Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez

Picador, 1983, 126 p. Translated from the Spanish, Crónica de una muerte anunciada (La Oveja Negra, Colombia, 1981,) by Gregory Rabasa.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold cover

“On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five-thirty in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming on,” is the arresting first sentence of this novel. However, I was immediately struck by its resemblance to the first sentence of the same author’s One Hundred Years of Solitude; a sentence I discussed here, as being a form of authorial cheating.

The corresponding cheat in this book, if in fact it is a cheat, is not so pronounced. We already know someone is to die, the title has told us as much, and that the death is inevitable. (Meanwhile I note that Colonel Aureliano Buendía, presumably the same one from One Hundred Years of Solitude, is mentioned some pages later.) This (short, 122 page, large print) book is an account of the events leading up to that death as related by our unnamed narrator – but there are two textual hints that we are intended to believe that it is the author himself – from recollections he solicited from the witnesses many years after.

It was the day after the wedding of Angelo Vicario and Bayardo San Román and the morning after he had returned her to her parent’s house saying she had not been a virgin. Angelo Vicario had not been impressed with him on their first meeting but the advances of Bayardo San Román, son of an influential family, and a charmer of her parents and brothers Pedro and Pablo had not been easy to refuse. On her furnishing the name of Santiago Nasar as her deflowerer (though the narrator expresses doubts as to the truth of this) Pedro and Pablo resolved to kill him. They lay in wait in the store over the road from his house for him to return from seeing the bishop passing by in his boat.

Most of the people in the town seemed to be aware of their intentions but variously passed them off as drunken boasting, thought they would not carry it through, or that Nasar must already know about it and had taken steps to avoid his fate, or else were unable to see how to prevent it.

The catalogue of happenstance and accident by which the chronicle unfolds is like an inexorable, grinding, avalanche, terrible and tragic in its certainty, but bathetic in detail. Márquez delineates it masterfully.

Pedant’s corner:- proprietess (the usual word to denote a female owner is proprietrix,) organdy (organdie,) Cervantes’ (Cervantes’s.)

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