Sunday, February 10, 2008

“Love” in the time of cholera

I’ve been plowing through Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for about a month now, and I’m still waiting for the love story to start. I’m utterly stumped as to why this book is a classic, and why it has recently become a major motion picture and part of Oprah’s Book Club. The cover tells me Newseek called it “A love story of astonishing power.” I just don't get it. I don't find the writing particularly powerful, and despite the word being in the title and peppered throughout the book, I don't see how this story has anything to do with love.

The book’s protagonist, Florentino Ariza, is portrayed as a pining romantic, but he seems more like a womanizing stalker to me. His 50-year love affair is essentially an obsession with an adolescent crush who he barely knows and who barely knows he exists. While waiting for his one true love to reciprocate his feelings, Florentino sleeps with a slew of women below the pedestal, although this gets confusing because these affairs are also described with the word “love” — “love” is thrown around constantly, describing very different relationships, most of which I would classify as dysfunctional and abusive — far from loving.

One of these affairs is with a girl, a relative a quarter his age who is entrusted by her parents to Florentino to act as her guardian while she’s in secondary school away from home:

“She was still a child in every sense of the word, with braces on her teeth and the scrapes of elementary school on her knees, but he saw right away the kind of woman she was soon going to be, and he cultivated her during a slow year of Saturdays at the circus, Sundays in the park with ice cream, childish late afternoons, and he won her confidence, he won her affection, he led her by the hand, with the gentle astuteness of a kind grandfather, toward his secret slaughterhouse.”

A description of one of their "romantic" encounters:

“They had made love after lunch and they were lying together at the end of their siesta, both of them naked under the ceiling fan … Florentino Ariza loved her as he had loved so many other casual women in his long life, but he loved her with more anguish than any other, because he was certain he would be dead by the time she finished secondary school.”

As if the “secret slaughterhouse” metaphor and romantic portrayal of statutory rape weren’t disturbing enough, in another scene, Marquez comes right out and calls sexual violence love. This is a “romantic” little aside about a prostitute Florentino befriends:

“While she was still very young, a strong, able man whose face she never saw took her by surprise, threw her down on the jetty, ripped her clothes off, and made instantaneous and frenetic love to her. Lying there on the rocks, her body covered with cuts and bruises, she had wanted that man to stay forever so that she could die of love in his arms. She had not seen his face, she had not heard his voice, but she was sure she would have known him in a crowd of a thousand men because of his shape and size and his way of making love. From that time on, she would say to anyone who would listen to her: ‘If you ever hear of a big, strong fellow who raped a poor black girl from the street on Drowned Men’s Jetty, one October fifteenth at about half-past eleven at night, tell him where he can find me.’”

I don’t even feel the need to comment. Is this not extremely disturbing? How on earth did this book receive so much critical acclaim? I’m used to seeing violence against women sexualized in smutty ads selling beer and cars, but I almost find it more concerning that the same kind of romanticizing of abuse is being called great literature. Oprah called Love in the Time of Cholera one of the greatest love stories she’s ever read. That’s frightening.


Pam said...

Maybe when you finish the book he'll get his just deserts.
It's like calling Lolita a great love story.

Jessica said...

This is why I stay away from the classics, too many creepy plots and innuendos!

Amy said...

Finally finished this heinous book, and he did NOT get his just deserts. In fact, he got even creepier toward his undeserved happy ending.

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