the ledge files
the ledge - nl - uk
El amor en los tiempos del cólera
Gabriel García Márquez
publisher: Editorial Oveja Negra Ltda, Bogotá, 1985

translated as:
Love in the Time of Cholera
publisher: Querido, Amsterdam, 1988
translation: Edith Grossman

full text search:

the ledge - flash version*


Like many great novels, Gabriel García Márquez's Love in the Time of Cholera portrays the tension between illusions and material reality, especially in the context of love. In the novel's final pages, when Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza are finally together in their old age, we are told that love "was more solid the closer it came to death". This statement exemplifies the novel's method—instead of saying what love is, and in this way judging the strength of its characters' grasp of reality, it articulates the relationship between love and something else, giving different perspectives but no definitions. This circling around love gives Love in the Time of Cholera the quality of capturing the ineffable.

Different ways of understanding, experiencing, and representing love are embodied by the novel's three central characters—Florentino Ariza, Fermina Daza, and Dr. Juvenal Urbino. For Florentino, love has the properties of a dream; its fullest expression occurs in art (especially in writing), and it stands in opposition to everyday reality, entirely resistant to rational understanding. Like Emma in Madame Bovary, Florentino is filled with notions of love derived from popular literature; he also becomes a comic figure when reality unexpectedly intrudes into the world of his imagination. The bird droppings that fall on Fermina's embroidery when they meet as teenagers in the park and the intestinal disruption that betrays him when they meet following Dr. Urbino's death both testify to the unavoidable fact of the material world. But Florentino's fate suggests neither acquiescence to reality nor the continuation of his belief in a wholly illusory kind of love.

As the relationship between Florentino and Fermina unfolds following Dr. Urbino's death, it seems enabled by Florentino's emergence from the imaginary world in which he has lived for so long—the very existence of his imaginary world is made possible by Fermina's absence from it. The letters Florentino writes to her after Dr. Urbino's death possess, in Fermina's words, "a foundation in reality", as opposed to the letters of his youth, inspired by "half-baked endearments taken whole from the Spanish romantics". But other aspects of the novel's conclusion complicate this interpretation. Before making love, Florentino tells Fermina, "I've remained a virgin for you". In light of his many trysts and affairs, in what sense could this be true other than an imaginary one? When asked how long their ship will sail, keeping up its deception by flying the yellow cholera flag, Florentino answers, "Forever", as if to specifically
deny the reality of death.

Because of his belief in the power of the rational mind, Dr. Urbino often appears more grounded in reality than Florentino. He considers marriage "an absurd invention", and his marriage to Fermina represents a lifelong effort to defeat the absurd and replace it with something that can withstand logical analysis. After his death, Fermina recalls his belief that "the most important thing in a good marriage is not happiness, but stability". On the night they consummate their marriage, Dr. Urbino readily admits to himself that he does not love Fermina, but "he was sure there would be no obstacle to their inventing true love". He thinks of love not as an unruly passion, but as if it can be brought into existence merely by an act of will. But his determination to avoid the chaos of emotion can make Dr. Urbino seem just as divorced from reality as Florentino. In his dissertation, Dr. Urbino asserts that, given the human organism's "many useless or duplicated could be more simple and by the same token less vulnerable". Is this idea any less illusory than the most extravagant of Florentino's ecstatic proclamations of his love for Fermina?

Between the extremes of Florentino and Dr. Urbino is Fermina. When Dr. Urbino first tells her about the importance of stability, she hears in it a "miserable threat," but when she remembers his words after he dies, she thinks of them as "the lodestone that had given them both so many happy hours". She ends her first affair with Florentino by telling him in a letter that "what is between us is nothing more than an illusion". As coldly precise as this declaration is, Fermina is nevertheless open to the emotional upheavals that attend her marriage to Dr. Urbino. When he confirms her suspicion of his adulterous affair with Barbara Lynch, she wishes he had denied it, preferring the illusion of his fidelity to the feeling that "her rage would never end". Sharing memories of Dr. Urbino with Florentino, Fermina "could not conceive of a husband better than hers had been, and yet when she recalled their life she found more difficulties than pleasures," admitting to Florentino that she does not "really know if it was love or not".

It is tempting to see Fermina as encompassing both the illusory and the real, but such symmetry would reduce her to a thematic device, as opposed to a fully alive character, capable of expecting nothing more from life after her husband dies and then falling in love with Florentino. The fact that neither she nor the novel ever arrive at a fixed definition of love suggests that its elusiveness is part of its very nature.



Don Quixote
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, 1605 / 1615
A comic study of delusion and its consequences; Don Quixote, the old gentleman of La Mancha, takes to the road in search of adventure and remains undaunted in the face of repeated disaster.

The Metamorphosis
Franz Kafka, 1915
'published in Kafka's lifetime'
A man awakens up one morning to find himself transformed into an enormous insect.

Absalom, Absalom!
William Faulkner, 1936
Narrated by Quentin Compson, the suicide in The Sound and the Fury, this is the tale of Thomas Sutpen, a poor White who dreams of founding a dynasty. His refusal to accept his wife' s Negro blood initiates a bloody train of events to create a vision of doom of the American South.

Pedro Páramo
Juan Rulfo, 1955
Pedro Paramo - father, overlord, lover and murderer - dominates the landscape of the novel which flows hynotically through dreams, desires and memories.

Jorges Luis Borges, 1935/ 1944 / 1949
This is a collection of Borges's fiction, translated and gathered into a single volume. From his 1935 debut with The Universal History of Iniquity, through the influential collections Ficciones and The Aleph, to his final work from the 1980s, Shakespeare Memory.

The First Forty-Nine Stories
Ernest Hemingway, 1939
Literary journalism or journalistic literature? This anthology includes two stories about East Africa: 'The Snows of Kilimanjaro and 'The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber'.


One Hundred Years of Solitude
This magical realist novel tells the history of the Buendías family, the founders of Macondo, a remote South American settlement. In the world of the novel there is a Spanish galleon beached in the jungle, a flying carpet, and an iguana in a woman's womb.

The Leopard
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, 1958
A bitter-sweet tale of quiet lives in the small and apparently timeless world of mid-19th-century Sicilian nobility. Through the eyes of his princely protagonist, the author chronicles the details of an aristocratic, pastoral society, torn apart by revolution, death and decay.

The Family Moskat
Isaac Bashevis Singer, 1950
Tells the story of the prosperous Moskat family, Polish Jews living in Warsaw between the dawn of the 20th century and the gloom of 1939.

The Godfather
Mario Puzo, 1969
The Godfather is the Mafia leader Vito Corleone, a benevolent despot who stops at nothing to gain and hold power. Set in Long Island, Hollywood and Sicily this is a story of a feudal society within society which does not hesitate to consolidate its power.

The Kingdom of This World
Alejo Carpentier, 1949
Set in Haiti during the transition to independence, this novel tells of Ti Noel, a leader who draws on African spirituality and wisdom to lead a group of ex-slaves through chaotic times.

Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands
Jorge Amado, 1966
Dona Flor' s husband may have been a gambler and womanizer, but when he dies all she remembers is his lovemaking. A new marriage does not bring the erotic love she longs for. So when her first husband appears naked at the foot of her bed, eager to reclaim his conjugal rights, it is hard to resist.

The House of the Spirits
Isabel Allende, 1985
The saga of the Trueba family, whose passions, struggles and secrets span three generations and a century of violent social change.

Julio Cortázar, 1951
Cortazar' s stories are descriptions of ordinary moments in which something impossible quietly takes place.

Midnight's Children
Salman Rushdie, 1981
Born at the midnight of India's independence, Saleem is 'handcuffed to history' by the coincidence. He is one of 1001 children born that midnight, each of them endowed with an extraordinary talent.

The Master and Margarita
Mikhail Bulgakov, 1967P
The Devil raises hell in Stalinist Moscow.

[De versierde mens]
Harry Mulisch, 1957
Seven stories in which mythology, fantasy, and reality come together.

The Magic Toyshop
Angela Carter, 1967
Melanie walks naked in the midnight garden whereupon omens of disaster swiftly follow, transporting Melanie from rural comfort to London, to the Magic Toyshop.

Leaf Storm
'books about Macondo'
This is a collection of stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, most of which are fables. It includes 'Leaf Storm', a tale about a week-long South American rainstorm, and the story of a tarry angel who crash-lands in a village and is kept in a hencoop.
No One Writes to the Colonel
'books about Macondo'
In a decaying Colombian town the Colonel and his ailing wife are living a hand-to-mouth existence, scraping together the money for food and medicine. The Colonel's hopes for a better future lie with his rooster, which for him, and the whole town, has become a symbol of defiance.
Big Mama's Funeral
'books about Macondo'
Nine (satirical) stories about village life in Macondo.
Chronicle of a Death Foretold
Setting out to reconstruct a murder that took place 27 years earlier, this chronicle moves backwards and forwards in time, through the contradictions of memory and moments lost in time. Its irony gives the book the nuances of a political fable.
Love in the Time of Cholera
A man waits his whole life for his love to be requited.
Memories of My Melancholy Whores
After a lifetime spent in the arms of prostitutes (514 when he loses count at age 50), the unnamed journalist protagonist decides that his gift to himself on his 90th birthday will be a night with an adolescent virgin.
Innocent Erendira
Erendira accidentally burns down her grandmother's house and is forced to pay her back with the money she earns from prostitution. However, it seems Erendira has a more appropriate way of repaying her.
make a note


Code (above)

The Ledge
editor-in-chief: Stacey Knecht,
Thanks to: De digitale pioniers and
Het Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds
Design: Maurits de Bruijn

Copyright: Pieter Steinz, Stacey Knecht
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author.