on May 13, 2000
Gabriel Garcia Marquez is one of the most genuinely artistic of 20th century authors. "One Hundred Years of Solitude" was the first of his books that I read and while I loved the story there were times when the sheer size, scope and density of that work was very intimidating. It wasn't until my second reading that I was able to fully digest the power of the book and appreciate the consumate artistry it embodied. For those who want a little bit of a lighter introduction to Marquez, "Chronicle of a Death Foretold" is a good place to look.
The story is deceptively simple: A young girl in a South American village (a setting almost all Marquez's works share) is married and it is found that she has already lost her virginity. Her brothers are then bound by honor to kill the man responsible, an act they have no interest in doing but do nonetheless because no one will stop them. I am giving nothing away here, all the details of the story are revealed in the first few pages. What elevates this simple story to the grand level of all Marquez works is the brilliant structure and execution. Marquez succeeds, as always, in putting a fresh spin on a timeless plot.
Marquez gives us the events leading up to the murder from several different angles and with each different angle a new wrinkle in the fabric of the story unfolds. What we learn is that there scarcely a person in the whole town who could not have helped rescue the victim from his early end. The killers did not hide their mission, on the contrary they announced it to whoever crossed their path and delayed the doing of the deed until they could not wait any longer. It is this fact which sticks with the reader of the book long after he has finished reading and Marquez explores the question of responsibility at length.
I recommend that "Chronicle of Death Foretold" be read as an intro to Marquez and if you like it then move on to the more imposing works like "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and "Autumn of the Patriarch". For those Marquez fans who have not "Chronicle of Death Foretold" yet, I encourage them to do so right away. It easily hold up to his best material, even within its smaller framework.
on June 17, 2000
The first sentence of this harrowing, surrealistic novella concerns itself with the murder of the wealthy, twenty-one year old Santiago Nasar and every page that follows only serves to broaden and enlarge this action.
The novella, a narrative written twenty-seven years after the murder by Nasar's journalist friend, serves as a detailed history of the hours leading up to the crime. The entire population of a fictional Latin American village comprise the cast of characters and as we become privy to their actions and memories, the one certainty we learn is that everyone had a part to play in this crime.
The night before the murder, Angela Vicario had married Bayardo San Roman in a lavish and costly ceremony. However, when San Roman learns that Angela is not a virgin he returns her to her mother immediately. When pressed to name the man who stole her virginity and disgraced the family name, Angela answers, "Santiago Nasar."
Nothing points to the truthfulness of Angela's assertion, but her twin brothers, Pablo and Pedro, who are pig butchers by profession, sharpen their knives and begin their search for Nasar.
Although "there had never been a death more foretold," every one of the town's citizens has some reason, valid or not, for doing little or nothing to prevent the death of Nasar.
Even Nasar, himself, until the final moments, seems oblivious to what every other person in the town is well aware of. Amazingly, he seems to either feel himself above death or simply resigned to his fate.
The narrator of Chronicle of a Death Foretold presents many instances and situations that could have saved the life of Nasar yet failed to do so, underscoring one of Garcia Marquez's signature themes--irony.
Some of the town's citizens, like Victoria Guzman, Nasar's cook, have private reasons for wishing him dead. Many assume that Nasar must surely be aware of the danger himself, while others simply discount the Vicario brothers announcement as drunken boasting.
By the time Nasar walks onto the dock to meet the visiting bishop's boat, everyone there knows how and why he's going to be killed. And, when the Vicario brothers begin their attack, no one lifts a finger to stop it.
During the final, surrealistic pages of the book, Nasar rises from the bloodied ground and dusts off his own entrails before "entering the house of his mother" and announcing, "They've killed me, Wene child," as he falls on his face in the kitchen.
Garcia Marquez illuminates, not only the duplicity behind the Latin "code of honor," but the hypocrisy of the women as well, a hypocrisy that makes a mockery of the community's strict code of behavior.
The little understood "cult of machismo" is also explored and Garcia Marquez shows us how the men's strict adherence to that cult contributed heavily to the death of Nasar.
While the narrator of Chronicle of a Death Foretold is unable to come to any firm conclusions regarding Nasar's death, he does show us the overwhelming inevitability of it all. Too many forces, including apathy, assumption and even chance are all moving in the same direction and all contribute to the final, harrowing outcome. This sense of the inevitable pervades every line of the book and we know there could have been no way the life of Nasar could have been spared.
Although told in a straightforward (though non-linear) manner, Chronicle of a Death Foretold is not a straightforward story. It is complex, shocking and powerful and surrelistic in its approach. It concerns itself with the power of death in life and how one death affects and transforms an entire community.
The language used in Chronicle of a Death Foretold is, at times, shocking and even brutal, but it is perfectly suited to the shocking and brutal story it tells.
In an early interview, Garcia Marquez mentioned the debt he owned to Juan Rulfo, author of Pedro Paramo. Although Chronicle of a Death Foretold is highly original, Rulfo's influence can clearly be seen. The two novellas parallel each other in their surrealistic qualities, the ever-present sense of death and meaninglessness and the inevitability of life's final outcome. Both works are characterized by unrelieved darkness and a descent into something unamed, from which it is impossible to return.
As with all of Garcia Marquez's works, this book is flawless. It is a highly rewarding, yet disturbing work that forces us to look at the inevitable presence of death in life and the uncertainty of even the next moment.
on September 1, 2003
The popular notion is that Love in the Time of Cholera may be Gabriel Garcia-Marquez's best book, and that One Hundred Years of Solitude is the one that made him famous. But what many people don't know is that Chronicle of a Death Foretold is the book that won Mr. Garcia-Marquez the Nobel Prize.
Sure, that's mostly a quirk of the calendar. But the book was Mr. Garcia-Marquez's most recent publication when the Nobel committee sat down to discuss who deserved the award for literature in 1982. And though it's hard to imagine anyone on the committee nominating the venerable Colombian as a result of this slim volume, it is easy to conclude that nothing here would make them second guess their votes either.
Chronicle of a Death Foretold has everything that makes the work of Mr. Garcia-Marquez such a joy, albeit in abbreviated form. Its pages contain great characters and names, unusual events made believable by the storyteller's skill, a mysterious storyline, a surprising complexity.
And because of its diminutive size and straightforward style, it's a great way to sample the Mr. Garcia-Marquez's work for the first time.
If you do that and enjoy the story, try News of a Kidnapping in addition to the two great novels mentioned above. The two -- News of a Kidnapping and Chronicle of a Death Foretold -- are the two novels that employ a style that harkens back to Mr. Garcia-Marquez's early days as a journalist, using interviews and investigation as a base for a fictionalized reconstruction of real events recounted with the same style that earned the author his reputation.
on October 10, 2000
I recently read this novella as an introduction to the writing of Marquez as one Amazon reviewer suggested, and while I agree with most of the excellent conclusions rendered by other reviewers of this work, I must say that I did not find reading this book all that fulfilling or enjoyable. I want to like Marquez, since seemingly the whole world does upon reading him, but I labored through this book without feeling any great sympathy or concern for any of its characters.
Anyone who has read the synopsis of the story above knows what it is about. Set in a small Colombian town, the novella chronicles the murder of one of the town's leading citizens, Santiago Nasar, by two twin brothers who are advised that Nasar has brought dishonor on the family by "deflowering" their sister. The twins' sister, Angela, is brought back home on her wedding night when her husband learns she is not a virgin, after she abandons any plans for trying to keep her past a secret. Angela advises her family that it was Nasar who slept with her in the past, and thus her brothers set out, while telling the whole town of their intentions, to avenge their sister's loss of innocence.
The story is narrated over 20 years after the fact by a friend of Nasar, who has supposedly read investigative files and interviewed all persons involved in the case, and the book reads much like an extended newspaper story of the murder and its aftermath. The plot is non-linear, you know about the murder from page one of the story and you obtain details of Nasar's autopsy, and of the twins' subsequent incarceration while awaiting trial, before you are given the disturbing details about the crime in the last few pages.
The is much irony and fatalism here, as the victim Nasar is seemingly the only person in town who is ignorant of the brothers' plans to kill him, leading the reader (as well as the narrator) to wonder aloud whether he really did sleep with Angela. Marquez reveals how numerous persons in the town had opportunities to stop the crime, or at least to try and warn Nasar and hide him, but a pervading sense of the inevitable leads the victim to his unsuspecting doom. Perhaps the non-appearance of a bishop, who was supposed to visit the town with great fanfare but who never disembarked from his boat on the day of the murder, is meant to symbolize the inability of the Church to prevent cruelty amidst a village with an antiquated sense of honor.
All in all, while Marquez writes skillfully with a prose style that is neither stark nor overly wordy, I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed that I wasn't more wrapped up in the story. Perhaps I had expected too much based on the abundance of praise the author has received here.
In this faux journalistic tale, Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez writes about the lives of ordinary people in a small town along a navigable river. A well to do man with matrimony on his mind arrives and picks out the young lady of his desire. Marquez focuses in on the values of the people and their traditions as the wedding approaches. The man buys her a house on a hill in anticipation presumably that she will bear him many children and he will be a leading citizen of the town.
Such is the dream of this relatively fancy man from a bigger town.
The dream of the young woman who is to be the bride is a bit different. We cannot know for sure, but like young women everywhere she would prefer to marry for love. But how can a woman from a poor family that makes its living slaughtering pigs turn down such an offer?
She can't and yet because she does not fake the virginity with a red-stained sheet that could be hung out to dry on a clothes line the next morning for all to see, she allows circumstance to dictate her future. Her shamed brothers in essence do the same. They act because no one will stop them from acting.
Marquez tells the story as a journalist narrating an event from the past. The suspense in this short novel comes not from what happens to the man who stole the girl's virginity: we know that from the very beginning, but from the aftermath and from the details of how the events transpire. What is easy to miss (and I missed it at first) is that brothers who believe they are duty-bound to perform the honor killing really wish to be stopped. In this we see the old ideas of the society being reluctantly continued by the people. They know there is a better way, but because they are small town traditionalists, they are powerless by themselves. Note that the bishop comes but doesn't stop. The Church itself does not help is perhaps the symbolic meaning.
And why doesn't the town act to stop the murder? Why were they all indifferent? Do we say that something like the disgrace of one family and what they do about that disgrace is something for them to decide alone, and that we should take no action in the affair, that we should let events run their course?
Marquez makes it clear that just about everybody knew what was going to take place. I see this as a passive acceptance of a way of life imposed upon a people by ancient custom and tradition. This is the way of human nature in a traditional society. This is a tragedy foretold but not forestalled. And note that the tragedy happens to both the man who is murdered and to his family and to the murderers and the family of the murderers.
Is an honor killing right? Clearly the law will punish the murderers, the town's people know; but perhaps there will be some leniency from a jury or a magistrate considering the nature of the crime. And no doubt the philandering man who took advantage of the young woman deserves at least in part what will happen to him. I wonder, however, if the man had been a popular person, a younger person, would everyone have stood by and let him be slaughtered?
Note that the young woman herself had the power to name a name and she did. She could have refused. She could have lied.
Still another thing to note, and this reveals an unavoidable artificiality to the story: some women lose their hymen not through the act of intercourse, but through some sort of mishap or even through the normal rough and tumble course of growing up. There are many women who have lost their hymens who are nonetheless virgins. She could have claimed that something like that was the case. She may not have been believed but at least the man who had stolen her virginity would not have died.
Note too that Marquez is careful from the very beginning of the story to show us that Santiago Nasar was a womanizer and a man who would take advantage of the maid or the cook's daughter. In this way we are predisposed not to like him. Undoubtedly the town in general felt the same way. Clearly the young woman had been hurt by this man.
What Marquez has done in this short novel is examine a tragic event and show the reader not just the consequences but the entanglement of perspectives and values that led to the tragedy.
on December 5, 1998
CHRONICLE is an excellent study of suspense. Within the first few pages, we know who will die, who the killers are, and (soon after) we learn why. With these traditional prompts removed, we are left with the stories surrounding the central murder of Santiago Nasar. This is storytelling-journalism at its finest. The unnamed narrator returns to his "forgotten village" in an attempt "to put the broken mirror of memory back together from so many scattered shards." These shards focus as much upon a village's complicity in a murder as upon the victim.
What makes this even more enjoyable is that the story is not handled with deadly seriousness. Marquez' prose is as exuberant as ever and touched with moments of comedy--the bishop on the boat who hurriedly blesses the villagers waving roosters at him from the shore is a good example. But eventually the novel hinges upon the death scene, which is what sustains the suspense. In an era where gruesome murders are de rigeur and almost expected (and indeed occur within the opening pages of a crime novel, or in the first few minutes of a suspense movie), Marquez reminds us of the physical horror of murder, and the luminous beauty of life, as if these are fresh discoveries that we stumble upon in reading his story. We laugh and weep at the ridiculous adventures and catastrophes that besiege the characters in this novel, much as we react to the events in ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE, yet we hold our collective breaths as Santiago approaches his death in the final pages. You close the book knowing that you have finished a short and brilliant masterpiece, and then you read it all over again.
on July 31, 2002
While Gabriel Garcia Marquez shows is impeccable at filling his lengthy novels with a wide variety of important aspects of the human experience, his novellas show that the Columbian master also has a knack for rooting out a single facet of human nature and exploring it in a certain and direct manor. One of his best novellas is undoubtedly 1981's Chronicle of a Death Foretold, in which an entire town is an accessory to murder. The Vicario twins' sense of family pride is brutally wounded when their sister, Angela, is returned home on her wedding night because the groom had discovered that Angela's virginity had already been broken. When their sister identifies a local bachelor named Santiago Nasar as her first lover, the brothers sharpen their knifes for the next morning. As they set out to complete their gruesome task, the twins are not at all secretive of their plans, making references to the forthcoming homicide in friendly banter with their fellow townspeople. Yet none of those with whom they speak carry out any attempt to prevent the slaughter. Some doubt the Vicarios will actually go through with the slaying, some consider such conflicts of honor something not be meddled with by an outsider and some are downright apathetic to the peace of their community and the safety of their neighbor. Mr. Marquez builds a shocking, yet utterly conceivable scenario in which members of a cultured society are given amble opportunity to prevent an appalling evil yet do not even try (One need only remember the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese in New York City to understand the universality of this subject matter). In less than one hundred and fifty pages, Chronicle of a Death makes the reader rethink his or her assumptions concerning societal decency and community responsibility.
on April 7, 2001
I do not like to give 5 stars, but this novel is so good on so many levels. Besides being just a great page-turner, the author demonstrates a few very unique and engaging storytelling techniques:
The gimmick of the book is that the main character's death is "foretold" from the beginning. Readers know from the opening chapter that Santiago Nasir is going to die, and when, and why, and by whom. The story generates suspense, not because we do not know the outcome, but because we see the inevitable happening and feel powerless to stop it. Like watching a train wreck, we cannot keep from staring, and we feel guilty when we enjoy it so much.
The murder is also foretold to other characters. Almost everyone in the book has the opportunity to intervene but for a variety of reasons-apathy, malice, fear, coincidence-do not. Marquez heaps irony upon irony, mingling both comedic and violent scenes, highlighting the role of fate in our lives. On another level, this novel is also a scathing indictment of Latino "machismo", a culture that turns two young boys into killers to protect their sister's honor and makes an entire town of bystanders accessories to the fact.
The narrator tells his story in a pseudo-journalistic style, through interviews and flashbacks. This allows Marquez to tell and re-tell scenes from different vantage points, jumping back and forth in time, adding details and exposing layer after layer of hidden motives. By the time we actually see the murder scene, we already know all the actions that led up to it and the repercussions that will result.
Although Marquez is known for his use of magical realism, this tale is told without the use of the supernatural, excepting one small incident near the end, when a young girl sees an apparition of Santiago climbing the stairs to his bedroom, just before he is murdered outside her door.
García Márquez did not win the Nobel Prize for Literature and become Colombia's favorite son by accident. This book, among his best, anchors his reputation as one of Latin America's greatest novelists.
Chronicle is vintage García Márquez from the programmatic opening sentence, 'On the day that they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar rose at 5:30 in the morning to wait for the boat on which the bishop was to arrive.' Doomed Santiago-who is probably innocent of the outrage that led to his murder by a bride's twin brothers-collapses dead on his kitchen floor in the book's closing line.
In between, the author treats us to the most unlikely turn of events, as everyone in the village except the dead man walking knows that his end is near but is too distracted by meaningless details, fascinated by the unfolding scenario, or rendered inert by fate to intervene. There may somewhere live a wittier and more ironic writer than García Márquez, but it would take a lifetime to find her. Time is better spent with this novel and one or two of the author's other short works. Leave his competition outside in the rain. I recommend El coronel no tiene quien le escriba (The Coronel Has No One to Write to Him) as a companion to Crónica, for there one encounters the dignified wait that is the lot of the Latin American peasant, abandoned by the machinery of state in the distant capital but resilient against the desperation that would bring him low if his nobility gave pause.
Chronicle is García Márquez at his most absurd. His characters are what they are by destiny, incapable for the most part of imagining an alternative and immensely colorful-against all odds-as they recite their lines and stare inconstant and inert from the shadows of their shops as Nasar stumbles blithely towards his excruciating demise. Only the narrator and the twin assassins exert themselves as though capable of changing fate. For all his running after his friend Santiago, the former never catches up with him in time and nobody-try as they might-can be roused by the Vicario brothers to stop them consummating the nasty business that honor has thrust upon them.
We will never know why García Márquez' narrator returns twenty years later to trace the steps of a village full of protagonists, nor why he publishes a chronicle of the fatal proceedings. But be glad he did. Read this book in Spanish if you can, in English if you must.
Rarely does a celebrated writer remain so utterly accessible to his reader, his sparkling prose so natural and receivable to eye and ear. Give this man two Nobel Prizes, or three. Four would be few.
on January 15, 2004
Yet another gem from Marquez. I'll admit though, at first I was a little bored with it, but I think that is more because I just read three novellas by him in two days.
Chronicle is basically the story of a man who wants to find out just why the town in which he lived allowed Nasar to be killed by the Vicario twins, even though they made their intentions clear to almost everybody, and with hours of warning. The story is filled with Marquez' trademarks: sadness, solitude, love and effortlessly magical sentences that just seem to come out of nowhere and are beautifully nestled between more mundane efforts.
I think, at its heart, that this story is about how it is easy for everyone to just let someone else handle the problem, and that until something happens, it is almost impossible to believe that it will, no matter how much evidence there is before you. Literally over a dozen people had ample and easy opportunity to warn Nasar before the event, and in fact many were going to, but then they were distracted by something that seemed more important at that instance but in fact wasn't, and the chance was lost.
It is interesting the way he wrote it. As usual, he jumps back and forth through time, but it is easy to keep a handle on what is happening because, for the most part, the events in the past (Nasar's murder) are spoken about, whereas events in the present (roughly twenty years after the death) and described. It is worth noting that almost everybody who had the opportunity to prevent Nasar's death, and those intimately related to him, they all have lived the rest of their life in sadness, and so has the town in which the murder occurred. It is almost as though the very town itself has to pay for the crime, not the murderers themselves, they get off scott free (mostly).