Thursday, August 11, 2016

Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

They were sitting down to breakfast when they saw Santiago Nasar enter, soaked in blood and carrying the roots of his entrails in his hands.  Poncho Lanao told me: "What I'll never forget was the terrible smell of shit."  But Argenida Lanao, the oldest daughter, said that Santiago Nasar walked with his usual good bearing, measuring his steps well, and that his Saracen face with its dashing ringlets was handsomer than ever.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez' Chronicle of a Death Foretold is sort of like the antithesis of a murder mystery.  When the book opens, the murder hasn't yet happened, but it will, and the perpetrators are already known: Pablo and Pedro Vicario are going to murder Santiago Nasar because of his dalliance with their sister, whose lack of virginity has ruined her wedding night.  It moves forward, not backward, like a mystery, and yet the outcome is never in doubt.

Pablo and Pedro don't want to murder Santiago, in fact, they go about town the morning after the wedding announcing their attentions to anyone who will listen in hopes that someone will stop them.  But a funny thing happens: they say they are going to kill Santiago so much and so often that their insistence takes on the character of fate, and instead of moving to stop the twins, the people of the small Colombian town where they live begin to think of Santiago as already dead.  There's not much magical realism in Chronicle of a Death Foretold--we find out that the knife goes into Santiago several times, coming out clean--but the mechanics of fate here become a kind of magic, cobbled out of the common interactions of human beings.

Are the twins really fated to kill Santiago?  Where does their volition end and destiny take over?  How does the memory of the narrator, trying to piece together the story of Santiago's death many years in the future, act as a kind of fate imposed upon the narrative of history?  Is, perhaps, memory a kind of fate?  These are the questions that make Chronicle, though short, a rich novel.

This is my first Marquez novel.  I never really have felt interested in One Hundred Years of Solitude or Love in the Time of Cholera.  I think magical realism isn't really my thing.  But I did enjoy Chronicle, perhaps because the magical elements are muted, or perhaps because it is difficult to tell, in the brokenness of memory, what is magic and what is not.

No comments: