This novel, which I read when first published in 1988, had stuck in my memory and made my list of top 25 of all time. I just reread it as part of my “Reading in the Time of COVID-19” project.
It’s a simple story about a lifetime of unrequited love finally becoming requited after 50 years. Florentino Ariza pursues Fermina Daza beginning as a teenager, but she eventually rejects him and marries another man, Dr. Juvenal Urbino. Florentino romantic folly remains alive, and 50 years later, after the death of Urbino, he expresses his love for Fermina again.
While the story is simple, the telling is anything but. The narrative is rich and sumptuous — exactly what we expect from Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I folded over many pages where I read passages that took my breath away.
He was 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.
He had two advantages working in his favor, however. One was an unerring eye that promptly spotted the woman, even in a crowd, who was waiting for him, though even then he courted her with caution, for he felt that nothing was more embarrassing or more demeaning than a refusal. The other was that women promptly identified him as a solitary man in need of love, a street beggar as humble as a whipped dog, who made them yield without conditions, without asking him for anything, without hoping for anything from him except the tranquility of knowing the had done him a favor.
While the idea of a love triangle and the meditation on the passage of time is intriguing to me, there were times when the novel didn’t enrapture me. The writing never falters, but the story itself lacked turning points and momentum. And I can see why readers today can be angry about the novel’s glossing over, even ignoring, rape.
I have not read Marquez in a long time–perhaps since I first read this novel, and in those intervening years I’ve not read anyone else like him. Overall, I was transported. When I was reading, I mostly forget the world around me. That’s what great fiction can do for you. Nobel Prize indeed.