Halftime Leisure

Unshelved: Less Than in Love With Love in the Time of Cholera

May 28, 2019

Content warning: This article discusses instances of sexual assault depicted in the novel.

I’m back! It’s me again, with Unshelved, a column in which I attempt to read and review as many of the books that have lingered on my bookshelf as possible. First up is Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez.

Good lord, this book has taken me a long time to finish. I started it in the middle of the fall semester, and I was a little less than halfway through it by the time spring semester ended.

This book is dense. Not exactly in a bad way, but each sentence is so packed with information it can be hard to follow at times. The chapters, if you could call them that, are few and far between, so there aren’t many logical resting places. If you put this book down for any extended period of time, picking it back up again is difficult because you have to reorient yourself in the middle of a page, in the middle of the world that Márquez has woven.

In the first 50 pages, Márquez thoroughly develops the character of Dr. Juvenal Urbino: his personality, his mannerisms, his relationship with his wife, Fermina Daza, and then, abruptly, his death. Yes, 50 pages into the book, the author kills who I thought was going to be the main character.

To be fair, maybe I should have seen it coming. After all, this book is supposed to be a love story, and there didn’t seem to be anything overtly romantic about an elderly, married doctor. I didn’t know anything about this book when I started reading it, only that it’s about love, and that it’s set “in the time of cholera,” as the title states.

Anyway, after that unexpected hiccup, I realized that the main characters are the newly widowed Fermina Daza, and Florentino Ariza, her childhood love. The story then jumps backward 50 years, to when Fermina and Florentino are young teenagers, and tracks their lives and their love story from there.

Love in the Time of Cholera was originally published in Spanish in 1985 and then translated to English in 1988. The story is set in an unspecified city on the Caribbean coast at the turn of the 20th century, during a period of rampant cholera outbreaks. The threat of this devastating disease is the backdrop for the novel, as it causes migration and leaves death in its wake.

When we first meet Fermina, her intelligence and haughtiness stand out, and she retains much of her stately bearing through the decades spanned by this book. She attends a prestigious Catholic school with her father’s newly acquired wealth earned, as we later learn, through illicit business dealings. Florentino comes from humble beginnings but turns into a successful businessman by rising through the ranks of a riverboat company.

Florentino becomes obsessed with Fermina, sitting in the same spot in the park every day, hoping to catch a glimpse of her on her way home from school. He begins a tentative courtship but then starts writing her passionate letters in the hopes of receiving a response, which she eventually provides. They begin an ardent correspondence, which culminates in a marriage proposal. However, when, after a long absence, Fermina is confronted with Florentino face to face, she realizes that her love is all smoke and mirrors, all an illusion sustained only by romantic words and heroic fantasies. It seems to burn brightly for a time but fades just as quickly. She breaks things off and then later marries Dr. Juvenal Urbino, a wealthy, prominent doctor.

Florentino is left heartbroken but still determined to marry her. He decides to wait—for decades, for however long it takes—till her husband is dead and she is free again. He engages in *622* affairs with different women in an effort to “cure himself of her.” Meanwhile, Fermina goes about her married life, having children and navigating relationship difficulties such as her husband’s infidelity. Despite their sunny, serene public presence, Fermina takes to hiding in her bathroom and smoking illicit cigars to briefly escape the stress of married life. She sees Florentino in passing over the years but never thinks much about him, besides feeling a little bit of gnawing guilt for hurting him.

Finally, 50 years later Florentino decides to attend her husband’s funeral and re-declare his love there: “I have waited for this opportunity for more than half a century, to repeat to you once again my vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love.”

And in response, she’s, you know, understandably shocked and angry. But then he starts writing her letters every day for a year, at which point she begins to soften to him. It’s a gradual courtship, as Florentino is wary of putting a toe out of line and aggravating her short temper. They start to have weekly visits, and love slowly blooms anew between them. He then takes her on an eleven-day cruise, in which they finally declare their love for each other and have kind of awkward old-people sex. In the end, rather than return home as planned, they decide instead to remain at sea, traveling for the rest of their days.

So, overall I guess I can see why this book is so famous. The writing is really good, and Márquez jumps seamlessly between character points of view with finesse. And some people find undying love to be, I don’t know, romantic or something. It’s a detailed, scientific yet artful examination of both sexual and emotional relationships.

On the other hand, I did feel that the plot was often bogged down with irrelevant, atmospheric details. I’m all for world building and vivid side characters, but at times it felt like he was writing just to read his own writing. That reminds me of Florentino, who also wrote long love letters with an inexhaustible fervor as an outlet for his romantic anguish. It makes sense that the middle of the book is so detailed as it does track a 50-year timespan, but overall, it was tough to get through.

What’s wild to me is that Florentino harbors this passion for Fermina for decades, all with the hope that once her husband dies, he can declare his love again and “have her,” as though the only thing standing in the way is her husband? And not the love she does or does not have for him? He just assumes she’ll be there waiting for him.

But that’s only the start of this book’s problems. Love in the Time of Cholera romanticizes sexual assault and perpetuates the unhealthy message that all unwilling women need is a bit of convincing.

Florentino uses women as a means to an end. However he may or may not feel about them, he sleeps with 622 women as temporary respites from the pain of his love for Fermina, making these relationships essentially transactional. Although, I was happy to see that not all the women just fell at their feet in love with him. Some of them used sex with him in a similar way, to fulfill a desire or a need. Márquez also romanticizes Florentino’s persistence and determination to remain emotionally, if not sexually, faithful to Fermina. This teaches men that if they just write another letter, if they just try a little harder, the prize they’re after will be theirs, disregarding the fact that that prize is another human being with emotions and desires of their own.

But even worse than all that, Márquez casually throws in instances of sexual assault and statutory rape committed by a character we’re somehow still supposed to find likable? To root for in his pursuit of Fermina? There is no specific reason these details are necessary to the plot, which makes their inclusion all the more unsettling.

Leona Cassini, one of the book’s most admirable and well-developed female characters, is assaulted by a random man on the street. This is revealed when Florentino Ariza makes a move on her and she replies by saying he’s not the man she’s looking for. Because her rapist was so skilled at sex, Leona Cassini apparently decides to go looking for him.

“Lying there on the rocks, her body covered with cuts and bruises, she had wanted that man to stay forever so that she could die of love in his arms,” Márquez writes. She then asks anyone who would listen, “If you ever hear of a big, strong fellow who raped a poor black girl from the street on Drowned Men’s Jetty, one October fifteenth at about half-past eleven at night, tell him where he can find me.”

Márquez acknowledges that she was raped, but romanticizes rape in a harmful, twisted way by conveying the message that if your rapist is good in bed then you’ll fall in love with him? And that the rape is somehow excusable?

At the end of the book, it’s randomly revealed that Florentino sexually assaulted a maid. When she got pregnant, he bribed her with a furnished house so she would disappear and lie about the identity of the child’s father.

But one of the worst things Florentino does is begin an “affair”—if it can even be called that—with a fourteen-year-old girl who is entrusted to his guardianship. He’s over 60 years old at this time. For any adult to look at a fourteen-year-old in a sexual way is deplorable, but for someone old enough to be her grandfather, who is meant to be her guardian, and, to top it off, who is also a “recognized blood relative,” it is absolutely horrific. What’s worse is that Márquez portrays the relationship as consensual. When we do hear from the girl’s perspective, she’s apparently in love with him, so much so that she eventually commits suicide when he tells her he’s going to pursue Fermina. This part was completely unnecessary to the plot and made it difficult to keep reading or to find any romance in Florentino and Fermina’s eventual reunion because it was tainted with the knowledge that Florentino, the supposed hero, is a rapist.

Fermina does have her moments of transgressive feminist power. At one point, she asserts her independence and says, “If we widows have any advantage, it is that there is no one left to give us orders.” Toward the middle of the book, fed up with her husband’s particularity and his short temper, she relinquishes her household duties to him for a day. He attempts to keep everything running smoothly and exactly to her specifications, while she fulfills his role, criticizing every little thing he gets wrong. Overall, Fermina, despite her fickle tendencies and materialism, is a more likable and personally relatable character.

On the other hand, Florentino is a pretty deplorable character, unredeemed despite his love for Fermina. As more and more details of his exploits are revealed, reading this book began to make my skin crawl. He’s every man who heard “try harder” when I said, “I’m not interested.” He’s every man who didn’t stop, who thought he could just persuade me. He’s every man who lied to get what he wanted. He’s every man with barely any regard for women’s humanity. While he supposedly pines for Fermina, he really just believes he’s entitled to her love, the ultimate prize for his years of emotional “fidelity.” Florentino Ariza’s decades-long love isn’t romantic; it’s creepy.

Sienna Brancato
is a senior in the College majoring in English and minoring in Government and Italian. She has done some things for the Voice, and will continue to do some things.

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Thank you. I am 54. I hated that book in the late 1980s but didn’t have the language to express why as it received many accolades from literary scholars and critics. I told my book club last night how much I disliked this celebrated book and that my memory was of its misogyny. My feminist friends looked at me surprised, but did not argue otherwise. Today I googled reviews of the book – and yours came up. You articulated what I could not in the late 1980s. This book always made me feel a unsettled. Its toxic misogyny is damaging to the human psyche when it goes unmentioned and the book continues to be praised for its prose.


Thank you for the review . I also agree with Ellen’s comment above re the unsettling nature of the book and confusion over its intended effect/audience and its perceived literary value.

For context, I’ll preface this comment by saying I am male with all the apparent traits of what patriarchal society would deem acceptable and admirable – well-built, past employment in labouring, likes a drink, now a white-collared professional and can fit in with ‘the boys’ (in other words, I couldn’t be accused by raging men of having a bone to pick, and I’m sure I could have slipped through the front door at the ‘Commercial Club’ and fit in just fine).

Digressing, my first experience with GGM was through a reading of 100 Years of Solitude, which I loved. It took me to a place and time so far from my everyday life, but made me feel as if I lived the book personally. For me, I felt the effects of time and ageing, and how exhausting life could be over generations – I could almost feel eternity.

It was in that context that I eagerly picked up Love in the Time of Cholera and, sadly, have been severely disappointed by it. I’ve been trying to read it in two-hour chunks for the past three months and, coincidentally, it’s become a broadly popular read during rise of the Covid-19 crisis. I am yet to define what I have not enjoyed about the book (i.e. by cherry-picking quotes for analysis), but feel it unnecessary when the misogyny and sexual violence is so glaring and comprises a huge portion of the text.

Personally, I can’t stand the portrayal of Florentino’s manic obsession with ‘love’ and the extent to which Marquez indulges it. The author’s (or Florentino’s) conception of ‘love’, which is meant to be the primary theme of the text, is never clearly defined (please tell me, I might have missed it) and it makes me wonder if any contemporary readers actually empathise with such a broad conception and/or enjoy it – personally, I found it repetitive and tiresome. Is ‘love’ found in the writing of a thousand rambling unsolicited letters to your beloved, who clearly does not want to engage? Is ‘love’ having sex with/sexually assaulting 600+ other targets to pass the time before your ultimate target finally gives in? Is ‘love’ found in manipulating and raping a child under your guardianship? Well, apparently so. Arguably, Florentino’s acting out love in this manner verges on severe illness or infection. Perhaps, then, the clue is in the title of the book. Wow, how cleverly abstract.

Ultimately, as you mentioned, the ability for the male characters (particularly Florentino) to successfully exchange their obsessive fidelity for unwarranted entitlement is bizarre, yet not unusual (still portrayed of course in modern film and other media). As a preferred alternative ending, the author ought to have poetically punished him for such behaviour – defeated by his choleric love – dead in a gutter after forty plus years of sexual violence. Harsh, but far more fascinating than being able, despite all of the character’s despicable actions, to sail off into the sunset with his reluctant lover…


Thank you! After. Ring stuck in quarantine for two months I finally got around to reading Love in the Time if Cholera which has been on my list for years.
I was disturbed reading about Leona’s rape which seemed unnecessary to the progression of the plot. There are plenty of reasons for her to turn down Florentino’s advances other than being in love with her rapist. The idea that is the only reason a woman would refuse him is disturbing and disgusting.
I decided to keep reading giving the book the benefit of the doubt only to be repulsed by Florentino’s molestation of a child which was sickening and again unnecessary to the furtherance of the plot.
If the author wanted to show an inappropriate relationship with a much older man the girl could have been 18 or 20 and made that point without having a main character be a pedophile. The excuses I’ve seen in other reviews that we should excuse the behavior because “ it was a different time” or “other cultures have different customs” or “boys will be boys” are a cop-out and exactly the reason we still have rape culture.


Yj, I literally had the exact same experience as you. I stopped reading after that point.

Sienna, thank you for your post. I’ve never read this guy’s books, but I assumed the actual story was going to be a subversion of the unrealistic love story he was setting up at the beginning, where these characters end up being together after staying in love their whole lives. Once the problems and the creepiness of the main character started adding up, I thought the narrative was going to flip and it would be clear you shouldn’t be sympathetic to him. But the book never acknowledged anything was wrong by the time I stopped reading 3/4 of the way through.

After reading other reviews and summaries of the book, it seems most people don’t question the problems with this character, and I haven’t seen an explanation of why the author included these disturbing details with no criticism.

I looked up more about the author, and it looks like some of his other books are even more disgusting. Also some of the people he was friends with and supported in life were indisputably evil humans. I’m really not sure this author thought there was anything wrong with what he was writing.

I’m angry that I read hours of this author’s words, and disturbed that a lot of people regard him as a great author and are willing to gloss over misogyny, rape, and pedophilia.


I wanted to express the exact same thoughts aswell it was so odd when I was reading it, and when I searched it up there was nothing on it, thank god somebody pointed it out! Besides thT it is a great book, but those part where rape is normalized even the rape of Florentino is distirbing.


I wanted to express the exact same thoughts aswell it was so odd when I was reading it, and when I searched it up there was nothing on it, thank god somebody pointed it out! Besides that it is a great book, but those part where rape is normalized even the rape of Florentino, is disturbing.


Glad to find other people disgusted by this book, I found it sickening. People claim it’s a masterpiece and it’s all about the symbolism, but if it was all meant for symbolism, it could have been done in 1/6th of this book at no loss of story. It is repetitive within the book, and the pedophilia and rape acceptance is repeated in other books of his.

When Leona is laying bruised and cut up after a violent rape she is apparently daydreaming and feeling in love with this random rapist. It commonly portrays rape as love and is accepted by women throughtout this book, and makes excuses or passes for rapists. This isn’t a dillusion of the main character to show how he is messed up, this is another character wanting rape.

The main character molesting and raping a 13/14 year old girl, his blood relation who he is guardian to it cites a 60 years difference, making him 74-77 as he continues with it.

“She was still a child in every sense of the word, with braces on her teeth and the scrapes of elementary school on her knees, but he saw right away the kind of woman she was soon going to be, and he cultivated her during a slow year of Saturdays at the circus, Sundays in the park with ice cream, childish late afternoons, and he won her confidence, he won her affection, he led her by the hand, with the gentle astuteness of a kind grandfather, toward his secret slaughterhouse. For her it was immediate: the doors of heaven opened to her.”
“Whom he had undressed one article of clothing at a time with little baby games. First these little shoes for the little baby bear. Then this little chemise for the little puppy dog. Next these little flowered panties for the little bunny rabbit. And a little kiss on her papas delicious little dickybird”

By describing her as loving him, wanting to be with him and please him all sounds like normalizing, justifying, and romantisizing grooming and pedophilia and rape as consensual again. And making the girls or women as accepting and treating rapes as love, and while painting him as a hopeless romantic all the way. It reads as a long flowery book of pedophilia propaganda.


To your point about Florentino’s moral character— I agree. You are right to decry Florentino; he lived a profoundly unfulfilled life (except in the end) and used promiscuity as an unethical and temporary reprieve from his lifelong cholera (lovesickness). However, Florentino’s personal flaws do not reflect the book’s flaws. They are different, and I believe you are conflating the two. Good books can have bad protagonists.

To your point about Florentino’s creepiness. I believe you missed the book’s most brilliant commentary about love. Thomas Pynchon said it best: “This novel is also revolutionary in daring to suggest that vows of love made under a presumption of immortality – youthful idiocy, to some -may yet be honored, much later in life when we ought to know better, in the face of the undeniable.” Florentino possesses true love. That’s not creepy, it’s beautiful.


Finally someone who does not confused the many flaws of a character with the brilliance of the book!


Also, people tend to judge based on their reality, and not the reality of the time when the story takes place
Although it seems awful to us as contemporary people, concepts like statutory rape and underage sex did not exist or were extremely uncommon in the times of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza.


I’m just finishing this book and I couldn’t believe It had really won a novel prize. Everyone recommended me this book saying how romantic it was.
In the beginning, I just thought it was hard to follow due to the extensive vocabulary but the more I read I just felt disgusted. Romantizing rape, harassment and RACISMS. Fermina Daza couldn’t believe her husband was cheating on her with a black woman and she used pretty strong vocabulary to let him know.
The fact Florentino thought Leona was a prostitute just for being a black woman wearing colorful clothes
I hated this book, its implicit/ explicit racisms, its endorsement of rape and harassment, and how all seems mostly describe from a male perspective of someone who won’t stop at “No”.


It doesn’t have a Barney the Purple Dinosaur moral message, it’s not meant to be aspirational, neither main character is supposed to be a hero. One can not expect the campus woke philistines to understand such a classic as Love in the Time of Cholera.


after reading this I had to search up if someone felt the way I felt and I’m glad a lot of people agree on how disturbing it was. Pedophilia is way too normalized in this book it makes me suspect the author is living through his writing. Like the part where the woman Florentino was having sex with needed a pacifier to finish?? or the casual romanticization of him raping a 14 year old child who he is the guardian of and related to? none of that needed to be included and makes me suspect the author himself is likely a pedofile and rapist.

Ky M

so glad this review exists cuz wtf did I just read and how in the world are there so few reviews calling out the deeply misogynistic racist pedophilic and just underwhelming work that is love in the time of cholera? So many times I read or watch ‘critically acclaimed’ trash and temporarily lose my faith in humanity that this sort of darkness is somehow passing for art.
Sure, highly descriptive prose I get it. But what of the poorly developed characters and the even worse description of whatever GGM is trying to call love? It was creepy, overrated, underwhelming, and depressing – that an equally problematic society continues to hold up these tropes as something that constitutes art.
What a joke. But what a relief to find even one voice among the lemmings who can call it what it is.