbino. When Florentino finds out, he decides he’s going to one-up the doctor in power and money and get his woman back (especially when he swore his virginity to her).

It doesn’t work (as we know that no teenage boy is going to stay a virgin for 50 years) Florentino scratches his way up to become president of the River Company of the Caribbean. He has sex with a lot of women to, one of which that Fermina stops him having sex with (Barbara).Florentino basically gives up when Fermina doesn’t fall into his arms, and he figures that the only way he’s going to be with her if Dr. Urbino dies. (No, he doesn’t kill him.)

So, Dr. Urbino dies. And Florentino ditches his 14-year-old sex slave (EW.) and Fermina finally have sex. He’s 76 and she’s 72.  After you’ve got the sagging flesh image of old people sex out of your head, think further. This means that Fermina was 9 years old when he fell in love with her. Florentino Ariza fell in madly in love with someone who probably still plays with dolls.



So why does the BBC (and apparently Oprah) want you to read this book? My initial (cynical) knee-jerk reaction is because it is a love story involving the elderly where that’s usually territory reserved for the young and foolish. But after some thought (and some input from others), I’ve come to a different, more thoughtful conclusion.

What you’re supposed to take away from this book that love is like cholera (or any other untreated bacterial disease). You can try to resist it, but if there’s a cholera epidemic, you’re going to catch it and its going to spread until it’s controlling your life. “Cholera” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Garcia Marquez is trying to say once you really fall in love it controls your emotions instead of you doing so and that we spend so much time trying to control our emotions, we lose who we are as humans. Dr. Urbino, who is a very controlled, unfeeling character, was honored controlling a cholera outbreak in France. We honor suppressing our very human, irrational selves. But is Dr. Urbino the happiest character in the book? Nope—that would be Florentino Ariza, the most irrational, romantic, emotionally-driven character in the book, when he finally beds his woman.

So basically this book is a great big critique of people like me who dislike mushy-gushy romance and aren’t moved by movies starring Reese Witherspoon.


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