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  • Poetry in the Time of Pandemic:On My Favorite Novel Love in the Time of Cholera
  • Shu-Jiang Lu (bio)

In the time of the unprecedented Pandemic, many of us have experienced a dreadful feeling of uncertainty and helplessness. As the Covid-19 slowly surges and spreads, like a dense fog, darkening and blocking our view into the hours and days ahead, time seems to stand still. We are like the travelers stuck in the harbor, waiting for the ship that would take us on a voyage, yet not knowing when or if the ship would ever come, only the haze thickening and the river flowing, toward the horizon beyond our reach.

Trapped in that state of mind, some of us, willingly or unwillingly, let ourselves fall into a dark place of depression and despair. Yet, consciously or subconsciously, we try to find a way out—something that can pull us out of the darkness to see the sunlight again. It was during that uncertain and unsettling time when I picked up Gabriel García Marquez's novel Love in the Time of Cholera, a novel I read many years ago, at a much different time and age, remembering it only as a love story. As reading goes on, before and after each night cast its curtain, I found myself like a child again, relishing a forever-continuing bedtime fairy tale that brings back to me the warm and welcoming morning sunlight.

What brings that sunlight, however, takes much more than any ordinary fairy tale magic. That light shines through an extraordinary and powerful poetic voice that speaks the language not only of love, but also of life. It is the voice that speaks with the vision that sees certainty in uncertainty, hope in hopelessness, and dawn in darkness. This poet, by the name of Florentino Ariza, the protagonist in Love in the Time of Cholera, is not a poet by profession but one with life, the one embodies the power of poetry—that of imagination, love, and ultimately, hope. It is the power we need in a time of darkness and despair, be that of Cholera in the fictional world through the 1900s or that of Corona in our real world in the year 2020. In the novel, this power gives Florentino his unwavering patience and unfaltering persistence in his lifetime waiting to love and to live again; in our reality, it can also inspire us to wait, for the fog to disperse, for the river to open, for the ship to arrive, taking us on our voyage, where we love and live again. [End Page 97]

Set in a fictional city in Márquez's home country of Colombia during a period of rampant Cholera outbreaks, Love in the Time of Cholera follows the lives of three main characters from the last decades of the 19th century to the first decades of the 20th. Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall in love as two youngsters, but their fairy tale-like love is abruptly and brutally cut short by a combination of uncontrollable and unforeseen circumstances. Fermina is later married to Dr. Juvenal Urbino, a wealthy and prominent doctor. Florentino, who has sworn to love Fermina forever, honors his pledge by settling in to wait—as long as it takes—for them to love again. This wait turns out to be fifty-three years, seven months, and eleven days and nights, when Dr. Urbino suddenly dies. At the funeral, after everyone else has left, Florentino steps toward Fermina with his hat over his heart. "Fermina," he declares, "I have waited for this opportunity for more than half a century, to repeat to you once again my vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love."1

Published two decades after One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) for which Marquez was awarded Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, Love in the Time of Cholera (1988) is considered by many critics a matching masterpiece. It is, however, a masterpiece of its own kind that broadens and deepens the meanings of human solitude. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, the sense of solitude is explored as an existential and hopeless situation...


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pp. 97-101
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