Love in the Time of Cholera

Published in 1988, Love in the Time of Cholera is a love story. It is based in the “City of the Viceroys” which, from descriptions is probably around Cartagena. The story takes place from around 1880 to 1930.

Florentino Ariza is a young man who is popular with the ladies and works as a delivery boy for the post office, then one day he sees the beautiful, Fermina Daza. He is instantly in love and spends his time languishing over his love of her. They pour their hearts out in letters to each other until her father finds out and takes her away. Thinking that she has stopped her romantic love, he brings her home. The first time she sees Florentino, she decides to end their relationship. He continues his love for her through his relationships with other women, and she marries a doctor. Finally, fifty-one years, nine months and four days after she ended their relationship, he tells her he still loves her… at her husband’s funeral.

Although still mourning her husband, Fermina and Florentino begin to correspond again. Soon he is visiting her, and they rekindle their lost passions, but in much older bodies. He convinces her to go on a cruise with him. When they stop at a port, she becomes concerned of the gossip if she is seen with a man, so he has the captain fly a flag saying the boat is infected with cholera.

Cholera is an extra character in this book. From the beginning, it is mentioned quite often. It flows through the lives of the characters and then allows them to be alone in the end.

Book Summary

“Love in the Time of Cholera”, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez begins with an ending. Dr. Juvenal Urbino del Calle is the first of the scene of a suicide. His chess friend, Jeremiah de Saint-Armor has killed himself and his dog with poison. Although, the police inspector wonders if the death wasn’t accidental, Dr. Urbino knows otherwise. His friend knew about chemicals, he was a photographer, so he wouldn’t have made a mistake.

While making his usual rounds, Dr. Urbino was a creature of habit, he came across a note tacked to the door of Saint-Armor. The note read, “come in without knocking and inform the police”. Now, Dr. Urbino stood with the police inspector and the young doctor training in forensics. They see a chess board, and Dr. Urbino notices his friend would have lost in four moves. While he is wondering why his friend would take his own life, the inspector notices a letter addressed to Dr. Urbino. As he reads it, his countenance changes. After tucking the eleven-page letter away into his pocket he tells the inspector the letter is Saint – Armor’s last instructions. They believed him because he directed them to a loose floor tile where a strongbox was hidden. There was just enough money to handle the funeral and expenses.

Although Dr. Urbino never misses Mass, he decides that he will take the time to let some of the Caribbean refugees, that Saint-Armor helped, know of his death. But, what he really wants to do is tell his wife about the letter.

The letter tells Dr. Urbino to travel to a strange location. It is in the old slave quarters in town. An older woman answers the door. She is wearing a black dress and has a rose tucked behind her ear. There Dr. Urbino discovers the woman was Saint-Armor’s lover for years. Urbino was surprised when he read it in the letter because he thought Saint-Armor’s deformity would have made that impossible, (his legs were useless and he always used crutches to walk around). That is why none of the nosy neighbors knew his cleaning lady was also his lover. Saint-Armor asked her to remember him by wearing a rose. She also told Urbino that he had always planned to kill himself when he reached 60. He didn’t want to grow old. The woman told Urbino that she had been with Saint-Armor last night when he wrote the letter. She was the other chess player. She promised her lover not to wallow in the morning. She will sell his things and spend the rest of her days there.

When Dr. Urbino arrives home, he sees his parrot has gotten loose, and the servants are trying to capture it. Urbino teaches the parrot to speak in French. He tried to lure the parrot down from the mango tree with soothing words in French, then Spanish and even Latin, to no avail. The bird is quite famous around the town because he has taught is to speak in fluent French and to recite biblical verses. He also taught it to do the math. For the last twenty years, he has given scads more attention to the parrot than to his wife and children. Everyone comes to watch the bird perform, even the president of the republic. But, unfortunately, the bird refuses to perform on demand for the two hours the president and his ministers are there. His wife, Fermina, tried to warn him.

When they were first married, she loved animals and they had quite a menagerie. But, one day one of their dogs contracted rabies, and all the animals had to be put down, except for a tortoise, which they manage to forget a lot.  Urbino had forbidden more pets, stating that nothing could come in that couldn’t speak. So, his wife brought home the parrot. It proved quite handy when some thieves broke into the house and it barked like a dog and yelled. “Stop thief”. From then on, Dr. Urbino took it upon himself to teach the bird more words.  But, now it’s perched in the mango tree, with the servants trying to coax it down. They had opened the cage so they could clip it’s wings and it got away. Dr. Urbino calls the fire department, of which he is president, to have them remove the bird. Then he goes in to seek his wife. Fermina is still beautiful at seventy-two. They have just celebrated their golden (fifty years) anniversary. She’s been noticing her husband’s aging mind and body, but instead of thinking he’s getting older, she thinks he’s more childlike.

For the first thirty years of their marriage, they were still working through some of the kinks. They had a running argument every morning when he got up. Urbino rose at dawn and woke his wife. She would fake being asleep, but fume that he woke her. One day the whole thing blew up. He complained there was no soap in the bathroom, she was supposed to have replaced it. She swore there had been soap. He storms out, stays at the hospital, coming home only to change clothes, he refuses to come home until she admits there was no soap. Finally, he suggests they both confess, even if it has to be before the Archbishop. She refuses and threatens to move back with her father.

When he realizes she means it, he offers to concede somewhat. He still won’t admit there was soap, but he will move back home, sleeping in another room. But, after four months, he misses his feather bed and agrees there was soap. This was their only major fight in fifty years. When Urbino gives Fermina the letter Saint-Armor wrote, she tucks it into a drawer without reading it. She says that if her husband died she would act the same way his lover did. But, all Urbino can think about is how angry he is at his friend for keeping the fact that he was a fugitive, sentenced to life in prison for some terrible, but unnamed crime.

Later that evening, Dr. Urbino and his wife attend a twenty-fifth-anniversary party for a colleague of his. There he sees the young doctor that was there that day for the forensics of Saint-Armor. When the Archbishop asks Dr. Urbino what the cause of death was for Saint-Armor, he replies, “Gerontophobia”, the fear of growing old. Soon, their son, Dr. Marcus Urbino arrives at the party with his wife and the dessert. He apologizes for being late. Someone told him his father’s house was on fire because the fire department was there.

When Fermina and Urbino arrive home, the house is a shambles. The fire department trashed the place and still didn’t catch the bird. While taking a wee rest, and contemplating growing old, the Dr. hears the parrot in the mango tree. Every time he reaches it, the bird jumps to a higher branch. Urbino gets a ladder. When a servant comes in and sees the old man on the ladder, she shrieks. He has just reached the bird when the ladder slips and he falls to his death. His dying words are to his wife, who rushed in when she heard the servant’s cry. He says, “Only God knows how much I love you.”

The whole city is devastated at his death, and three days of mourning are declared. Although he had worried about Fermina after his death, she is stoic. She maintains a private vigil for the three days with only close friends and family. She quietly removes her wedding ring and places it in his hand, telling him they will be together again someday. Florentino Ariza, president of the River Company of the Caribbean, is hurt that Fermina doesn’t recognize him at the wake. He has already organized the gathering and even caught the parrot. At seventy-six, he spends a lot of time trying to hide his age with black suits.

After everyone leaves, she finally notices Florentino and is happy to see him. She had forgotten him. He tells her that he stayed behind to renew a vow he made to her fifty years ago to always love her. She is furious and kicks him out of her house, telling him to never return. Then she cries herself to sleep but is surprised the next morning to realize most of her tears were for Florentino. Fermina may claim to have forgotten their love affair when they were teenagers, but Florentino hasn’t. Florentino went to work at the age of ten when the support of his father stopped with his death. Florentino was the illegitimate son of his mother’s casual boyfriend.

Florentino goes to work at the post office, where an old German man teaches him Morse code and how to play the violin. These skills coupled with his morose attitude makes him quite popular among the girls. Florentino is enjoying playing the field, until the day he sees Fermina. Delivering a telegram to her father at her house, he spies her teaching her aunt to read and is enamored. Every day he sits on a bench she and her aunt walk past, pretending to read. In his teenage passion, he writes a seventy-six page letter to Fermina, but can’t get past her aunt to give it to her. When he asks advice from his mother, she suggests he first make friends with the aunt and destroy the letter. Unknown to them both, Fermina secretly wishes he would give her a letter.

For years, he watches her from the park bench but is afraid to come up to her. Finally, he sees her alone and asks her if he can give her a letter. She says she must ask her father first, but when he sees her in a different seat, that will be the signal that the coast is clear to give her his letter. He does a few days later, but it’s not the epic letter he wrote, just a note pledging his undying love and devotion.

Florentino makes himself ill waiting for her reply to his letter. Finally, he can’t wait any longer and goes to her house. She has also been thinking of him but hasn’t been able to answer his love letter. She promises to have an answer for him by the end of summer vacation. After her reply, the two teenagers exchange letters, but never meet face to face, for a year. His letters are of love, hers are the days happenings. Although her aunt knows her father would not approve, she doesn’t stop the letters.

One night, Fermina hears a violin playing outside her window. It plays the same waltz over and over. She sees it’s Florentino and he is playing a song he wrote for her, Crowned Goddess. They arrange for him to play in other locations so she can hear the song without anyone knowing it is for her. Once he is arrested as a spy because the authorities think his song has messages in it. He spends three nights in jail and thinks he is a martyr for love.

After two years of letters, Florentino proposes. But, Fermina is unsure. She asks for time to think about it. Her aunt advises her to accept, she tells her that she will regret it someday if she doesn’t. Finally, she accepts, if he won’t make her eat eggplant. Florentino’s mother agrees to the marriage on two conditions; they must keep their engagement a secret and it must be long. Also, they must find out what more about her father. They agree.

While Fermina goes back to the convent and school, Florentino continues working at the post office. His boss leaves the post office and takes over a transient hotel, giving Florentino a free room. There Florentino spurns the advances of the prostitutes and other women who come to the hotel. He is saving his virginity for Fermina.

The two continue to exchange letters, and one day the Mother Superior finds one. When Fermina refuses to tell her who her secret lover is, she is expelled. Her father is furious. He searches her room, finds the letters and ships her aunt back home. In rebellion, Fermina locks herself in her room and refuses to eat. When her father confronts her, she holds a knife to her throat until he relents.

Fermina’s father visits Florentino and threatens to shoot him unless he stops seeing his daughter. Florentino tells him he would die for love. So, her father takes her away on a long trip, hoping she will forget Florentino. Fermina is miserable until she discovers that Florentino has been sending telegraphs to her. Then they continue their communication. Thinking she is finally over Florentino, her father takes her back home.

When Florintino sees her he is amazed at how much more mature she is. Fermina is now seventeen and running the house. Although, she had gone to the marketplace to buy ink to write to him, when she sees him, she is disenchanted and decides to end their relationship, and forget him. She sends a letter to Florintino telling him that after seeing him in the market, she realized their love was not real and is sending him all his letters, etc. He is devastated. Even though his mother tried to see her plead his case, she still refused to see him, until fifty years later at her husband’s wake.

Now, we go to the story of Dr. Juvenal Urbino del Calle, Fermina’s husband. They meet when he is twenty-eight and the most eligible bachelor in the town. He has just returned home from Paris and is saddened to see what the cholera epidemic has done. His own family has been hit by the disease with the death of his father.

A doctor and a civic leader as his father before him, Urbino lobbies for better sanitation practices to stop the disease. When he is called to examine Fermina for cholera, her father tries to do some matchmaking. The next day, he goes back to check on her progress and she is rude to him. Her father insists she apologizes and invites Urbino in for coffee and a drink. Although he never touches either, he accepts, getting slightly tipsy. When he gets home, his mother tells him that because of his neglect a patient died.

Urbino continues to pursue Fermina, but, since her father is for the match, she is against it, she continues to be cold to Urbino. Undeterred, he keeps coming around and her father teaches him to play chess, starting a lifetime obsession.  Although Fermina plays with his affections a lot, she finally agrees to let Urbino speak to her father about marriage. After learning about her upcoming marriage, Florentino tries one last time. He serenades her with his violin and her song he wrote. She doesn’t acknowledge him, so he leaves and his mother arranges for him to get a job at a far away telegraph office. On the ship that he takes to his new life, he is seduced by an older woman. Completely heartbroken, because of Fermina, Florentino decides not to take the job and goes back home, only to learn Fermina and her new husband have left on their honeymoon.

His mother thinks he should have a romance with a young widow, so she asks her to stay in his room when her house is destroyed. He plans to sleep on the floor, but, she seduces him. Their romance carries on for a few months, but then she decides to sleep with other men and thanks him for making her a whore. Florentino thinks the best way to survive his broken heart is to have lots of affairs. So, he fills up notebooks and in fifty years has had six hundred and twenty-two serious relationships.

Even though he has no shortage of women, he still pines for Fermina, and when she returns six months pregnant he thinks she is more beautiful than ever. He vows to make himself worthy of her and to wait for her husband’s death. Marriage is not what Fermina hoped it would be. She is terrified of losing her virginity, but afterward wonders why it is taking her so long to get pregnant. When she does, she thinks she has everything she could want. Urbino did not marry Fermina because he loved her. He was drawn to her because of her haughty manner. But, he hopes he will grow to love her.

Florentino gets a job in his uncle’s company and works his way up the ranks. Meanwhile, he sells his services as a poet. He is a romantic, and picks up women, having affairs with a few of them. The book goes on to describe some of his liaisons with his “free flying birds”.  Meanwhile, Fermina is unhappy. She knows her husband doesn’t love her, and she must live with her mother in law, who makes nothing but eggplant. She also insists Fermina learn to play the harp. Some of the shady business dealings of Fermina’s father come out, but Urbino uses his influence to end the rumors and send her father away. Then he takes his wife and baby on a vacation to Europe to try and save their marriage.

Florentino starts an affair with a young married woman, and when her husband finds out, he kills her. Soon, his mother dies and is buried in the same cemetery the married woman was. Florentino plants roses on both their graves and the roses spread. The cemetery is renamed the Cemetery of Roses.
While Florentino is picking up his stalking of Fermina, she has left to stay with her cousin in the country after discovering her husband’s affair. Urbino ends his affair and then brings his wife home. They continue their marriage, though still not really happy.

When Florentino hears of Urbino’s death, he is involved in an affair with a fourteen-year-old girl. He rushes to Fermina’s side and we are back to the beginning of the book. After anxiously waiting for an answer from Fermina for two weeks, he finally finds a note from her in a puddle at his front door.  The letter is angry, and when Florentino answers it he writes with a stoic flair. They begin to communicate again through letters, and his are just about the days happenings. He breaks it off with his fourteen-year-old lover, telling her he is going to get married. She is angry and tells him old people don’t marry.

Fermina asks one of her friends what she thinks about him and she relays the common gossip that he is never seen with a woman, so everyone assumes he picks up boys at the docks. For a year they correspond, then after not writing for two weeks, he shows up at her house and continues to visit once a week.

Florentino has lunch with Fermina’s son who thanks him for keeping his mother company, but her daughter thinks it’s ridiculous. So she tells her daughter to leave. Florentine falls and hurts his ankle. When Florentino is well he persuades Fermina to go on a cruise with him. While they are there, she cries a lot and finally says goodbye to her memories of her husband. Florentine receives a message saying the fourteen-year-old girl committed suicide.

Finally, after fifty years, Florentino and Fermina are together. When the boat reaches the shore, she notices people preparing to board who she recognizes and worries about the scandal. Florentino, who is the president of the river boat line, tells the captain to turn away all the passengers waiting to board. So, he hoists a flag that says the boat is under quarantine for cholera. The book ends with Florentino, Fermina, the captain and his lover the only two people on board a ship that is adrift in the river.

Character Analysis

Florentino Ariza – one of the three main characters of the story. An illegitimate son of a casual affair, he has to leave school at ten when his biological father, who has no interest in him except monetary, dies. He starts working in a post office as a delivery boy. On one of these deliveries, he sees Fermina Daza and becomes obsessed. Throughout most of the book, he stalks her, with brief bouts of corresponding in love letters. Florentino relishes the hopeless romance and writes love poems. After Fermina marries someone else, he works at building his wealth and status so he can be ready for her when she is free again. Until then, he goes through six hundred and twenty-two love affairs, not counting his various dalliances, while keeping his heart for Fermina. When he is young, he wants to give his life for love, but as he ages, he begins to fear death and growing old. After he finally does get to be with Fermina, he notices her age but stays with her anyway.

Fermina Daza – the female lead of this story. She is beautiful but haughty. Raised by her father after her mother dies, she is stubborn and spoiled. As a teenager, she is emotional and rebellious. While corresponding with Florentino she keeps her distance romantically, by answering his impassioned letters with everyday happenings. She attends a convent school and how she conceives the church officials makes her turn away from the church, especially when the nuns find her love letters and tell her father. Her father tells her she can’t see Florentino, so she must have him.

Finally, when she dumps Florentino coldly, her father pushes her into a relationship with a well to do doctor. She marries him and is never happy in her marriage. They stay together for fifty years until he dies. Then she finally ends up with Florentino.

Dr. Juvenal Urbino del Calle – Urbino is a well-respected doctor who comes from a line of well-respected doctors. He is old fashioned and still makes house calls in a buggy. When he is young, he is a very eligible bachelor, then he decides to marry Fermina. He doesn’t love her but is drawn to her cold, haughty nature. He likes the same routine day in and day out. He is up at dawn, makes his rounds, goes home for lunch, takes a nap. Then he read books for an hour, gave lessons in French to his parrot. After having a glass of lemonade at four o’clock he would leave to visit his patients. After dinner, he would read before turning into bed.

The only time he deviated from his schedule was the few vacations he took with his wife and children, and the brief affair he had in his middle age. A staunch Catholic, he was racked with guilt. But, ended it and repaired his marriage, somewhat. After climbing a ladder to rescue his parrot from a tree, he falls and dies. His last words are to his wife, telling her how much he loves her.

Gabriel García Márquez Biography 

Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez was a Colombian author, screenwriter, journalist and Latin American hero born in 1927 in Aracataca, Colombia. Marquez is widely considered one of the most significant Spanish-language authors of the 20th century. He received many awards in his lifetime, the highest among them being the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982.

Marquez was the son of a pharmacist who was left to be raised by his grandparents from a young age and later went on to study law at the National University of Colombia where he took up journalism. During the late 1940’s, Marquez made his money as a journalist for the El Universal in Cartagena and then, in the early 1950’s for the El Heraldo in Barranquilla. It was during this time that Marquez, known for his liberlism, helped with the coup d’etat of the Venezuelan president Marcos Perez Jimenez. In 1958, Marquez married Mercedes Barcha and the two had two sons shortly after.

His first novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude” (1967) was a huge success and one many award including the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature. The book continues to be considered one of the greatest classic novels of the 20th century.

After the book was published, Marquez lived in Spain for several years. During this time he acted as a facilitator in negotiations between Colombia’s government and the urban guerrillas in the country. Marquez’s fame also led to many friendships with famous world leaders such as Fidel Castro, the former Cuban president. Because of his widely known views on United States imperialism, Marquez was denied entry into the US for many years. Marquez went on to publish many more beloved books including, “The Autumn of the Patriarch” (1975), “Chronicle of Death Foretold” (1981) and “Love in the Time of Cholera” (1985).

Marquez also wrote many screenplays that were made into movies in Latin America. He continued to work as an author and serve as a beloved national figure until April 2014 when he died of pneumonia at the age of 87. Marquez was cremated and a formal ceremony was held several days later as a memorial of his life. The presidents of both Colombia and Mexico City attended the ceremony. Residents of his home town of Aracataca also held a symbolic funeral in his honor.