A small coastal town is aroused by the arrival of the handsome and enigmatic Bayardo San Roman. Generous and extremely resourceful, he soon gains the respect of the community, and soon thereafter manages to woo and marry the beautiful Angela Vicario. Their wedding is the talk of the town, however, just hours after the ceremony the groom returns his disgraced bride to her family. After a terrible beating, Angela confesses the man who brought dishonour upon her – the moor Santiago Nasar. This leaves the family only one drastic option: to kill Nasar, and restore the family honour. The following day, news slowly spreads about the imminent murder of Nasar. By four o’clock, the whole town knows, and as the hour approaches for Nasar’s death, it seems the scenario has changed as it is no longer a simple case of manslaughter; the integrity of an entire town it put to the test.
Like the majority of his work, this short story carries the signature style of Marquez’ inimitable talent for observing, analysing and chronicling the broad spectrum of idiosyncracies characteristic of small, rural communities. As with ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ and ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold’ has a timeless quality to it. The plot itself is a condensed version of these two great novels, but with that rare benefit of not having compromised the important parts from the original story. This novella is Marquez’ way of showing that his plot/formula works on a smaller scale.
When it comes to the writing, I was pleased to note that Marquez kept to his way of capturing the absurd in everyday life. Although this story is about a tragic and indelible day in the life of a small community; our eye is frequently drawn to details that may seem unnecesary at first, but crucial later on. Given the length of the story, Marquez has little room to play around with character development, so it is only wise that he does this along the way with tidbits disguised as small anecdotes and brief but vivid sketches of village tales. Being a master storyteller, he never overdoes this, but uses it to his advantage as his aim is to bring the story to an abrupt, violent but deliciously ambiguous ending.
Our narrator is nameless, which works well for the reader, as this unknown third-person view offers a wider angle on a situation that is already quite narrow and suspicious in terms of who exactly is to blame for Nasars’ death. Unlike most other short stories of its’ ilk, the inhabitants of Marquez’ story (from the butcher to the maid-servant), all possess their own unique colourings. This adds a dash of vivacity to the way the plot unfolds, as the reader is never quite sure who is telling the truth. I found Angela (despite her austere and pious ways) to be particularly unreliable. The question that racked my mind the most was whether she was telling the truth, or was Nasar simply a scapegoat.
Most readers might not like the way Marquez leaves certain big questions unanswered, but it certainly works for a story like this. There is no rule that states a writer must provide the key to every problem, on the contrary a writer is never in full command of the story he is telling. But what he/she is in command of (and this really does extend into the realm of talent) can work wonders. Judging by the fluidity and ease of the narrative, Marquez has chosen to leave certain ambiguities for the reader to decide upon. For what is a novel that does not make its reader think? If you enjoy to be in the presence of a writer that knows what they are doing, then I highly recommend ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold’. It is also a perfect starter for those who have yet to read Marquez.
I give this 4/5 Stars.
- Chronicles of A Death Foretold: Dirty Religion & Holy Sex (nonzerologic.wordpress.com)
- Chronicle of a Death Foretold (review) (everything2.com)
- One Hundred Years of Stories (bookblob.wordpress.com)
- Michael Jacobs’s top 10 Colombian stories (guardian.co.uk)
- Garcia Marquez book celebrates his reporting (kansascity.com)
- Hate in a time of censorship: schools review Gabriel García Márquez (crikey.com.au)