Study Guide

Love in the Time of Cholera

By Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Love in the Time of Cholera Introduction

Look up what many critics have said about Love in the Time of Cholera, and you might think you're about to read a sappy romance novel. Go ahead – Google it. You'll find plenty of reviews along the lines of: "OMG, this book is sooooo romantic!" After all, what could be sweeter than the story of love at first sight? What could be more erotic than smoldering glances, nocturnal serenades, and passionate love letters, all set in a steamy sub-tropical setting?

Hold on a second, though. Is this novel really just a racy, exotic melodrama, or is something else going on here? Consider that Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez (or Gabo, for short) has warned readers of Love in the Time of Cholera "to be careful not to fall into my trap." Just like the main characters Florentino and Fermina, it's easy for us to get swept up in this story of forbidden love and lose track of its dark underside. Sure, Florentino's enduring passion for Fermina can be seen as romantic…but it's also a little obsessive. His behavior is sort of sweet…but then again, it's kind of stalkerish.

You might think of this book, published in 1985, as García Márquez's 350-page response to the question, "What is love?" Like all of his works, though, Gabo's fourth novel fails to provide us with easy answers or clear-cut definitions. The Nobel Prize-winning author is a big fan of ambiguity, so instead of resolving our idea of love, he tends to complicate it. Thus, Love in the Time of Cholera contains not only one central love triangle, but also a myriad of other illustrations of what love can be: young and old, faithful and unfaithful, respectable and shameful, sexual and chaste. And everything in between.

As for the love affair between Florentino and Fermina, which is it? Romantic or obsessive? Sweet or scary? Selfless or selfish? That's hard to say, but we think it might be best expressed in Facebook terms: "It's Complicated."

What is Love in the Time of Cholera About and Why Should I Care?

Worried you won't be interested in a novel that's all about love and sex? Nah, we didn't think so.

Just in case you need a little extra convincing, though, allow us to make a suggestion. Imagine Florentino goes to your school. (In fact, we think Love in the Time of Cholera would make a riveting high school drama.) He's a skinny, awkward looking teenager who's pining after Fermina, the hottest girl in your class. She's head cheerleader/drama club starlet/sexy Academic Team captain. Florentino writes emo love songs for her on his guitar and passes notes to her day in and day out, but she won't even accept his Facebook friend request. Enter Mr. Hotshot Urbino. He's a senior. He drives a cool car. He plays soccer. He's on the Dean's List. He does community service. He's…utterly detestable.

Of course Fermina picks Juvenal Urbino over Florentino. If Juvenal is Cedric Diggory, Florentino is Harry Potter. If he's Edward Cullen, Florentino is…well, he's that nerdy kid from the Twilight books whose name we can't remember. You know, the guy doomed to anonymity because Bella never goes out with him.

Poor Florentino. All he can do now is hope for Urbino to transfer schools before they all graduate. (OK, OK, so we're comparing graduation to death in this high school analogy of ours. Relax, it's just a metaphor.)

Fine, maybe you'll tweak a few of the details in your screenplay. What we're trying to say is that Love in the Time of Cholera seems infinitely relatable to the high school condition. Even as the characters in the novel age, their thoughts, feelings, and interactions are so familiar to us. Florentino's constantly got love on the brain. Fermina doesn't want to date him because she's worried about what everyone else will think of her. Drama, drama, drama. Yeah…we can relate to that.

Love in the Time of Cholera Resources

Websites

Gabo at "The Modern World"
Collected by Allen B. Ruch, a comprehensive guide to all things García Márquez:  articles, speeches, bibliography, and more.

García Márquez, the Man Behind the Prize.
García Márquez's bio on the Nobel Prize website. Gabo won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982.

"Magical Realism" Definition 1
We're including three websites featuring discussions of magical realism, its defining characteristics, and its pitfalls.  You'll notice that there's no consensus on what the term means – feel free to jump into the debate. This first definition and discussion comes from Emory University professor Lindsay Moore.

"Magical Realism" Definition 2
David Mullen explains why the use of the term "magical realism" can be problematic.

"Magical Realism" Definition 3
An entire online magazine devoted to magical realism.

Movie or TV Productions

Love in the Time of Cholera (2007)
The film stars Javier Bardem in the role of Florentino and Benjamin Bratt as Dr. Juvenal Urbino, and features music by Colombian artist Shakira.

Articles and Interviews

They liked it!
Original New York Times book review on the occasion of the novel's 1988 English language release.  Author Michiko Kakutani calls it "radiant."  Nice.

Is cheating in the eye of the beholder?
According to this New York Times article, it may be.  This presents some statistics on marital infidelity and how it is perceived in different countries.

Gabo's Inspiration
García Márquez based Love in the Time of Cholera on his parents' love story.  Read all about it in this short article, called "Serenade:  How My Father Won My Mother," published in The New Yorker in 2001.

Will he or won't he?
Many critics believe that Gabo has written his last novel.  Here, García Márquez dispels rumors that he's stopped writing in his old age.  Will he publish another novel in his lifetime?  We'll have to wait and see!

Nobel Prize Lecture
Check out García Márquez's deliver his Nobel Prize lecture, translate into English.

Video

2007 Film
Watch a trailer for the movie here. Doesn't look entirely true to the novel…

"Hay Amores" music video
From the soundtrack to the 2007 movie, Shakira's music video "Hay amores" ("There are loves").  All those candles on the stairs are really romantic and all, but they look like an accident waiting to happen, Shakira.  Fire safety!

Audio

"Screenwriter Adapts 'Love' to the Silver Screen"
Listen to a 2007 NPR <em>All Things Considered</em> episode about the making of the film.

Digested Classics
his Guardian podcast "summarises and satirises classic novels." This link goes to the eight-minute summary of Love in the Time of Cholera.

Images

Gabo
Gabriel García Márquez in 2009.

Book Cover
Oh, that pesky parrot!

Movie Poster
From the 2007 film.