This is a book I had wanted to read for a long time, without knowing anything about it. I just knew it was one of the classics and that was reason enough for me to want to read it.
A few years back, someone I knew heard I wanted to read it, and offered it from their own collection. The offer was prefaced with, ‘don’t buy it. I have it, take it from me. You may like it, I don’t know, but I didn’t. It doesn’t make much sense’ or something similar.
I finally didn’t take up the offer, and the book went somewhere to the back of my mind. Sometime last year, I was bored, bookless, and looked up books online. One of the first ones I stumbled across was an ecopy of ‘love in the time of cholera’. I downloaded it, read a few pages, read the blurbs about it. It didn’t seem that fascinating so unread it remained. Then recently, while waiting to catch up with someone, I decided to browse a bookshop nearby. There, on top of one of the book stacks, was a copy of this book. I picked it up and bought it, reasoning that it deserved another chance; since there have been only a few books that I have started but not completed reading. After that, it languished on my book stack for a long while ‘coz the initial pages seemed desultory and rambling and the writing prosy. Taken up, kept down, forgotten, this book seemed destined to be an addition to my never-completed list.
After that, I do not know what changed, but the next time I picked it up again, I realized within a few pages that this time it would not remain unread. I picked it up whenever I could, pored over a page or two. The language which seemed prosy earlier now seemed rich and redolent of the colours of the region the book is based in (which incidentally I could not figure out at all, it was just not Spain was all I could get).
The book is as meandering as the river it is based on, but just as true to its course. It starts off from uncertain and unrelated sources and seems to wander over a vast plain and get lost occasionally. This will not appeal to you, if you like your books and stories to make sense, or to be fast paced, or to be leading somewhere. This book will not lead you anywhere concrete, but the reading of it, the journey covered while meandering is enriching. It does not attempt to justify its protagonists, in fact, you will be hard put to tell who the protagonists are. Is it the stern but social and popular Dr Urbino, or the morally weak but emotionally true to his love Florentino, or the undecipherable and seemingly selfish Fermina? It does not attempt to include plot sequences or racy scenes into its narrative. At no point will you feel your heart racing for the characters, nor will you feel impatience to know what happens next for the characters. It all unfolds slowly, maybe, sometimes even sluggishly.
One of the blurbs on the back of the book reads ‘An amazing celebration of the many kinds of love between men and women’. I will not be able to describe this book any better. This book won’t take you places, nor will it open your mind to vistas unknown. However, the reading of it might open your thinking up to human emotions and their frailty, their intangible but solid presence, to the interaction between people, to the conventions of society which are unchanging even though the book is set in a time and place distant from now.
I am glad I didn’t borrow this book from someone, it’s most certainly a keeper. Having read and fallen in love with its English translation, I am sure the original Spanish version will be much more rich, much more exquisite to read. Time to pick up my Spanish lessons again, if for no other reason than to read this book in its original avatar.
To leave you with the last line –
Florentino Ariza had kept his answer ready for fifty-three years, seven months, and eleven days and nights.
“Forever,” he said.