If you love romances, you will adore this book by Gabriel García Márquez. But this is so much more than a romance novel. To categorize it as such trivializes what is actually a book that belongs on every list of top 100 or so books to have read.
It is masterfully told, the unrequited love of Florentino Ariza for Fermina Daza that spans over half a century. Florentino and Fermina “meet” in pre-turn of the century Columbia, with all its quaint etiquette of young love. The point is that they never really do meet in the sense of talking together in youth. But their love burns to a fever pitch until discovered by the girl’s father who takes her away to family in another location in an effort to squelch the lovers.
The couple continue to communicate with help from friends and relatives until they eventually meet upon her return home, but alas, Fermina realizes that Florentino is not for her. She waits and ultimately marries a wealthy doctor and has what would be termed a “good life.”
Meanwhile Florentino declares that his love will be forever and misses no occasion to see his beloved. The most impressive display of his love is when one evening he is sitting at a meal and discovers her image in a mirror in the restaurant. She is indeed there with her husband and friends. He sits for hours just watching her in the mirror until they leave. Florentino then spends months convincing the restaurant owner to sell him the mirror so that he can own this most precious item that has held the image of his beloved.
However, Florentino is no sad figure, and he goes on to become one of the most prolific of womanizers the world may have ever not known. He has affairs of all shapes and sizes, of all ages and circumstances. Some are heroic, some degrading, some distasteful and immoral. Yet Fermina never learns of them.
Florentino waits, and of course ultimately Fermina’s husband dies and he comes to her again, declaring his undying love. How that all turns out will require your reading the novel.
This is so much more than a mere novel of a love affair between two, for it encompasses love in all it’s myriads of variations. Young love, old love, illicit love between old and young, adulterous love, casual love, platonic love, and on and on. Love is the topic and it is explored in every way possible without judgment or favoritism.
Márquez writes with beauty, in descriptive phrases that delight, painting a picture of that time and place that is so realistic that one soon finds oneself immersed in the heat of the summer afternoons and the sounds of the port town. The characters are real, easily located without one’s own series of acquaintances, if not whole, then certainly in part. We all know of someone like Florentino, a man not handsome nor well placed in society, who pines for someone “above his station”. We know the poet like him, or have certainly read poems like Florentino would have composed.
We know the haunty, beautiful, not quite society girl Fermina in all sorts of women we have known in life. The delightful girlfriend, the woman who runs her house with assurance, and with an iron fist. We know the other players as well, the husband who marries because he sees his prospective wife as an asset, yet in the end finds a good life with her.
We recognize all sorts of people in the varied characters, we recognize part of ourselves. We can explore here, all the varieties of love we have tasted, wondered about, longed for, denied ourselves or ran from.
Do not miss this wonderful story.