Literature is, in itself, a conversation, a discussion of ideas using narrative and demonstration. But literature is also a prompt for conversation in our usual forms of discourse including reviews, correspondence or even a chat while painting a roof. You won’t find much about A.D. Thomas online – he’s a friend and an astute writer, artist and literary connoisseur. Last year, he and I both read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One hundred Years of Solitude and I wrote a response to it here on my blog. This year, we followed that up with Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera and I thought it fitting to share his thoughts on the book which so brilliantly capture some of our conversation about this terrific text.
Here are some thoughts from A.D. Thomas concerning Marquez and, specifically, Love in the Time of Cholera, shared with me when I was about half-finished reading it:
The effect is like a tartan, or tapestry of colourful portraits in colourful settings. And the lens is all rose and hazy owing to the poetic descriptions of gardens and courtyards, ship cabins and sunsets. The lens is hazy and vertiginous because everyone is either deluded, demented, delirious, damned, drugged or disillusioned. But in doing this, in achieving this, Marquez gives us a realistic portrayal of our lives, especially our internal lives. Our passions, dreams, ideas, fancies are (for the most part) disillusioned, delirious and demented. Marquez’s tapestry of life overlaps our emotional and spiritual experiences.
So when he makes his subject love (as he does in Love in the Time of Cholera), he also lays bare marriage, aging, companionship, work, identity, image, happiness, grief, pain, travel, politics, deforestation, overpopulation interalia. And the people he uses to illustrate these concepts are all beautifully drawn: Captain Rosendo de la Rosa made of ‘reinforced concrete’; Sara Noriega with her ‘immense soprano’s bosom’; Don Leo XII Loayza who said, “No, I’m not rich. I am a poor man with money, which is not the same thing.” And hard-hearted Fermina Daza who, when her husband groaned, “I think I’m going to die,” replied, “That would be best. Then we could both have some peace.”
Each character brings with them some narrative worth retelling, perhaps curiosities from their childhood, speech impediments, eye defects, back problems, irrational fears, perverted habits. These are the ‘more-than-real’ characters who populate Marquez’s setting which is (again), rather surreal. There’s the continual vague name -dropping which gives you a sense of place without ever actually naming the place. Like, “the wilds of San Juan de la Cienaga” or “a rented flat in the motley Sweethearts’ Mews in the old Gethsemane District”. There’s the Arcade of Scribes and the City of the Viceroys. We are in the Caribbean where people are mulattoes, creoles, quadroons and Antilleans. It is a place equatorially hot, the jungle and river are always near, the swamp is full of mosquito-carrying diseases, poisoned fish, diesel spills, raw sewage and the poor.
And through this (incredibly surprising, incredibly unlikely but beautiful) setting passes Florentino Ariza. You’ll know him by now, with his literary clothes and book of poems under his arm. His umbrella. There’s a scene where the peculiarity of his character and attire match the romance of the setting … in this case a walk through (the again unnamed) old city. [If you haven’t got that far yet, omit reading).
“Instead of driving Leona Cassiani in the carriage, he walked with her through the old city, where their footsteps echoed like horses’ hooves on the cobblestones. From time to time, fragments of fugitive voices escaped through the open balconies, bedroom confidences, sobs of love magnified by phantasmal acoustics and the hot fragrance of jasmine in the narrow, sleeping streets.”
It reminds me of some of Merezjovsky’s settings in France or Greece or St Petersburgh – capturing something of the ancient grandeur of places where ‘lots of things have happened’. ‘Phantasmal acoustics’ is a cool phrase.
The novel ends with a journey, not dissimilar to that in Heart of Darkness (we manage to slip H.O.D. into every letter somehow). But in Cholera, it is a journey that explores the barrenness of love, after all is said and done. The barrenness is made symbolic by the rampant deforestation of the river journey, of pestilence and depression aboard the boat. The last chapters head our two lovers into the interior, heart of the wilderness and then returns under the flag of cholera. But when they cannot return to their lives in the old unnamed city, they turn the boat around again and sail on … forever.
It’s not as great a finale as in One Hundred Years of Solitude, but it’s as epic and lasting. This will be my enduring impression of Marquez’s work. It goes on living in the reader long after the book is finished.