I don’t do reviews in Silver Threads. I do comments. I respond to an author’s ideas or make a comparison or react to an emotional tone. Thank heaven for this self-imposed restriction, because I could never attempt a complete review of this novel — it has so many layers of meaning and is just that good.
A general observation, however. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a story teller. Like Dickens or Tolstoy, he takes you into a world he has created and displays the people there. You don’t want to leave. Some call his work “magic realism.” The magic is that it is all very real while it is happening; it is just happens to be happening in a book.
I want to follow one thread of the story: why does Marquez begin the novel with a suicide? The opening sentence….
It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.
The suicide, Jeremiah de Saint-Amour, is a refugee, haunted by memory and determined not to grow old.
…Jeremiah de Saint-Amour had sighed: “I will never be old.” She interpreted this as a heroic determination to struggle without quarter against the ravages of time, but he was more specific: he had made the irrevocable decision to take his own life when he was sixty years old.
This rejection of old age is in contrast to Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza, both of whom in the course of the novel live to be very old indeed, old enough to pursue the love that eluded them with they were younger. Love in the Time of Cholera is a fictional meditation on love in all its forms, in and out of marriage, in and out of bed.
Love changes. After a four-year courtship, the young Fermina rejects Floretino:
Today, when I saw you, I realized that what is between us is nothing more than an illusion.
Tough words, and she means them. For fifty years they separately pursue two different paths of love, she in a marriage and he by many secret affairs. Both approaches have their ups and downs, good days and bad days. Eventually Fermina’s husband dies and Florentino seeks her again, but as an old man courting an old woman.
Florentino Ariza shuddered: as she herself had said, she had the sour smell of old age. Still, as he walked to his cabin, …he consoled himself with the thought that he must give off the same odor, except his was four years older, and she must have detected it on him, with the same emotion. It was the smell of human fermentation, which he had perceived in his oldest lovers and they had detected in him.
I have given you the beginning and the almost-end. Everything in between is life — various, sometimes predictable and sometimes not, occasionally sad, and often funny. Fermina rejected an early love as an illusion. A sixty-year-old suicide rejected the continuance of love as one grows old. Fermina and Florentino show us other possibilities. Their love is enhanced by the years of life that Jeremiah de Saint-Amour rejected.