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Love in the Time of Cholera

Love in the Time of Cholera

3.7 236
by Gabriel García Márquez, Edith Grossman (Translator)

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Set in an unnamed Caribbean seaport, Garcia Marquez's extraordinary Love in the Time of Cholera (1988) relates one of literature's most remarkable stories of unrequited love. "This shining and heartbreaking novel," Thomas Pynchon wrote in The New York Times Book Review, is one of those few rare works "that can even return our worn souls to us."

Mary Wesley


Set in an unnamed Caribbean seaport, Garcia Marquez's extraordinary Love in the Time of Cholera (1988) relates one of literature's most remarkable stories of unrequited love. "This shining and heartbreaking novel," Thomas Pynchon wrote in The New York Times Book Review, is one of those few rare works "that can even return our worn souls to us."

Mary Wesley on Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera:

"This is the funniest, most moving book I have read and re-read. Each reading discovers fresh delights, a true classic. Garcia Marquez is the greatest South American writer who doesn't hesitate to write of the spiritual and mundane in the same paragraph."

Editorial Reviews

Anne Tyler
One of this century's most evocative writers. —Chicago Sun-Times
Charles McGrath
This shining and heartbreaking novel may be one of the greatest love stories ever told. -- The New York Times Books of the Century
From the Publisher
"A rich, commodious novel whose narrative power is matched only by its generosity of vision."
The New York Times

"A love story of astonishing power and delicious comedy . . . humane, richly comic, almost unbearably touching and altogether extraordinary." —Newsweek

"It's spellbinding—a luminous novel by a master of storytelling."
—Joseph Heller

"The greatest luxury, as in all of García Márquez’s books, is the eerie, entirely convincing suspension of the laws of reality . . . the agelessness of the human story as told by one of this century’s most evocative writers."
—Anne Tyler, Chicago Sun-Times Book Week

"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. . . . A shining and heartbreaking book."
—Thomas Pynchon, The New York Times Book Review

"Thoroughly engrossing on the highest artistic level. It is easily his best work since One Hundred Years of Solitude . . . His vision is exalting."
Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Mr. García Márquez displays a wise benevolence, an ability to see both the tragedy and humor of [his characters'] situations; and this tone burnishes the novel with the warm, soft glow of redemption . . . The result is a rich, commodious novel whose narrative power is matched only by its generosity of vision."
—Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

Product Details

Cengage Gale
Publication date:
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Large Print

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IT WAS INEVITABLE: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love. Dr. Juvenal Urbino noticed it as soon as he entered the still darkened house where he had hurried on an urgent call to attend a case that for him had lost all urgency many years before. The Antillean refugee Jeremiah de Saint-Amour, disabled war veteran, photographer of children, and his most sympathetic opponent in chess, had escaped the torments of memory with the aromatic fumes of gold cyanide.

He found the corpse covered with a blanket on the campaign cot where he had always slept, and beside it was a stool with the developing tray he had used to vaporize the poison. On the floor, tied to a leg of the cot, lay the body of a black Great Dane with a snow-white chest, and next to him were the crutches. At one window the splendor of dawn was just beginning to illuminate the stifling, crowded room that served as both bedroom and laboratory, but there was enough light for him to recognize at once the authority of death. The other windows, as well as every other chink in the room, were muffled with rags or sealed with black cardboard, which increased the oppressive heaviness. A counter was crammed with jars and bottles without labels and two crumbling pewter trays under an ordinary light bulb covered with red paper. The third tray, the one for the fixative solution, was next to the body. There were old magazines and newspapers everywhere, piles of negatives on glass plates, broken furniture, but everything was kept free of dust by a diligent hand. Although the air coming through the window had purified the atmosphere, there still remained for the one who could identify it thedying embers of hapless love in the bitter almonds. Dr. Juvenal Urbino had often thought, with no premonitory intention, that this would not be a propitious place for dying in a state of grace. But in time he came to suppose that perhaps its disorder obeyed an obscure determination of Divine Providence.

A police inspector had come forward with a very young medical student who was completing his forensic training at the municipal dispensary, and it was they who had ventilated the room and covered the body while waiting for Dr. Urbino to arrive. They greeted him with a solemnity that on this occasion had more of condolence than veneration, for no one was unaware of the degree of his friendship with Jeremiah de Saint-Amour. The eminent teacher shook hands with each of them, as he always did with every one of his pupils before beginning the daily class in general clinical medicine, and then, as if it were a flower, he grasped the hem of the blanket with the tips of his index finger and his thumb, and slowly uncovered the body with sacramental circumspection. Jeremiah de Saint-Amour was completely naked, stiff and twisted, eyes open, body blue, looking fifty years older than he had the night before. He had luminous pupils, yellowish beard and hair, and an old scar sewn with baling knots across his stomach. The use of crutches had made his torso and arms as broad as a galley slave's, but his defenseless legs looked like an orphan's. Dr. Juvenal Urbino studied him for a moment, his heart aching as it rarely had in the long years of his futile struggle against death.

"Damn fool," he said. "The worst was over."

He covered him again with the blanket and regained his academic dignity. His eightieth birthday had been celebrated the year before with an official three-day jubilee, and in his thank-you speech he had once again resisted the temptation to retire. He had said: "I'll have plenty of time to rest when I die, but this eventuality is not yet part of my plans." Although he heard less and less with his right ear, and leaned on a silver-handled cane to conceal his faltering steps, he continued to wear a linen suit, with a gold watch chain across his vest, as smartly as he had in his younger years. His Pasteur beard, the color of mother-of-pearl, and his hair, the same color, carefully combed back and with a neat part in the middle, were faithful expressions of his character. He compensated as much as he could for an increasingly disturbing erosion of memory by scribbling hurried notes on scraps of paper that ended in confusion in each of his pockets, as did the instruments, the bottles of medicine, and all the other things jumbled together in his crowded medical bag. He was not only the city's oldest and most illustrious physician, he was also its most fastidious man. Still, his too obvious display of learning and the disingenuous manner in which he used the power of his name had won him less affection than he deserved.

His instructions to the inspector and the intern were precise and rapid. There was no need for an autopsy; the odor in the house was sufficient proof that the cause of death had been the cyanide vapors activated in the tray by some photographic acid, and Jeremiah de Saint-Amour knew too much about those matters for it to have been an accident. When the inspector showed some hesitation, he cut him off with the kind of remark that was typical of his manner: "Don't forget that I am the one who signs the death certificate." The young doctor was disappointed: he had never had the opportunity to study the effects of gold cyanide on a cadaver. Dr. Juvenal Urbino had been surprised that he had not seen him at the Medical School, but he understood in an instant from the young man's easy blush and Andean accent that he was probably a recent arrival to the city. He said: "There is bound to be someone driven mad by love who will give you the chance one of these days." And only after he said it did he realize that among the countless suicides he could remember, this was the first with cyanide that had not been caused by the sufferings of love. Then something changed in the tone of his voice.

"And when you do find one, observe with care," he said to the intern: "they almost always have crystals in their heart."

Then he spoke to the inspector as he would have to a subordinate. He ordered him to circumvent all the legal procedures so that the burial could take place that same afternoon and with the greatest discretion. He said: "I will speak to the Mayor later." He knew that Jeremiah de Saint-Amour lived in primitive austerity and that he earned much more with his art than he needed, so that in one of the drawers in the house there was bound to be more than enough money for the funeral expenses.

"But if you do not find it, it does not matter," he said. "I will take care of everything."

He ordered him to tell the press that the photographer had died of natural causes, although he thought the news would in no way interest them. He said: "If it is necessary, I will speak to the Governor." The inspector, a serious and humble civil servant, knew that the Doctor's sense of civic duty exasperated even his closest friends, and he was surprised at the ease with which he skipped over legal formalities in order to expedite the burial. The only thing he was not willing to do was speak to the Archbishop so that Jeremiah de Saint-Amour could be buried in holy ground. The inspector, astonished at his own impertinence, attempted to make excuses for him.

"I understood this man was a saint," he said.

"Something even rarer," said Dr. Urbino. "An atheistic saint. But those are matters for God to decide.''

In the distance, on the other side of the colonial city, the bells of the Cathedral were ringing for High Mass. Dr. Urbino put on his half-moon glasses with the gold rims and consulted the watch on its chain, slim, elegant, with the cover that opened at a touch: he was about to miss Pentecost Mass.

In the parlor was a huge camera on wheels like the ones used in public parks, and the backdrop of a marine twilight, painted with homemade paints, and the walls papered with pictures of children at memorable moments: the first Communion, the bunny costume, the happy birthday. Year after year, during contemplative pauses on afternoons of chess, Dr. Urbino had seen the gradual covering over of the walls, and he had often thought with a shudder of sorrow that in the gallery of casual portraits lay the germ of the future city, governed and corrupted by those unknown children, where not even the ashes of his glory would remain.

On the desk, next to a jar that held several old sea dog's pipes, was the chessboard with an unfinished game. Despite his haste and his somber mood, Dr. Urbino could not resist the temptation to study it. He knew it was the previous night's game, for Jeremiah de Saint-Amour played at dusk every day of the week with at least three different opponents, but he always finished every game and then placed the board and chessmen in their box and stored the box in a desk drawer. The Doctor knew he played with the white pieces and that this time it was evident he was going to be defeated without mercy in four moves. "If there had been a crime, this would be a good clue," Urbino said to himself. "I know only one man capable of devising this masterful trap." If his life depended on it, he had to find out later why that indomitable soldier, accustomed to fighting to the last drop of blood, had left the final battle of his life unfinished.

At six that morning, as he was making his last rounds, the night watchman had seen the note nailed to the street door: Come in without knocking and inform the police. A short while later the inspector arrived with the intern, and the two of them had searched the house for some evidence that might contradict the unmistakable breath of bitter almonds. But in the brief minutes the Doctor needed to study the unfinished game, the inspector discovered an envelope among the papers on the desk, addressed to Dr. Juvenal Urbino and sealed with so much sealing wax that it had to be ripped to pieces to get the letter out. The Doctor opened the black curtain over the window to have more light, gave a quick glance at the eleven sheets covered on both sides by a diligent handwriting, and when he had read the first paragraph he knew that he would miss Pentecost Communion. He read with agitated breath, turning back on several pages to find the thread he had lost, and when he finished he seemed to return from very far away and very long ago. His despondency was obvious despite his effort to control it: his lips were as blue as the corpse and he could not stop the trembling of his fingers as he refolded the letter and placed it in his vest pocket. Then he remembered the inspector and the young doctor, and he smiled at them through the mists of grief.

"Nothing in particular," he said. "His final instructions."

It was a half-truth, but they thought it complete because he ordered them to lift a loose tile from the floor, where they found a worn account book that contained the combination to the strongbox. There was not as much money as they expected, but it was more than enough for the funeral expenses and to meet other minor obligations. Then Dr. Urbino realized that he could not get to the Cathedral before the Gospel reading.

"It's the third time I've missed Sunday Mass since I've had the use of my reason," he said. "But God understands."

So he chose to spend a few minutes more and attend to all the details, although he could hardly bear his intense longing to share the secrets of the letter with his wife. He promised to notify the numerous Caribbean refugees who lived in the city in case they wanted to pay their last respects to the man who had conducted himself as if he were the most respectable of them all, the most active and the most radical, even after it had become all too clear that he had been overwhelmed by the burden of disillusion. He would also inform his chess partners, who ranged from distinguished professional men to nameless laborers, as well as other, less intimate acquaintances who might perhaps wish to attend the funeral. Before he read the posthumous letter he had resolved to be first among them, but afterward he was not certain of anything. In any case, he was going to send a wreath of gardenias in the event that Jeremiah de Saint-Amour, had repented at the last moment. The burial would be at five, which was the most suitable hour during the hottest months. If they needed him, from noon on he would be at the country house of Dr. Lácides Olivella, his beloved disciple, who was celebrating his silver anniversary in the profession with a formal luncheon that day.

Once the stormy years of his early struggles were over, Dr. Juvenal Urbino had followed a set routine and achieved a respectability and prestige that had no equal in the province. He arose at the crack of dawn, when he began to take his secret medicines: potassium bromide to raise his spirits, salicylates for the ache in his bones when it rained, ergosterol drops for vertigo, belladonna for sound sleep. He took something every hour, always in secret, because in his long life as a doctor and teacher he had always opposed prescribing palliatives for old age: it was easier for him to bear other people's pains than his own. In his pocket he always carried a little pad of camphor that he inhaled deeply when no one was watching to calm his fear of so many medicines mixed together.

He would spend an hour in his study preparing for the class in general clinical medicine that he taught at the Medical School every morning, Monday through Saturday, at eight o'clock, until the day before his death. He was also an avid reader of the latest books that his bookseller in Paris mailed to him, or the ones from Barcelona that his local bookseller ordered for him, although he did not follow Spanish literature as closely as French. In any case, he never read them in the morning, but only for an hour after his siesta and at night before he went to sleep. When he was finished in the study he did fifteen minutes of respiratory exercises in front of the open window in the bathroom, always breathing toward the side where the roosters were crowing, which was where the air was new. Then he bathed, arranged his beard and waxed his mustache in an atmosphere saturated with genuine cologne from Farina Gegenüber, and dressed in white linen, with a vest and a soft hat and cordovan boots. At eighty-one years of age he preserved the same easygoing manner and festive spirit that he had on his return from Paris soon after the great cholera epidemic, and except for the metallic color, his carefully combed hair with the center part was the same as it had been in his youth. He breakfasted en famille but followed his own personal regimen of an infusion of wormwood blossoms for his stomach and a head of garlic that he peeled and ate a clove at a time, chewing each one carefully with bread, to prevent heart failure. After class it was rare for him not to have an appointment related to his civic initiatives, or his Catholic service, or his artistic and social innovations.

Copyright© 2003 by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

What People are Saying About This

Abraham Verghese
The most sensuous novel I have read.

Meet the Author

García Márquez was born in Aracataca, Colombia, in 1928. He attended the University of Bogotá and went on to become a reporter for the Colombian newspaper El Espectador. He later served as a foreign correspondent in Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Caracas, and New York. Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, he is the author of several novels and collections, including No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories, The Autumn of the Patriarch, Innocent Erendira and Other Stories, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, The General in His Labyrinth, Strange Pilgrims, and Love and Other Demons.

Brief Biography

Mexico City, Mexico
Date of Birth:
March 6, 1928
Place of Birth:
Aracataca, Colombia
Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 1947-48, and Universidad de Cartagena, 1948-49

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Love in the Time of Cholera 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 237 reviews.
L.Emerson More than 1 year ago
This is the most gorgeous book I've ever read, not just for the plot, which is interesting, but because it is written with the highest level of storytelling skill. I thoroughly loved it. Readers looking for more than just a good book will be well satisfied. The most discriminating critics, wanting to give their time over only to a true work of modern literature, will find it here.

It was originally written in Spanish, and was probably a wonderfully crafted piece of literature in the author's native language. After all, it did win the Nobel Prize. But I believe a tremendous amount of credit for the lushness of this work in this, its English version, belongs to the unsung translator who did an absolutely stunning job. Like most of us, I've read translations of other works that seemed a bit clunky or repetitive. But this one was masterful, every page containing new descriptions that leapt off the page with bright clarity and clever originality.

The Mexican, Caribbean and South American locations described in the book came to life in vivid detail. Yet for all its exotic richness and scope, the story is still very accessible, the emotions universal, relatable. Characters are developed, a wide gamut of tempers and passions flair all over the place, scenes build across the pages with crescendo. It is even funny at times. I doubt the movie came close to this depth of storytelling. If you saw the film and didn't care for it, don't hold it against the book.
Cornelius_Kneejerk More than 1 year ago
But then it isn't supposed to be. To all of you who are disappointed by this novel or "don't get it" it's because you are falling into Marquez's "trap". This book is not a love story, but more a treatise on the subject of love "in all its many forms". The central relationship between Florentino and and Fermina owes more to Nabakov's Lolita than it does to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. It's the way Marquez tells the story that is such a joy, to be savoured and enjoyed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This novel is LUSH and RICH.  One can get lost in the heady scent of a true master. Unfortunately, like Nobel prize winner William Faulkner, this reading requires the reader to reflect, re-read and digest the amazingly descriptive prose; Oprah's only "mistake" in some of her book club choices is that the average reader , often wants a shallow tale that requires little cultural knowledge and even less reflection.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved the book. It was a great story and I enjoyed it very much. Didn't want to put it down. One of my favorite books written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez...I recommend it to all...
Guest More than 1 year ago
After much fanfare by Oprah Winfrey and several weeks on various bestseller lists, I had high expectations for Gabriel García Márquez's Love in the Time of Cholera. However, I found this story to move as slowly as a snail stuck to a glue board. Dense descriptions interfered with the plot. García Márquez's fifth novel is set in a 19th-century fictional South American port city. A young telegraph operator, Florentino Ariza, carries on a romance¿through an exchange of love letters only¿with the beautiful but rebellious Fermina Daza. When Fermina¿s father finds out about the relationship, he sends his teen-aged daughter away. Upon her later return, Fermina no longer has feelings for Florentino Ariza and marries the respectable Dr. Juvenal Urbino, a man who the reader is twice told likes to eat asparagus and smell the odor of it in his urine. Despite being spurned by Fermina, Florentino Ariza continues to pine for her for over 50 years, on occasion almost stalking her. He claims to be saving himself for Fermina but has affairs with hundreds of women. During this period, the reader is often treated to Florentino¿s intestinal ailments and his need for enemas. At one time, Florentino considers pursuing his secretary, Leona Cassiani, and she him, but when she is raped on the beach by an unknown assailant who, we are told, provided her with the best sex she ever had, she no longer has any desire to bed Florentino Ariza. Instead, she walks the beach at night hoping her rapist will ravish her again. As a woman, I was insulted by this passage in the novel, a passage only a man could write. And I was shocked that Oprah Winfrey, a woman who has been so open about her own sexual abuse, could recommend a story in which a character felt this way. Quill says: Don¿t bother taking Love in the Time of Cholera to the seashore this summer it¿s one book you can leave on the shelf.
Peachball More than 1 year ago
When Oprah raved about this book and teared up over the ending...I thought, "I have to read this." Well, I did. From cover to cover, hoping that eventually I would get to the part(s) she raved about. I found nothing interesting at all in this book. I thought it was boring and I really found the love story hard to believe. It was quite a disappointment. I was eager to start a new and "lighter" book immediately.
Anonymous 9 months ago
Love in the Time of Cholera, written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, is a Latin American book that takes place from 1880 to 1930. It takes place in a Caribbean city, a seaport. The book is about love, eternal love, heart break, persistence, determination and how life and plans change. The book was written very beautifully and with many details. The book has a lovely flow to it, making the writing itself sound beautiful and romantic. The story talked a lot about love but the whole love story was really more of a whole life story. That is because life includes love, passion, heartbreak and takes unpredictable turns. The book highlighted the fact that having romance and little affairs can be easy but that real love is not. You have to work for real love. Love takes time, patience, commitment and sacrifice. A person must be willing to go through darkness and hard times if they are passionate about love. But the outcome of love, true love, is much greater than that of some silly little romance. The story all started when Florentino Ariza, a young boy training to be a telegrapher, sent a telegram to Lorenzo Daza. He then meet the lovely Fermina Daza, Lorenzo Daza’s daughter, and fell in love at first sight. They were both teenagers and in love. They did not communicate much in person but sent each other many love letters and telegrams in secret. Lorenzo Daza, Fermina’s father, found out about them and their love letters and became angry. He forced Fermina to go on a years long journey to forget all about Florentino. It was hard at first but they still kept in touch over telegram. But, Fermina grew up and by the time she came back, she was over Florentino. Florentino saw how she did not like him anymore yet he continued to be in love with her. Ferminas dad wanted her to marry Dr. Juvenal Urbino, a very smart doctor, but Fermina did not want to. Relecutanly, Fermina listened to her father and married the doctor even though she was not truly in love with him. After being married for a very long time, her husband, the doctor, suddenly died after trying to catch his pet parrot out of a tree. Florentino was secretly glad that the doctor died because it meant that he had another chance with Fermina now that she was available. He waited 51 years, 9 months and 4 days to re announce his love for Fermina but all he got was rejection and what felt like a slap in the face. Fermina got furious that he was announcing his love for her right after her husband died and thought he was being very inappropriate, insensitive and rude given the circumstances. After going to stay with her cousin and given some time to think, Fermina changed her mind about Florentino and started to like him again. The two started to spend a lot of time together and their relationship grew. Since things were going well between the two of them, Florentino decided to invite Femina to go with him on a river voyage. She willingly agreed to and the two sailed off together with just them two and the sailor on the boat. They finally arrived near land but, not wanting their romantic little boat trip to end yet, Florentino ordered the sailor to put up the Cholera flag. The Cholera flag scared off everyone from wanting to get on the boat and let them relax in peace and enjoy each other's company lovingly on the water. By: Ava Mason
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the most boring books I've ever read I kept waiting for something to happen or for the book to end Thankfully the book ended
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Grace_Concienne More than 1 year ago
At the beginning of this book i was a little creeped out, it started very weird talking about a corpse covered laying on a bed with a dead dog tied to the leg of the bed, that definitely doesn't draw readers in.It was weird in the way Florentino Ariza talked about his love, Fermina Daza, he never truly explained why he loved her so much. When the first woman took his virginity from him and he decided to have endless sex with random sex partners, even an underage girl whom he is related to, that confused me the most, why if he loved her would he want to do that. Florentino was thought of as a lowly gross man, possibly homosexual, and Fermina was married to a highly respected doctor and her father was proud of her, i dont understand how she could want to still be with him after all he has done with other women. Then when she finds out her husband has been cheating on her she stays with him anyways like this girls got some serious issues. I know she has two children with this guy but hes been cheating on her for a long time. The day her husband dies she sails off with Florentino and is banished to sail the river forever, this is the most messed up love story ive ever read. But there were some positives to this book, when they exchange love letters in secret it goes back to a simple love story and one that doesnt make me feel disgusted. When they get caught exchanging letters they seek out someone to help them get the letters to each other which is a sweet gesture of love even though she is married it isnt quite cheating like her husband, Dr. Juvenal Urbino, had been doing. When her father makes her take the trip when she is sixteen to make her forget about Florentino it seemed like a crazy thing for her father to do at that point in the book because he wasn't a sex addict maniac yet he was just a young boy but her father could tell he was not going to be good for his daughter and he was right, so he did what had to be done. But he died before he could completely rid her of Florentino for good. The author over all did an alright job with this book but it could have been better. The ending i would have prefered would have been Fermina thinking back on all her loved ones who had died, her father, favorite aunt and husband, they all had warned her or tried to stop her from being with this man even if the aunt had helped get notes to him she did not fully believe he was good for her and she was banished for helping her talk to Florentino and ended up dying. If she had thought about all of that and thought it through she probably would have decided to make her children and father proud by denying Florentino once again and moving on with life and being a widow and taking care of her children (or child since her daughter was banished for talking about her mother's “affairs” with Florentino)  but instead she was banished to the river never being allowed to dock on land ever again. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing read, easy to fall into the world of this book. No problems here. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TRS1 More than 1 year ago
I read this story and was pretty impressed by it. Is it at times sappy? Yes. Is it at times morally questionable? It depends on your point of view. Finish it to the end and you will be left with a sense of, "Awww, that's sweet." There are some genuinely funny moments as well as sad. Florentino and Fermina feel real enough to touch, and the writing makes you feel like you ARE in the Caribbean experiencing civil unrest and the hot summer nights.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of my absolute favorites of all time.
Pretend_Spoon More than 1 year ago
Incredible, gorgeous. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is without equal. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Proustlover More than 1 year ago
An almost perfect book truly evocative of its time and place.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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RobertMark More than 1 year ago
The heat of Columbia echoes the feelings burning between the characters of this modern classic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago