Chronicle of a Death Foretold
by Gabriel García Márquez
In 1996 a shadowy group of kidnappers in
Colombia abducted the brother of the
nation’s President.   Their terms for his
release included a demand that writer
Gabriel García Márquez take over as head
of state.   No, not even Hemingway or
Faulkner got that kind of fan support.
Márquez’s clout out-
side of normal literary
circles was demonstrated
in other instances, for
example when he was
brought in as an inter-
mediary between govern-
ment and terrorist groups.
Or when his friend Fidel Castro gave the
author a mansion in Havana not too far
from the leader’s own.  But such bosom
buddies bring with them risks:  a
New Yorker
profile of Márquez from 1999 noted that
the author traveled around his home
country in a car equipped with bulletproof
glass and a bombproof chassis.  When not
intervening in affairs of state, Márquez
writes novels, notably
One Hundred Years of
Solitude (1967) and Love in the Time of Cholera
(1985), and played a decisive role in
legitimizing magical realism as a high literary
style in the modern day.  He was awarded
the Nobel Prize in literature in 1982, and
was only the fourth Latin American author
to be so honored.  His memorable
response—"Ahhh, I think I'm gonna relax
after all this now!"—proved to be a happily
botched prediction, and Márquez stands out
as one of the few recipients in recent
decades
still publishing new work more than
two decades after becoming a laureate.
ROGUES GALLERY:
GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ
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Reviewed by Ted Gioia

The holy grail of crime fiction is the perfectly
planned murder, a killing so smartly conceived and
efficiently executed that no trace of the perpetrator
can be found.  Well, you won’t find any of that in
Gabriel García Márquez’s
Chronicle of a Death
Foretold
.  In fact, Márquez’s genius here resides in
achieving the exact opposite—namely, a scrupulous
description of the most poorly planned murder in
the annals of modern fiction.

Angela Vicario’s wedding night
turns into a disaster when her
husband, Bayardo San Román,
discovers that his bride is not
a virgin.  He returns her to her
family, and Vicario’s brothers,
the twins Pablo and Pedro, are
entrusted with responsibility
for restoring the family honor.  
This can only be achieved in
one way: killing the man who
violated their sister.   After a
thrashing from her mother and an interrogation by her
brothers, Angela reveals his name: Santiago Nasar, a
prominent and wealthy townsman with no apparent
connection to the girl.

Nasar may not even be the guilty party—no
substantiating evidence supports Angela’s contention.   
But her brothers immediately set out to kill him.  Along
the way, the twins bungle every detail of their planned
assault.   As gradually becomes clear, they have no
desire to shed the blood of Nasar, yet the dictates of
family pride and their fear of disgrace force them to take
action.  They try to create a commotion, force a situation
in which some outside party or authority will intervene,
will forcibly restrain them from committing murder.  In
time, everyone knows their intentions—the mayor, the
priest, friends, casual acquaintances…except for Santiago
Nasar, blissfully ignorant of the death awaiting him for
his imputed transgression.

Related Reviews
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Love in the Time of Cholera

Like any good mystery, this one has an investigator—an
unidentified narrator who, we learn in the final page, may
have the last name of (ah, you guessed it) Márquez.  Our
amateur detective painstakingly reconstructs the events
of that fateful day.  Years after the fact, he continues to
interview participants and bystanders, and even tracks
down the official report—or, at least, 322 pages of it,
found in a flooded colonial building that had once
served as a stopping point for Sir Francis Drake (a
typical Márquez touch, that).  His relentless efforts
result in an exact description of a crime so immutably
predestined that even the reluctance and ineptness of all
parties, most notably the killers themselves, is
insufficient to prevent its occurrence.

The book observes the Aristotelian unities of action,
place and time, with a central plot that unfolds during
the course of a few hours—quite a departure for an
author whose best-known novel transpire over a
hundred years of solitude.  The result is Márquez’s most
tightly controlled work of fiction, yet one that still
retains much of the whimsy and fancifulness that are
trademarks of this author.  But the analogy with classical
tragedy may provide our most telling insights into this
work, in which a pre-ordained destiny plays out its
ineluctable hand, fate proving more resilient than all
other forces, most notably (that recurring theme of Latin
American fiction) human incompetence.   

The murder finally takes place in the final sentence of
the novel.  But this is no plot spoiler:  the death is
foretold in the opening sentence of Márquez’s story.   
From start to finish, this account of a hapless crime is
narrated with a precision that is the antithesis of the
killing itself. The reader encounters an endless series of
obstacles, lapses and bad judgments, each of which
should have been sufficient to stop the murder from
taking place:  the warning note slipped under the door,
the weapons confiscated by authorities, the drunkenness
of the perpetrators, their decision to wait in the wrong
place for the victim, the widespread advanced
knowledge of the plot, etc.

Can we believe all this?   Márquez, to his credit, comes
up with a new twist on the Dickensian novel of
coincidence, which usually thwarts our sense of realism
by allowing things to happen that would never occur in
real life.  In
Chronicle of a Death Foretold, the coincidences
conspire not in presenting implausible facts as actualities,
but in omitting all the circumstances that should have
happened, but stubbornly do not.   This meditation on
unintended consequences and the failure of human
wishes may be the most distinctly modern element in
this sometimes old fashioned story, and the saving grace
that turns a series of implausible events into a realism we
all recognize.


Ted Gioia's latest book is The Jazz Standards: A
Guide to the Repertoire.

Further Clues:

Interview with Gabriel García Márquez

Gabriel García Márquez's Nobel Prize Lecture
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