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Friday, April 25, 2014

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Book Review: Chronicle of a Death Fortold

Chronicle of a Death Foretold is the fascinating investigation of a death that took place in a small Columbian town 27 years ago. The narrator (and good friend of the deceased) attempts to piece together contradicting accounts of the townspeople and the absurd chain of events that lead to the seemingly senseless murder of Santiago Nasar.

The question remains: if the murder plot was so widely known, why didn’t anyone warn Santiago?

In honor of the late and great Gabriel García Márquez, one of the founding fathers of Magical Realism, I will be attempting to explain how this particular work is “so crazy, it just might work.”
Though I wouldn’t necessarily place this particular novel under Magical Realism, this book certainly revels in the absurd. And I have come to realize that Absurdity and Magical Realism are old friends. Where you have one, the other will most likely turn up. An accidental introduction to Julio Cortázar brought on an early appreciation for this particular taste in literature, and it wasn’t long after that I stumbled upon A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings and thus: the wonderful imagination of Gabriel García Márquez.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold probably isn’t as well known as some of his other works, such as One Hundred Years of Solitude or Love in the Time of Cholera, but I think it’s a testament to his ingenuity that he can write a detective story in a very stylistic "Gabriel García Márquez" way. A detective story it might be, but the more you find out, the less you know.

Through the use of non-linear storytelling, García Márquez visits and revisits the colorful personalities of this small coastal town, where truths and lies are often indistinguishable. Either they didn’t believe it or they thought he already knew, because nobody warned Santiago that the Vicario twins openly swore to kill him (and were not subtle about the details). In fact, they had done everything in their power to allow for an intervention of their passionate declaration, even going so far as to write Santiago a note, explaining in precise terms how, when, where, and why they planned to kill him—of course, he never received it. So the story goes.

To them, it was merely a matter of honor. The day after their sister married a very rich man, she was promptly returned to them in disgrace. Apparently, on the night of their consummation, her husband discovered that she was not quite as pure as tradition might have advised. When questioned by her brothers about the culprit who disgraced her, she answered, "Santiago Nasar." 

But the Vicario brothers are simple butchers, and it is only through a series of coincidences and miscommunications that the murder is actually carried out. It almost baffles me how García Márquez accomplished this--but the more absurd the story gets, the more believable it becomes. And that’s why the common American phrase "so crazy, it just might work" comes to mind. Because not only does it work, but García Márquez also succeeds in creating an entire society of unique individuals who remember only what their own perspectives will allow them to, which effectively blurs the lines of reality.

Later in the story, it even becomes unclear whether or not the dishonorable woman in question is even telling the truth about the identity of her former lover. Some of the townspeople claim that it could never be Santiago. Some believe the twins did what they had to do. “Honor is love,” the narrator's mother remarks. Most, however, simply never took the twins' threat seriously, and that just goes to show--you can’t predict the lengths in which a couple of butchers will go to avenge their sister’s honor.

To me, the most impressive thing about this novel is the imaginative world building, and I think that could be said about many his works. There are so many characters and so many details, but even so, I didn't find it hard to follow. The novel is short, so you could probably read it in a couple of hours. And while it's both fascinating and horrifying to unfold everyone’s version of the story, I found myself nowhere closer to the truth, but instead I gained an immense understanding of this small society and the way they operate. 

From the very beginning, the reader knows that Santiago will die on this fated day. And while it's interesting to follow the story, it's even more interesting to see the different ways in which each person reacts. For such a tight knit community, the idea of a pointless murder completely unsettles the dynamic of their society. The notions of guilt and liability take on a whole different meaning, and therein lie the complexities of a small town where the intricately entwined lives of the townspeople are run by rumors and tradition. 

Because in the end, the entire town has to answer to it's crimes.

If you've never read Gabriel García Márquez, do yourself a favor and pick up one of his books. Very few authors have the imagination and, perhaps, the patience to tell a story with such interesting detail that it inevitably comes to life, no matter how absurd it may seem. And to his memory, I certainly would like to say... thank you for the magic.  

"I say extraordinary things in an ordinary tone. It's possible to get away with ANYTHING as long as you make it believable." -Gabriel García Márquez

If you like stories that about small towns, honorable vengeance, dreams about trees, and quite of lot of boats, then read this book. 

Title: Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Author: Gabriel García Márquez

Genre: Fiction/Literature

Recommendation: Yes

Best Reader Audience: Adults

Final Rating: Four out of Five Bumblebees
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1 comment:

  1. Patience. This is definitely what I lacked when I read One Hundred Years of Solitude and Chronicle of a Death Foretold in High School. Patience is such a valuable characteristic in an author, and I like that you brought that to my attention. I am glad I was exposed to his work early in my life, but I definitely need to revisit his works. Great review.