Posted in Books, Reviews, romance

Book Review: Love In The Time of Cholera

Its funny how some books turn out to be exactly what you expect it to be, and how others  can totally disarm you by telling a story that you didn’t know you needed to be told.

When I first picked up this book, maybe a couple of years ago, I couldn’t get past the first chapter. For some reason, it just didn’t feel like my cup of tea. I was told that this was one of the greatest love stories of all time, so it really should have been up my alley.

But whether it was because I read a book by this author when I was younger that confused me so much that it put me off reading any more of his works, or simply because I didn’t feel like reading a grand love story at the time, for some reason I couldn’t find the will to start the book.

So I sold it at a car boot sale and told myself if its meant to be, the book will find its way back to me, just like in the movie Serendipity.

Fast forward to November of 2018 and I was perusing the used books section of Powell’s in Portland of all places, and I came across a battered copy of Love In The Time of Cholera. It wasn’t MY copy of the book of course, this isn’t a movie people, John Cusack will not be making an appearance here.

But it finally felt like the right time to read this book that I’ve been hearing so much about. I was ready to read about the grand passions of a girl and a boy experiencing love for the first time, going through trials and tribulations before finally getting their happy ending.

So imagine my surprise when I realised this book was essentially about growing old, and finding – at the twilight of your life when imminent death is all but a certainty – a love that’s been “waiting” for you to acknowledge it. Like, I’m sorry, but I totally wasn’t expecting THAT.

Instead of the sanitised scenes found in most romance novels, where its probably a crime for Prince Charming to fart or take a shit, we have graphic descriptions of sagging skin and bowel movements. There was a scene about ENEMAS for crying out loud. Why in the world were people so enamoured of this book? What is so romantic about putting cream on someone else’s bedsores? If I wanted to read about that, I’d crack open one of my nursing textbooks.

The further on I get with the book, though, the more I realised how similar I was to Florentino Ariza, the male protagonist of the story. He thinks love is all about the grand passions and poetic love letters and midnight serenades. He has kept the flame of unrequited love going for fifty one years, nine months and four days, and he prides himself on having suffered that long in the name of true love.

That’s not to say he’s been completely abstinent. Love doesn’t preclude a man’s need for sex after all (insert eyeroll here), but he justifies his actions by telling himself that while he has shared his body freely, his heart has only ever belonged to Fermina Daza.

Fermina Daza in contrast is much more sensible. For me, its through her eyes and through her story that we get a more realistic picture of what it is to be in love.

Its through the description of her marriage that I realise why this book has won not only a Nobel Prize but also the hearts of those who truly understood what the book was trying to say. Now I’m not very good at conveying something I feel so strongly about, but I think its important for me to try in the case of this book.

You see, the greatest lesson I’ve learned from this brilliant piece of work is that love is at its most beautiful when its real. The secret of long-standing marriages is that the couple has found a partnership that goes way beyond initial attraction and chemistry.

Its the kind of partnership that withstands the test of time, that means you are able to love your spouse even when you can’t stand the sight or idea of them (something that I think is bound to happen when you’re sharing your life with someone).

Love is about the daily minutiae of married life, the many opportunities you have to learn about one another’s habits to the point that it becomes as automatic as breathing to wash someone’s bottom when they can no longer do it themselves.

Love is about the ups and downs, the many twists and turns, and its about the personal sacrifices you make in the name of something that is bigger than yourself.

Love is about the immense loneliness of losing the person who’s been by your side through the years, and how you feel the pain of their absence in a way that is similar to how an amputee feels about their lost limb.

Love knows no time, and certainly no age. It isn’t the sole property of the young. Love can find you in the most unexpected moments, often when you’ve stopped looking. It may not be how you imagined it to be, but it will be love all the same, even when you’re so close to dying that you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

For they had lived together long enough to know that love was always love, anytime, and anyplace.

I will not spoil the book for those that haven’t read it yet, but the one thing I will say is that it was an incredible joy to read it. The writing flowed so beautifully and it is immensely quotable of course.

This is definitely one of those books that you should read at least once in this lifetime.

Three out of five stars.

Posted in family, friendship, relationships

The Art of Forgiveness

As 2018 comes to a close, I find myself in the position of once again looking back at the year that’s gone: the good, the bad, the things I should have done and the things I could have done without.

Over the holidays, I made time to call several of my relatives and friends all around the world to greet them a Merry Christmas. There was one call in particular that I was dreading, because I wasn’t sure if it would even be received.

You see, my brother and I somehow managed to get into a stupid argument that got blown way out of proportion last Thanksgiving, of all times.

He took exception to the tone of voice he claims I always use when he was asking me a question. I took exception to the fact that he asks questions incessantly and unnecessarily, even when he already knew the answer, just for the pleasure of annoying me.

He spent the last two days of our family vacation barely making eye contact and ignoring me. My questions and tentative peace offerings were met with either disdain or the occasional grunt. I told myself I didn’t mind, that I was grateful for the reprieve from the constant teasing and torment.

What a pile of rubbish. Of course, I minded.

I minded because, first of all, we were on a bloody vacation. It was really awkward having to pose for all these photos and smile through my teeth when I was fully aware that the person standing next to me really hated my guts.

I minded because my brother and I are based in different parts of the world, and we see each other once every couple of years at best. It seemed such a shame to waste all that time we’ve been given fighting over something so inconsequential.

I minded because the last time my brother got that upset with me, he didn’t speak to me for two whole years. Yep, my family (especially the men in my family) take passive-aggressiveness to a whole other level. They don’t do shouting matches or throw plates at each other. If you’ve wronged them, you cease to exist for them until they’ve gotten the hurt out of their system.

I minded because I knew I could have done so much better. I could have been more patient, more sisterly, more understanding of his innate need to annoy me because in a twisted way, he really just wants my attention.

I minded because I love my brother, even when I don’t like him very much. We’ve always had a far more complicated relationship compared to that which I have with my sister. I think in some ways the distance works for us because it allows us to only remember the things we like about each other. Its the reason why we’ve gotten along so much better since I’ve moved to London.

In our case, absence really DOES make the heart grow fonder.

Most of all, I minded because this wasn’t the first relationship that I’ve managed to damage in the latter part of 2018. It was only very recently that I’ve managed to hurt a very good friend’s feelings to the point where she’s ignored any overtures I made ever since to make up for it.

That was warranted, to be fair. What I did, while not unforgivable, certainly let her down to such an extent that she is justified in hating me and shutting me out of her life completely. I came out of that experience feeling like I was losing my equilibrium.

I think that may have been the moment when I took a long hard look at the mirror only to realise I really did not like the friend and person that I was becoming.

I have since resolved to do better. And the first step towards healing, the key thing really, is being able to apologise and ask for forgiveness.

Forgiveness. Its such a scary thing, to ask for AND to offer. And the closer the relationship is, the harder it seems to be to say I’m sorry. Its difficult because I sometimes feel, when someone apologises to me, that they’re not as sincere as they should be. That they’re only paying lip service, and apologising out of some societal obligation to do the right thing.

You see, in my family we’ve always been raised to believe that actions speak louder than words (ironic, seeing as how much I love words!). I’ve never heard my dad tell me how much he loves me. BUT. When I was younger and sulking to the point of tears because all my friends had their own mobile phones and I was feeling left out and inferior because I didn’t have one, he saved up most of the money he had at the time and took a special trip to the city for the sole purpose of buying me my own Nokia 3300.

He never held this over my head in the years in between, and I only found out about this story when I was working and earning my own money. You can imagine how small and selfish I felt at the time. Anyway, my Dad doesn’t say much (and when he does he often gets it wrong and inadvertently hurts my feelings), but his actions have always made me feel protected, supported and loved.

So on Christmas Day, I got on Facebook Messenger and made a video call to my recently estranged brother so I can greet him a Merry Christmas and to force him to accept me back in his life. And to be honest, there was a moment when I thought he wouldn’t even take my call. But as soon as he did, I knew we were going to be alright.

He knew how symbolic a gesture it was for me to make the first move. And I knew it was just as symbolic that he took the call. We didn’t need sappy words of apology, and I will kill myself if he ever reads this saccharine and sentimental post, but our actions were enough to get that relationship back on track.

It was the best Christmas present I received this year.

Of course its easier with family, isn’t it? Nothing short of murder can sever the blood ties that obligates them to loving and accepting you and forgiving you time and time again when you mess up.

Its different when its someone who is part of your life by choice, rather than by blood. If you think about it, its a relationship that’s built on mutual understanding, trust and shared memories alone. There’s no binding contract apart from the promise that you will always have each other’s backs. What happens when you fail to fulfil the obligations of that relationship?

I’ve never really thought about it. I think I just took it for granted that there’s no transgression so big that its beyond forgiveness. I’ve always said, rather glibly, that I can talk my way out of anything. This illusion came crashing down in flames as I sat waiting – for three days – for a reply on messenger that never came.

I had hoped that by the time I wrote this blog it would have a happier ending, and that I can put a period at the end of the sentence and say I’ve learned from it and we’re moving forward. But that’s not the case. And its been a really hard pill to swallow.

Perhaps I should take a leaf out of my father’s book and let my actions speak louder than my words. Either way, its been a very humbling lesson to learn this year that the road to forgiveness is a hard one, and some of us may never get there at all.