20 Books of Summer: Book 3
I’ve been trying to finish a book by Gabriel García Márquez for years and—finally!—I have. Chronicle of a Death Foretold is one of his shorter books at 120 pages. Its premise is also much more straightforward and linear than that of 100 Years of Solitude or Love in the Time of Cholera. This book is a murder “mystery,” but the only mysterious thing about the death is that it was allowed to happen. On the morning before Santiago Nasar is murdered, everyone is gossiping about his upcoming death, but no one prevents it. No one even warns Nasar: “No one even wondered if Santiago Nasar had been warned, because it seemed impossible to all that he hadn’t.” (20)
After the inevitable murder, the narrative ticks through the preceding events and concludes with Nasar’s death. It all begins with the marriage of Angela Vicario and Bayardo San Román, a strange thing in itself as she is the daughter of a common family and Bayardo San Román is extremely wealthy. On their wedding night, he returns her to her parents’ house in disgrace. When she finally admits the name of her former lover—or rather, admits /a/ name—her brothers decide to murder him because he has dishonored their sister.
It’s worth noting that this obsession with virginity is reflected in the tone of the book; it’s not limited to a plot point. It’s hard not to find Márquez’s depictions of women off-putting. I don’t know if there’s an amount of sexual content that he considered necessary for a book, or some kind of prostitute quota, but his depictions of sex are strange. Nothing in this book reaches the scenes I recall from 100 Years of Solitude, but there’s heavy emphasis on the importance of a woman’s virginity, and this importance is set against men who visit prostitutes regularly. Some readers might argue this juxtaposition says something profound, but at the end of the day, it’s a narrative that values women in accordance with their sexual status and that’s always disappointing.
But while I’ve never been able to put this discomfort aside enough to focus on the plot and story in other Márquez books, it was easy to do here. Maybe because the sexual elements occupy a smaller percentage of the whole, leaving space for more interesting and nuanced scenes. There’s a long section in which the narrative ticks through—hour by hour—the movements of Angela Vicario’s brothers. By visiting the butcher to sharpen their knives and asking after Nasar, they make their intentions clear. With every page, the question of “won’t someone do something” gets louder and louder, creating a unique type of suspense and genuine dread. It was difficult to put this book down because I really wanted to know why this terrible thing was allowed to happen by everyone.
Though its a much smaller story than the other Márquez books I’ve attempted over the years, it still has those strange dreamy qualities of magical realism. There are omens and fairytale elements woven in so subtly that it gives the entire narrative an aspect of happening somewhere else in another time. I can’t tell whether this positive reading experience is enough to push me through another attempt to read his other books, but it’s the only book of his I’d recommend at this point. And even then, I’m not sure I’d recommend it to everyone. Like I said, the sexist elements aren’t great, even if they’re necessary for the story which hinges on an honor killing, but also the murder scene (and autopsy) are extremely graphic—so graphic that I’m convinced there must be a deeper meaning there. These scenes almost felt like a bizarre punishment for having enjoyed the book’s “mystery” at all and losing sight of the tragedy at its heart.
Overall: 4.7 (out of 5.0) There’s a strange “reunion” near the end that I’m not sure what to do with. Aside from that, it’s wonderfully written and I’ll probably reread it eventually just to marvel at its construction.
Read, review coming soon
- Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
- A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler
- King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard
- The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes
Reading in progress
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
- Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
- Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- Human Acts by Han King
- The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin
- The Once and Future King by T.H. White
- Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
- Super Cannes by J.G. Ballard
- A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
- A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
- Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
- The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
- Death with Interruptions by José Saramago