'It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.' - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Books

Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Love in the Time of Cholera

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Apr 18, 2014
Category: Fiction

The Pied Piper of Park Avenue: The New York Observer has just published Episode 1 of my multi-part series, “The Pied Piper of Park Avenue.” It’s got private school kids, agitated parents, baffled school administrators, gobs of money, and some New Yorkers you might know. It’s not “Sex and the City,” but… To read it, click here.

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Consumer Warning: If you read Ben Brantley’s review of ‘Act One’ in the Times, you may be tempted to see it. Don’t. Most of the calories burned by the actors in this inert version of Moss Hart’s memoir are the result of the ridiculous upstairs/downstairs set, which has them running at top speed for no dramatic reason. As for Tony Shalhoub, Brantley seems never to have seen ‘Monk.’ If you have, you’ll be paying top dollar to see ‘Monk’ again, for that’s how Shalhoub has been directed to play George S. Kaufman — as a freak with OCD. For the crowd that’s come to see exactly that, his twitches get an easy laugh but not a valid one. Which is sad, because Hart’s memoir is, as you’d expect from a dramatist, one great scene after another. Stay home. Read the book.

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It’s that time: Easter is Sunday. Those who have served this holiday ham will never go back to the traditional lamb.

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez, one of the greatest writers of the last century, has died. Michiko Kakutani’s appreciation is just right. The New York Times obituary is definitive. Why his publishers, who knew he was dying, failed to produce Kindle editions — that’s a mystery.

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Col. Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of 20 adobe houses built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.”

That is the famous first paragraph of “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” The book fills 430 pages, with very little dialogue.

“Love in the Time of Cholera,” at 348 pages, is mostly narrative.

It’s one thing to read a book, start to finish, when it’s short and packed with dialogue.

And yet I started “Solitude” on a rainy morning, read through the day and evening, slept for a few hours while the book infiltrated my dreams, and finished as the sun rose.

And yet I started “Cholera” on a summer afternoon at the beach, skipped dinner, and finished at three in the morning, when only the stillness of the night stopped me from jumping and shouting.

Marquez is, for me, in the pantheon, right at the top. The greatest stylist. The greatest innovator. But even more, the greatest storyteller — the creator of the most interesting characters, the most addictive plots, the best endings. He’s this great: When I turned the last page of “Solitude,” I wrote to Marquez’s agent to ask about the film rights. A letter arrived the next week: $1,000,000. In 1970. I actually tried to raise the money. [To buy the paperback of "One Hundred Years of Solitude" from Amazon, click here.]

Of his masterpieces, I prefer “Love in the Time of Cholera” — it’s a love story. [To buy the hardcover of "Love in the Time of Cholera" from Amazon, click here. For the paperback, click here.]

And, like the best of his work, it has its origins in his life.

Marquez’s parents were an unlikely pair. His father worked in the banana trade in Colombia — not a prestigious occupation. And he was said to have fathered four illegitimate children. He fell in love with a Colonel’s daughter, courting her with his violin, his poetry and endless letters. Her family tried everything to drive him away. He couldn’t be discouraged. Eventually the Colonel gave in.

Jump forward a generation. Marquez met Mercedes Barcha Pardo when she was 13. Before he left for college, he;proposed to her. She agreed, but said she wanted to finish school. In fact, much more kept them apart — they wouldn’t be married for fourteen years.

The story of “Cholera” takes the idea of postponed romance to an astonishing extreme. As the novel begins, Dr. Juvenal Urbino, now 81, has been married to Fermina Daza, 72, for more than half a century. "If they had learned anything together," Marquez writes, "it is that wisdom comes to us when it can no longer do any good."  But what they had learned suddenly doesn’t matter — Urbino tries to rescue a bird in a tree, falls and dies. His wife feels "an irresistible longing to begin life with him all over again so they could say what they had left unsaid and do everything right that they had done badly."

Among the mourners is Florentino Ariza. He is the last to leave. And he has a shocking announcement — an announcement he has waited half a century to make: "a vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love."

Fermina rejects him completely: "Get out of here…And don’t show your face again for the years of life that are left to you….and I hope there are very few of them."

That night, sobbing, she realizes she has been thinking more about Florentino Ariza than about her dead husband.

Which is only fair, because Ariza "had not stopped thinking of her for a single moment since Fermina Daza had rejected him out of hand after a long and troubled love affair fifty-one years, nine months and four days ago."

With that, Marquez returns to their youth, retracing the love affair, the marriage to Urbino, the parallel lives — and, finally, the resumption of the romance. Ariza has had 622 lovers; Fermina has had none. Yet, in his heart, he has been totally faithful to her. And when she grasps that…

"They had lived long enough to know that love was always love, anytime and anyplace, but it was more solid the closer it came to death."

This is, you understand, not one of those sappy love stories that populate the best seller lists and become movies destined for a quick sale to TV — this is about grand passion and the wisdom it conveys.

And what wisdom! "It is life, more than death, that has no limits," Marquez writes.

If you’ve ever loved deeply, "Love in the Time of Cholera" will be a familiar map of the human heart. If that kind of love has passed you by, this novel is a magical text that opens the curtain on domestic intimacy; you’ll read it with pen in hand, the better to mark great passages. 

Whatever your situation, few books bring this much joy.

Short takes

Reader Mail (Advertisements for myself)

From Paul Zengilowski

My children will turn 19 and 21 in a few weeks and the birthday gift choice falls to me. My wife and I bought them books by the bushel when they were young — some they chose, more often though, we exercised our parental prerogative. That stopped as they entered their mid-teens and felt more confident in their choices than in ours.

I’ve not bought them books in years — with two exceptions. The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need, by Andrew Tobias, was a high school graduation gift. Knowing that having the money talk with them would be fruitless, I passed on to them my financial bible. I’d read it when it was first issued and it has served to keep me mostly on the financial straight and narrow over the last 30 years.

The second exception is their birthday present for this year: The 100 Essentials.

Should they read only those two books, I’m confident they’ll enter adulthood with important and foundational knowledge that will serve them well. Of course, I couldn’t help but thumb through the books when they arrived today and landed on the review of Hard Bargain by Emmylou Harris and your interview with her. What a remarkable woman and a great conversation — incredibly well done on your part.

I’m confident that between here and when we deliver the books in a couple weeks, I’ll have read one copy cover to cover and discovered or rediscovered a treasure of music, movies and books myself. I’m so glad you put this together – thanks for the assist with introducing my children to your great work and especially “The 100 Essentials.”

From Marcie

You recommended Queen’s Gambit to me about six weeks ago when I asked for the most grabable book you could think of. I loved it. It’s difficult to articulate precisely what the dark magic of that book is, but I found it fascinating — the characters, all of them, were like no others I’ve encountered. The relationship between Beth and her adopted mother was so subtle. I love that Tevis never capitulates to cliché or sentimentality. Elegant. Thank you for urging me to read it.

They took a stand. Some hated it. The response is easily the ad of the month.

I can almost forgive the high fructose corn syrup in the product. Here’s the story.

Do not think for a second you will watch this only once

The band is Future Islands. Mesmerizing at the start, eye-popping at the end — watching Sam Herring is like watching the young Brando. On tour now. April 30 in New York already sold out. It’s like that. So… full screen. Maximum volume.

Available: Fantastic NYC Caregiver

One reason our daughter writes “I am awesome” on snow-covered cars in winter is because Opal Campbell was her caregiver for her first five years. Opal is loving but firm, full of plans and adventures that kids love, steady, honest — we have nothing but praise for her. She’s now looking for full or part-time work, ideally in Manhattan. Write me or call her at 917-533-3487.