Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, is a stunning Spanish novel that has been translated by Alfred A Knopf. While a simple read through would convince you that it is a romantic love-story, the Nobel-prize winning author warns in an interview, "You have to be careful not to fall into my trap." The novel can be considered an exploration of romantic love in all of its varied forms. What seem to be ready made characterizations are deep, thought provoking characters that make the novel unique.
The novel's protagonists are Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza. The two of them fall in love with each other when they are very young. They pursue a secret relationship, aided by Fermina's aunt, Escolastica. Ariza and Fermina are a most romantic clandestine couple (as most young loves are), and exchange letters frequently. However, Lorenzo Daza, Fermina's father, forces his daughter to stop seeing Florentino once he discovers their secret romance. Her tearful refusal prompts him to move in with his deceased wife's family in a different city, although Fermina protests the change. Of course, since they were only exchanging letters anyway, the couple continue to communicate by mail and telegraphs.
When Fermina finally returns to her home, she realizes that what she had believed was a true and loving relationship with Florentino was actually false and insubstantial, something she had deluded herself into believing since they were still practically strangers. She breaks off their engagement, and returns his letters.
Fermina then meets Dr. Juvenal Urbino, a young and accomplished national hero, who fancies her and courts her in the traditional way. Fermina dislikes him at first, but she is finally persuaded to accept his hand by his security in life and his wealth (as well as her father's urging) if not out of actual fondness or love. They are subsequently married.
Dr. Urbino, is (as his title suggests) a doctor. He is an actual medical doctor, completely devoted to rational thought of science, and the very modern ideas of "order and progress". It is his greatest desire to help eradicate the terrible disease of Cholera, which he is always working towards. He adores being organized, loves preciseness and order, and greatly values his importance and reputation in society. He believes himself quintessentially modern.
Florentino, on the other hand, is a hopeless romantic, who swears to wait for Fermina even after she gets first engaged to and then marries Dr. Urbino. Every woman that Forentino spends time with is a closely guarded secret that Fermina can never know about. However Fermina and Dr. Urbino continue to grow old together and their lives happy and sad, stressful and pleasant, just as married life always is. And then Dr. Urbino dies a sudden death (although he's quite old now) by falling off of a ladder when attempting to get his parrot out of a mango tree.
Once Urbino's funeral is held, Florentino returns to Fermina, and proclaims his undying devotion to her, and swears that he has been so faithful to her all this time (a lie, but oh well). Fermina is cautious at first (she's a new widow, after all) but finally decides to give the man a second chance. They attempt to start a new life together, fifty years after their first meeting. Fermina slowly understands Florentino's wisdom and maturity, and the love between these two old people grows until they die.
A simple love story, at first glance, but this is intentionally deceptive. If asked which man loved Fermina more, which would be the correct answer? The character of Dr. Urbino, with his less romantic approach to the institution of marriage contrasts so greatly with Florentino Ariza and his archaic and boldly romantic love (but remember the narrative seems biased towards him). Also, in the end Urbino proves not to have been an entirely faithful husband; he finally confesses having had one affair to Fermina, many years after their marriage. The novel seems to imply that Urbino's love for Fermina was not as spiritual as Florentino's...and yet complicates the matter, because Florentino's devotion cannot be completely true. The novel catalogues his many trysts with quite a few women, some of whom he seems to genuinely love. So which man is the better love? Either? Both? Neither? Read the book, to decide on this point, as it is a personal choice, and there is no right answer.