Are you the sort of person who reads reviews before you read the book, or are you like me – you lread the book, figure out what you think of it, and then read the reviews? My custom of venturing out there alone leaves me approaching Love in the Time of Cholera with trembling humility.
Reading it was like a river journey, swaying and floating from one port to another on an invisible, seamless current. Once you are on board, disembarkation seems impossible.
Garcia-Marquez uses no cliches in his descriptions or characters. Savor this metaphor. He writes of Chinese immigrants whose laundries returned the shirts with collars and cuffs “like recently ironed Communion wafers.” You won’t see that metaphor elsewhere.
The reader must always know where she is, when, and with whom. In this book the end of the book comes at the beginning, and the beginning in the middle; yet the reader knows at all times where she is, without the use of bland transitions like “ten years later” or “his hair had turned white.”
The characters are like nobody you have ever known, yet you will see them everywhere. Every time you think of your friend who serves her family slavishly, yet is somehow the power fulcrum, you will think of Fermina Daza. How many people do you know who wait fifty years, until their sexual energies are played out, their careers are behind them, their habits writ in stone, to unite with a childhood infatuation? Yet Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza seem normal.
Garcia-Marquez refers to the characters by their full names every time he mentions them. What a brilliant dash of eccentricity – or do Spanish-speaking authors do this frequently?
The quiet authority of Garcia-Marquez has him paint with a sure hand, stroking in surprises, even shocks, just the way they come in our lives – in the middle of doing something else. Gusts of war and cyclones pass through with the confidence of God. Laughter is seated just as deftly.
Never will I hear the punchline of this book, “Forever” again without a tingle. No other author has carved a word into me.
In a year or so, I will read it again. There will be new things to write afterwards, an infinitude.
P.S. The Edith Grossman translation is flawless. One reviewer wrote that Grossman left “no trace of herself.” Garcia-Marquez said he sometimes preferred the English translation to the original, though I wonder how often he wondered that.
In a speech at which she received a PEN award Grossman said: … a translation is not made with tracing paper. It is an act of critical interpretation. Let me insist on the obvious: Languages trail immense, individual histories behind them, and no two languages, with all their accretions of tradition and culture, ever dovetail perfectly… Fidelity is our noble purpose, but it does not have much, if anything, to do with what is called literal meaning. A translation can be faithful to tone and intention, to meaning. It can rarely be faithful to words or syntax, for these are peculiar to specific languages and are not transferable.
P.P.S. I’m trying to put surprises on every page in my new book. Just like Garcia-Marquez. It’s the least, or perhaps the only thing, I can do.