Book Review: Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Chronicle of a Death Foretold

As an aspiring author I try to write as often as possible but always remember to have a book on the bedside table. I read for many reasons, mostly the sheer joy of the pastime, but I am constantly trying to improve myself as a writer, finding worthwhile lessons in my successful peers, whether they’re currently enjoying life in the bestsellers list or they have long since written their final words. As I continue my own writing journey (hopefully towards publication!) I’ll be sharing my thoughts on all my latest reads and maybe reveal who I find the most inspiring along the way.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1981)

Chronicle of a Death ForetoldI’ve known of Gabriel Garcia Marquez for a long time but up until present I had only read the very good Love in the Time of Cholera (1985). Mrs B recently bought me a box set containing most, if not all, of Marquez’s books so it seemed a good time to dip into the Nobel Prize winner’s work once more and the one I was most drawn to was Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

This novella is written in the style of a documentary with the narrator wandering a small town and interviewing the locals in turn about an incident some time before – the murder of Santiago Nasar. The book’s development has no chronology, in fact details of Santiago’s murder come in the final pages after we have heard accounts from those who were witness to it or were in town during the build up. On the day of the murder the Bishop is due to arrive by boat to bless the recent marriage of Bayardo San Roman and Angela Vicario but Santiago’s death overshadows everything. As the book progresses we learn not only who killed Santiago but why.

I did enjoy Love in the Time of Cholera but I read it at a steady pace. Chronicle of a Death Foretold was in complete contrast with a selection of interviews and background stories of the townspeople providing plenty of detail but not preventing me from racing through this book, eager to learn all the answers. The main thread of the story is not just Santiago’s murder but the motive behind it. As the narrator interviews more people we learn that after marrying Bayardo San Roman, Angela Vicario is returned to her family by her disgruntled husband who is horrified to discover she isn’t a virgin. When Angela’s brothers, Pedro and Pablo, discover her shame they demand to know who is responsible for deflowering their sister. Angela claims it is Santiago leaving her brothers to plot their revenge for the shame that has been brought on their family.

Marquez keeps us in suspense right until the final pages. It’s no secret that Santiago is murdered, we find that out from the first few pages but it’s the events that lead up to it that resonate strongly even after you’ve closed the book. Pedro and Pablo are not remotely subtle in the task they have on the day of the Bishop’s visit to the town, collecting their knives in view of the locals and gladly broadcasting their intentions to the world. The saddest part of Chronicle of a Death Foretold is the long list of witnesses on the day that have ample time to warn Santiago of his sorry fate but no one, for varying reasons, does speak up. Though Pedro and Pablo are the murderers arrested in the end and left to serve a very light sentence in prison, it is the town as a whole that is guilty of killing Santiago. Even with the lack of warnings it is a stroke of ill fortune that kills Santiago in the end.

One would be within their right to ask what is the point of this book if we know Santiago is killed? The murder is important but it’s the locals themselves that form the essence of the book, their varying accounts of that terrible day intriguing the narrator who tries in vain to get to the bottom of the mystery. The darkest irony is that there are rumours Angela Vicario only named Santiago as he was a known womaniser. We never discover if Santiago really was the man that took Angela’s virginity but Marquez seems to hint the wrong man faced the retribution of Pedro and Pablo and that Angela is hiding something. In the end life goes on for all the townspeople and the sadness reflected in the book is of a community that are more absorbed in the visit of a Bishop to their town than the brutal murder of one of their own sons.

Marquez’s book contains some of the romance and magic from Love in the Time of Cholera especially with Angela who despises her husband Bayardo, making one speculate if she lost her virginity purposefully to wrong him before their nuptials. Only when Angela has hurt Bayardo does she develop feelings for him and Marquez has her showing incredible devotion to winning the love of her husband, a painstaking task that she dedicates nearly twenty years of her life to! We learn the fates of many of Marquez’s characters before finally reliving the murder of Santiago. Perhaps most appropriately the novella closes with this violent act, the key event that has tied the book together but reads all the more poignantly as we bear witness to Santiago’s final desperate moments as he draws his last breath.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold may reveal the fate of Santiago at the start but that in no way hinders what is an absorbing story. The narrator’s interviews with the townspeople are an interesting take on the story and Marquez’s characters are a colourful bunch that together reveal the dark side of community spirit. Having read two of Marquez’s books and enjoyed them both I’m really looking forward to the rest of his collection.

Verdict: 9/10

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Dave Brown

I was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England and have always been a bookworm and enjoyed creative writing at school. In 1999 I created the Elencheran Chronicles and have been writing ever since. My first novel, Fezariu's Epiphany, was published in May 2011. When not writing I'm a lover of films, games, books and blogging. I live in Barnsley, with my wife, Donna, and our six cats - Kain, Razz, Buggles, Charlie, Bilbo and Frodo.
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