Florentino Ariza has never forgotten his first love. He has waited nearly a lifetime in silence since his beloved Fermina married another man. No woman can replace her in his heart. But now her husband is dead. Finally – after fifty-one years, nine months and four days – Florentino has another chance to declare his eternal passion and win her back. Will love that has survived half a century remain unrequited?
Well, where do I start with what has been such a wonderfully charming read? I picked this once up on whim from the classics section of a bookstore a couple of months back now, and I certainly haven’t been disappointed. It seemed like from the onset something special and poignant was in store, when I discovered that I was to start this novel in the shadows thrown up by candlelight, after my electric had cut out.
From the very first page I was gripped by the imagery thrown up; Márquez writes with such simple but beautiful elegance, and this style continues throughout. For some, the story of a love-stricken man waiting over half a century just to tell his teenage love that his feelings have never changed, could be considered desperate; for others like me, it is a heart-breaking story of love, and I found myself the most sympathetic towards the character of Florentino throughout.
As a young, apprentice telegrapher, immersed in novels and the poetry of love, Florentino Ariza falls hopelessly and irrevocably in love with the haughty teenager Fermina Daza. Although the two barely meet, they manage to continue a passionate correspondence via love-letters and telegrams, until one day, Fermina Daza, realising in a mere heart-stopping moment, that Florentino is more but a ‘shadow than a substance,’ tragically rejects him and eventually marries the wealthy Dr. Juvenal Urbino instead.
Florentino, who has sworn his undying love to Fermina, is, of course, stricken to the core, but Fermina’s marriage is nothing that the young man can’t handle. As one century closes and another begins, Florentino Ariza rises through the ranks of the River Company of the Caribbean and sets off on a series of erotic encounters, both ‘long term liaisons and countless fleeting adventures’, all of which he chronicles. Despite this, his real love is for Fermina Daza, and although many women come and go, he maintains the belief that his destiny is to be with his teenage sweetheart, no matter how long it takes.
Fifty-one years, nine months and four days after Fermina Daza’s wedding, on Pentecoast Sunday, fate intervenes and Fermina becomes a free woman yet again. When he finally gets the opportunity to declare his love once more, the reader holds its breath in anticipation for what she will say. It is in vain, however, as although we have an initial answer, all is not revealed, as the story back-tracks and sends us on the spiralling journey the two have taken to reach the place of that very meeting; we are left waiting another couple of hundred pages before we get some actual finality in our answers. This is a story of monumental proportions: Florentino’s love for Fermina is endless: she is the one he wishes to be with after all this time. Will he get the chance, when old age has crept upon them both, or will he be rebuffed once more and left to suffer with the fact his wait was for nothing?
In essence, this is a novel that tackles the issue of love in all its forms, and although reading it on the surface as a simple story between the two young lovers Florentino and Fermina can be rewarding, to look beyond the realms of surface meaning is where the reader can truly recognise Marquez’s brilliance. Unrequited love, jealous love, angry love, and adulterous love: the author mediates a discussion on all the different forms love can take, in what is such a remarkable and fantastically written novel.