Saturday, 18 September 2010

Hispanic Heritage Challenge: Chronicle of a Death Foretold by G.G. Marquez

This challenge is hosted by Jen at The Introverted Reader.

The Introverted Reader

September 15-October 15 of every year is celebrated in the US as National Hispanic Heritage Month. According to, "During this time, America celebrates the culture and traditions of U.S. residents who trace their roots to Spain, Mexico and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America and the Caribbean."

So here's the challenge: just write one post that pertains to Hispanic culture in some way. Review, personal story, recipe, you name it.

For this challenge, I decided to review Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez. (original title: Crónica de una muerte anunciada)

GENRE: Latin American Literature

When newly-wed Angela Vicario and Bayardo San Roman are left to their wedding night, Bayardo discovers that his new wife is no virgin. Disgusted, he returns Angela to her family home that very night, where her humiliated mother beats her savagely and her two brothers demand to know her violator, whom she names as Santiago Nasar. As he wakes to thoughts of the previous night’s revelry, Santiago is unaware of the slurs that have been cast against him. But with Angela’s brothers set on avenging their family honour, soon the whole town knows who they plan to kill, where, when and why.

This novella begins with the following sentence: “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.”

When I read the first sentence, I was both highly intrigued and strangely disappointed because the first sentence gives away the ending – or does it? Marquez prepares you for the fact that Santiago Nasar will probably die and to me, it’s never fun to know the ending right at the beginning of a book. But Marquez is a highly skilful writer. After a few pages, I completely forgot that Santiago “was going to be killed”, according to Marquez, and the story completely pulled me in.

The suspense is amazing. The reader knows at the back of their head, somewhat subconsciously, that the entire time Santiago’s fate is more or less sealed and that he is probably going to end badly, or rather die. Marquez recounts the night of drunken revelry that Santiago spent before the morning of the bishop’s arrival and then his preparation for the much anticipated event, while simultaneously he reveals Angela Vicario’s sin and the fact that she has just accused none other than Santiago Nasar of having deflowered her before her own husband, who sent her home in disgrace. Her brothers, two very hot-headed men, are hell-bent on revenge and they do not seek to merely humiliate Santiago – they are determined to kill him.

The story-telling is masterful. With some other author, I would probably not have gone on reading the novella beyond the first page, as the first sentence already reveals the ending. But Marquez made the best of it. He created such incredible and delightful suspense that I began to question my understanding of grammar. Did “they were going to kill him” actually mean that Santagio would be killed without a doubt, or did it mean that someone was only planning to kill him, but all options were still very much open and the first sentence signifies absolutely nothing? There is also the title that clearly says that in this story someone will die, but will it truly be Santiago? The reader is sent on a roller-coaster of speculation and nervous anticipation, and I myself had to read the novella in one sitting because I was too obsessed with finding out the truth, too anxious to know the ending as soon as possible.

And now, believe what you will, but I cannot possibly tell you whether the clues lead you to the ending implied by the opening sentence, or whether the opening sentence is a trick to mislead the reader. I can assure you, though, that this novel is an amazing, riveting and mind-blowing read, and it is one of the best suspense stories that I have ever read. It is a great proof that Marquez is not a great author for nothing. He truly is a master of literature. It seems that only he could have written this story.

I think that the novella also has a moral, intended or not. It is never said whether Angela was telling the truth when she accused Santiago of having deflowered her or not. A hint of doubt remains and Santiago’s “crime” is never proven or discarded. In this, I saw a moral: lies and slur are very dangerous and harmful and can even ruin lives. Sometimes, it is better to confess to a horrible truth and endure one bad day because of it, then get away with a lie at the cost of one’s life.

With this story, it really does not matter which genres you like to read. I definitely recommend this remarkable novella to every reader.



The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

I have this on my list and your review is so good that I'm almost tempted to bump it up the list. However I will refrain and will come back once I've read it in order to compare our impressions.

Introverted Jen said...

Have you read any of his other work? I read Love in the Time of Cholera and didn't love it. Oh, I loved his language. I felt like I was in Colombia with him. But I didn't like his characters and you know how important that is to me! I'm just curious whether I should try something else or if the one I read was a good example of what he writes. You certainly make this one sound great! Thanks for joining in the challenge!

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

@Jen: I haven't read any of his other works, but my cousin who studies Hispanic Literature recommended this novella to me. She said that Marquez is "heavy", but that this novella is a great read and that I should try it before reading any other work by Marquez, or I'll hate him on the spot, lol. I loved the novella, so perhaps I'll be brave enough in the future to tackle his novels.

B said...

Oh this sounds great! I've read one of Marquez's novellas earlier this year and found it fantastic (Memories of My Melancholy Whores). This one sounds right up my alley.