Can there be love in the time of coronavirus? Of course that thought is informed by the great novel Love in the Time of Cholera, by the exceptional Columbian-Mexican writer Gabriel García Márquez. I’m now reading it for the third time, shut in my house, awaiting the results of my COVID-19 test, which I suspect (and hope) will be negative.
García Márquez first published the novel in 1985, with the first English edition coming out in 1988. But he was not writing about the great cholera epidemic that swept Latin America in the 1880s and ‘90s. He was writing about love as a vital, but invisible element, a living manifestation of daily life that we are often unaware of until it hits, much like a hidden virus that infects in some cases, without external symptoms.
Garcia Marquez wrote the book not as a finger-wagging screed against love, or against humanity, but as a most loving author who nurtures his audience with some of the most enriching language and vivid descriptions of daily life ever put on paper. But as many may already know, he wrote in the unique style of magical realism, infusing his lively characters and bountiful scenery with occasional surprises, humor, and almost extra-sensory events as we have all experienced unexpectedly, often during a most mundane day. There is love abounding here: love of humanity, love between husbands and wives of fifty years, heart-sick young love of suitors in a suffocating cultural environment; love of solitude, love between friends and chess partners, hidden love between secret partners, love of community, love of authority and routine. Even love for steamy, unforgiving tropical landscapes, for the animals and pets.
In re-reading this masterpiece, which is only one book in a body of work produced by Gabriel García Márquez over a fifty-year career as journalist, political philosopher, and writer, earning him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, we find one of the main characters’ love (and hate) for his opera-singing parrot, leading to a very uncomfortable situation of his climbing a shaky ladder up a mango tree to retrieve the opinionated bird. We also hear the wise narrator somberly comment on the fifty-year marriage, “Life would have been quite another matter for them both if they had learned in time that it was easier to avoid great matrimonial catastrophes than trivial everyday miseries.” Lovingly written, and absorbed as reflected reality by anyone in a relationship.
So as we are sheltering in place, waiting for the dreaded curve to apex and recede, we suddenly have the uncomfortable luxury of being reminded of the love for everyday life, of now distant relatives, of healthcare workers and volunteers in imminent danger, of those who love and care for us, of solitude, of children and pets, of those who are ill, and those we’ve left behind. The aria-singing parrot asks us to turn off the bad news and re-read our favorite books and find lost loves. Musings like this stem from every page, every paragraph, and every sentence of this phantasmagoric book, rewarding us with the love of the sheer experience of reading in the time of coronavirus.