Adonias Filho (on the right) with fellow writers Gabriel Garcia Marquez (center), and Jorge Amado (left). - Wikimedia/Photo taken by Adonias Filho's wife Adonias Filho (on the right) with fellow writers Gabriel Garcia Marquez (center), and Jorge Amado (left). - Wikimedia/Photo taken by Adonias Filho's wife

How love works beyond the Time of Cholera

Tue, Mar. 6, 2018
CAIRO - 6 March 2018: In celebration of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 91st birthday, Egypt Today magazine has decided to review one of his beloved works, "Love in the Time of Cholera."

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s "Love in the Time of Cholera" is a true portrayal of human nature and what it entails in needs and deeds.

While the novel did not live up to my expectations, one cannot deny that Garcia Marquez is successful in illustrating his moral vividly: love is unlimited, can occur in any place, at any time, and in any form. Albeit in his book it was always sexual (and one cannot help but question if it can be defined as ‘love’), he nevertheless managed to build a successful, engrossing fictitious network of lovers, spanning decades and eras.

The most prominent aspect of his book, and perhaps the one most underrated, was the characters he built. Yes, they fulfilled their roles as needed, but they did not feel real, despite the author’s intention. The story was meant to portray the reality of love, which never happens smoothly or easily, but the characters were the book’s hugest shortcoming. From their inception to their development, they felt like paper men; two-dimensional, as though their impact didn’t extend beyond the page they were on. Garcia Marquez failed to create an innate bond between the reader and the characters.

Nonetheless, one must take into consideration that the book was set in an era very different from our own. In our era, there are no Florentino Arizas chasing after Fermina Dazas for half-centuries. Not that many, anyway.

In this day and age, we have exes fighting over who moves on first, who starts dating again first and who seems happier post-breakup. My intention here is not to favor one plot over the other, but to highlight the differences between both.

People love in all sorts of different ways and maybe it is difficult to relate because of the different perspectives on the matter. You’ve got Kahlil Gibran telling you, “make not a bond of your love,” and modern-day spiritualists highlighting the importance of an individual’s awareness of his/her own self and the role they play in any relationship. Then comes Garcia Marquez playing a somewhat similar but what can be deemed as a “dysfunctional” symphony, presenting a love story that feels more like a tragedy despite its happy ending.

While all of this is good and well, one fact remains unchanged through all eras and times: The protagonist, Florentino Ariza, was definitely sold short in the initial stages of his development and that is why he didn’t end up with the love of his life 50 years earlier. Even though his lovers favored him for his fortitude and incessantness, he was nevertheless constantly belittled by the only woman he relentlessly cared for. We can’t claim that he was the underdog, no, Garcia Marquez wanted him to be less than average, even in terms of physical attractiveness. He wanted Florentino Ariza to be the type of character that in our day and age would always end up with a “Thanks for the Effort” trophy, but never the prize.

Fermina Daza, initially in love with the heartsick Ariza, slowly grows into his complete opposite. While he lives in a haphazard manner; she has everything calculated. A pragmatist at heart, (and I use pragmatist very loosely; she’s an opportunist as well) she belittles Ariza and marries the prominent physician instead. She jumps on the train of marriage solely because she was scared she would miss it forever, and because she liked the prospects Dr. Juvenal Urbino might have. An equivalent of a modern-day gold-digger, if you want to argue that. She knew how much Florentino Ariza loved her, but even she treated him with disdain and couldn’t fathom loving a man who was simply falling all over himself for her.

But when one looks at the matter with today’s perspective of a relationship, most women also wouldn’t. It’s not a defense of Fermina Daza’s behavior, only an observation. A group of researchers at the University of Graz, Austria undertook a research study in 2016 to test for the attractive traits each of men and women seek. With 90 participants engaged in the study, the results showed that women were more attracted to men with “Dark Triad” personality traits. Dark Triad personality traits refers to men characterized with psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. In other words, men who are impulsive, manipulative, vain, opportunistic, selfish and who don a trail of superiority in the air surrounding them.

At the point of his inception, Florentino Ariza is only a shadow of a character and his love interest even notes so: “She [Fermina Daza] said: ‘It is as if he were not a person but only a shadow.’ That is what he was: the shadow of someone whom no one had ever known.” Ariza’s entire life is spent solely loving her; Fermina Daza. He knows nothing else, but only how to love her. On its own, that is one of the book’s saddest concepts and one of the biggest hallmarks of a person’s failing sense of individuality.

Quite ironically, some 500 affairs later, Florentino Ariza transforms into an embodiment of the Dark Triad personality traits. Although lacking in some of the traits, he exhibits most at one point or the other during his development. His Dark Triad even peaks in his last affair, when he lures a 12-year-old girl into sleeping with him, who eventually takes her own life at 17 when he reunites with Fermina Daza and refrains from sleeping with her again.

At the end of the day though, when he finally ends up with Fermina Daza, we see his Dark Triad fading and he becomes the person he was from the beginning; that is to say, the writer used Florentino Ariza’s greatest love to redeem him and his story.

Garcia Marquez delivered a product that fulfilled its very purpose; he managed to create characters that we wouldn’t love easily and allowed us to become privy to their most heinous moments. If they had existed within our close circle of friends, we would find them difficult to understand. Up close and uncomfortable, the characters teach us that even at one’s worst, one is loved. In Paolo Coelho’s words, “One is loved because one is loved. No reason is needed for loving.” Such was the message of the book’s most prominent passage:

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. Alone in the midst of the crowd on the pier, he said to himself in a flash of anger: 'My heart has more rooms than a whorehouse.’
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