As an unabashed fan of García Márquez (‘Gabo’), I’ve been rationing the unread stories of so they can last me a while longer, but I couldn’t resist pushing Chronicle of a death foretold up the pecking order of the TBR list after Sue over at Whispering Gums recently listed it as one of her ‘most unforgettable books’ . The story is a recreation of an actual murder and reads as a fusion of reportage and true crime, with Márquez’s signature lyricism toned down but still a delectable presence. It is a strange, strange tale. Santiago Nasar is identified right from the opening sentence as the man who will die. The rest of the story pieces together the almost unbelievable sequence of events that lead to his death in a form of ‘honour killing’. I say unbelievable, because the whole town knows he is to be killed—the killers announce as much to all and sundry (hence the title)—but no-one believes twin brothers Pedro and Pablo Vicario will actually carry out their threat. Indeed, we are left wondering, as are some of the characters, whether they want to kill him at all; maybe their announcements are pleas for someone to step in and stop them. But because no one believes them capable, the killing perversely takes on a dark inevitability. Santiago himself hears the warnings, but is similarly afflicted by the implausibility of the looming catastrophe, walking around in a “bewilderment of innocence.”
Beware: spoilers in this next paragraph…
The brothers Vicario are out to reclaim the lost honour of their sister Angela, after she is ‘returned’ to her mother on the night of her wedding by Bayardo San Román, who has discovered that he was not the first to deflower her. After a good beating from her mother for the shame she has brought on the house, she is asked who has stolen her virginity. She claims it was Santiago Nasar, though the narrator suggests that he’s an unlikely candidate as the two of them had never been seen together. It seems that, knowing her brothers will be duty-bound to go and avenge her lost honour, she opts to protect the identity of the man she loves by framing Santiago, a man whose wealth might make him untouchable. As miscalculations go, it’s right up there! There is a sickening sense of injustice, made worse by the fact that she never shows remorse. One wonders what is going on inside her mind, whether the protection of a loved one was worth the death of an innocent man.
[Okay, you can come back now!]
But of course, she is not the only one to blame. The whole town knew in advance. It is, says one, “a death for which we all could have been to blame.” It is a marked example of how a prejudice plays itself out, and indeed the investigating judge writes in the margins of his report: “Give me a prejudice and I will move the world.” So, so true.
Some well-known Gabo motifs make an appearance, such as almond trees and solitude. And there is his classic lyricism breathing just beneath the surface. When Bayardo first sees Angela walking across the town square from the comfort of a hammock, he asks his landlady to remind him when he wakes up that he is going to marry her. When he is courting Angela, he asks her which of the town’s houses is the one she most admires. The answer is house owned by the widower Xius, and off sets Bayardo on a mission to buy the house for her. Poor Xius caves in, unable to resist the lure of the ridiculous amount of money Bayardo offers him, and dies soon thereafter because of it, with the local doctor saying the old man “was healthier than the rest of us, but when you listened with the stethoscope you could hear the tears bubbling inside his heart.” That’s the kind of writing that makes my feet jiggle about with a kind of glee, and though the story is mesmerising, the tenor of the writing adds to the sense of haunting: there is humour, love, darkness and disaster. It is, just as Sue said, unforgettable.
There is also a sense of what is to come in his next major work—Love in the time of cholera (see my review here). Angela writes letters to Bayardo over a period of 17 years, and he finally gives into her, arriving one day with her two thousand love letters (which are unopened), saying simply, ‘Well … here I am.’ The way the two lovers unite when half a life has gone is similar to the way Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza get together in Love in the time of cholera after so many years apart.
One last point, it won’t surprise many to hear that Chronicle was made into a movie, but it might surprise some to hear that it was adapted into a Tony-Award-nominated Broadway musical! Now that’s the sort of musical I’d like to see.
Chronicle of a death foretold by Gabriel García Márquez
Source: the local municipal library