Fantastic Reviews - Related Interest Book Review
Chronicle of a Death Foretold cover

Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
(Original Spanish title - Crónica de una muerte anunciada)

Knopf hardback - 120 pages
cover art by Alain Gauthier - copyright 1983 (left)

Ballantine - 143 pages
copyright 1981 (below right)

Book read in November 2002
Rating: 7/10  (Recommended)

Review by Aaron Hughes

          Two years ago, our book group read One Hundred Years of Solitude as a fantasy selection.  I know that this novel is widely considered an all-time classic, but I did not care for it.  I gave it a rating of 3 out of 10.  My commentary on our group's web page for this book begins, "I don't get it."  This commentary has drawn perhaps the most feedback of any of my reviews and commentaries to date.  People all around the world have taken the time to e-mail me and let me know, usually in polite language but sometimes not, that I am a friggin' idiot.  (A smaller but substantial number of people have e-mailed me to say they shared my reaction to the book.)

          One of the members of our group recently persuaded me to give Gabriel García Márquez a second try.  She lent me a copy of Chronicle of a Death Foretold, which she thought I might like better than One Hundred Years of Solitude.  She was right; I had a much more positive reaction to Chronicle of a Death Foretold.  Whether this makes me any less of a friggin' idiot I cannot say.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold cover

          Chronicle of a Death Foretold is an account of the killing of Santiago Nasar.  He was stabbed to death by twin brothers Pedro and Pablo Vicario for a perceived offense against the honor of their family.  The day before, their sister Angela had been married to Bayardo San Román, a wealthy but enigmatic young man, then returned to her family during the night when he discovered that she was not a virgin.  (All of this is revealed in the first chapter, so I have committed no spoilers.)

García Márquez occupies most of this short novel with detailing the actions of the Vicario brothers and Nasar in the hours leading up to Nasar's death.  The novel is not really about either the killers or the victim, however, it's about the people of their small Caribbean village.

As we quickly learn, the Vicario brothers felt honor-bound to try to kill Nasar, but they would have been perfectly satisfied not to succeed.  They told everyone who would listen of their intentions - thus making Nasar's a "death foretold" - and it is apparent that they were hoping someone would stop them.  No one did.  The mayor of the town came the closest, taking their knives away.  When told that the brothers had simply acquired new knives, he went to confront them again, but stopped first to check on a date for dominoes that night, and by then it was too late.  Similarly, few of the villagers did anything to try to warn Nasar that two men were out to kill him.  Instead they all gathered round to watch the exciting event.

This is a Caribbean version of the highly publicized case of Kitty Genovese, who was murdered in the courtyard of her New York apartment complex, while her neighbors looked on but did nothing to help.  The narrator of Chronicle of a Death Foretold, a friend of the victim, uses fairly gentle, rarely accusatory language, but I think it is clear that in the view of García Márquez, these villagers are as reprehensible as Genovese's neighbors.  Perhaps more so - at least her neighbors did not have advance warning.

This story is told more economically than One Hundred Years of Solitude, and in much clearer language.  As is usually the case in my view, the clearer language makes the story more meaningful, not less.  García Márquez manages to fill short, simple passages with effective irony.  For example, he tells us how the bride Angela was reluctant to get married and did not fall in love with San Román until after he rejected her.  We learn this in only a few straightforward pages that say more about human nature than anything I got out of One Hundred Years of Solitude.

          I would not classify this book as magic realism.  There are a few unexplained discrepancies, for instance the people the narrator interviews have sharply divergent recollections of the weather on the day of Nasar's death, but nothing that could not be attributed to the witnesses' flawed memories.  As magic realism, the story would be less troubling; we could pretend that the villagers' conduct is bizarre, very different from how real people would behave.  I suspect that García Márquez believes the villagers' pattern of behavior is one real people follow all too often.
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Copyright © 2002 Aaron Hughes

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Our book club's web pages for Gabriel García Márquez:
One Hundred Years of Solitude

For information on more science fiction and fantasy books:
Denver Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club

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