Monday, March 16, 2009

Monday Bookworms: Cholera, Homelessness & Love, Oh My

Back in September I signed up for The New Classics Reading Challenge, which I was supposed to finish by the end of January. While, I did not finish in time I have decided that I would still like to finish. To that end, Love in the Time of Cholera was the 5th book of of 6 that I needed to read in order to complete the challenge.

I was excited to pick this book up because I had had it on my shelf for over a year, it had been much hyped, and I read 100 Years of Solitude also by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which I loved.

Love in the Time of Cholera is the love story of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza who as young struck teenagers & twenty-somethings profess their undying love to each other through daily letters. However, after some time Fermina Daza marries a young, wealthy and successful doctor, thus breaking Florentino Ariza heart. Instead of moving on, Florentino decides that while he may have various relationships with other women he will never marry another who is not Fermina Daza. Through out the years he continues to follow the path of her life, he runs into her at many public functions, and he becomes a very successful businessman for the River Company. When Fermina Daza's husband dies, after 50+ years, Florentino sees his opportunity. Even though they are 70+ years old he pursues her friendship so as to ultimately win her hand in marriage.

The premise of this book seemed like it would be an interesting story but it wasn't. The character development was dry and while the reader learned everything there was ever to know about Florentino & Fermina, you just weren't pressed to care enough about either of them, to really root for them in the end. The writing was long winded and very drawn out making this read the opposite of a page turner. Overall, I would say this was just an OK read and I certainly would never recommend it to anyone.

Last year, I attended the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. One of the guest speakers at this event was Colum McCann. When he was speaking he was so eloquent that I was just drawn to what he was saying (or maybe it was that fabulous Irish accent!) Either way he was hands down my favorite speaker of the night.

It was my pick for our March book group book and I chose This Side of Brightness by Colum McCann. I wanted something different, I wanted a book that took place in NYC, and I just really felt that it was time I picked up one of McCann's books.

This Side of Brightness weaves between two stories, that of Nathan Walker, a sandhog in the early 1900's, who works to build the tunnels, with that of Treefrog, a homeless man in his mid-30's who lives in the tunnels that Nathan Walker built 80+ years ago. As you follow both Walker and Treefrog's stories to the point where they join you look at life from different perspectives: those of the sandhogs, those of the homeless men and women who currently populate NYC, those of the immigrant families in the tenements, those of the families in Harlem and you look at what "family means", what it means "to belong to a community", and how the actions of one person or one misstep can tear a family apart as quickly as one can bring a family together.

I really enjoyed this book, it was gritty and even thought it was an easy read it was one that made me think about the issues and topics that were addressed. Our book group discussion was thoughtful and I appreciated hearing other peoples takes on this book. It's not an uplifting story but it's one that I'm glad I read.

Post in Comments:

Have you read Love in the Time of Cholera? If so, would you recommend it? What did you like and dislike about the book?

Have you read This Side of Brightness? If so, how did you interpret the title of the book?

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