My goal for Spring Break was to read five novels in the course of this week. I met that target last night with Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ Chronicle of a Death Foretold. There are a lot of books out there that are very good but seem to be too long, as though the author and editor were both afraid to cut the fluff. Marquez’ Chronicle is the perfect example of what can happen when the author is bold in his cuts. This short novel clocks in at 143 pages, and not a word is wasted.
Chronicle of a Death Foretold reconstructs the brutal murder of Santiago Nasar at the hands of twin brothers Pedro and Pablo Vicario. It is narrated by an anonymous character who was a friend of both Nasar and the Vicario brothers from childhood. Decades have passed since the murder, and the narrator has decided to reconstruct the events based on evidence he has gathered in an effort to make sense of the tragic event.
Santiago Nasar is a young and wealthy man who has inherited a ranch from his father. The novel opens with him preparing to greet the bishop, who is coming by boat to bless the marriage of a wealthy foreigner, Bayardo San Roman, and a beautiful young local woman, Angela Vicario. Nasar is badly hungover from the wedding festivities of the previous night, which he enjoyed alongside the narrator, the Vicario twins, and a few other good friends. Unbeknownst to this group, while they were partying Bayardo San Roman quietly returned his bride to the house of her parents after leaning that she was not a virgin. Nasar parts with his friends to slowly return home, and the Vicarios are called home by their mother to deal with the looming family crisis. The brothers insist that their sister reveal the man who took her virginity, and she names Santiago Nasar. Honor demands that the brothers kill their friend.
The narrator includes an element of uncertainty, insisting that it was highly unlikely that Nasar ever had the opportunity to take Angela’s virginity, and that his friends would have known about it already. This question is never clearly resolved. The rumor was enough to require satisfaction, and the Vicario twins begin planning their revenge for the following morning. They do not go about this planning in a quiet manner. Instead, they tell everyone they meet about their intentions. Nobody takes the necessary steps to prevent the murder, despite the apparent wish of the brothers to be prevented from completing this act. Honor requires the murder, but the brothers do not desire it. They even go so far as to wait outside of a door Nasar never uses to leave his home, and inform the mayor and other local notables prior to the murder. Ultimately, nobody acts to stop them and Nasar is stabbed to death.
I loved this book. It is concise and engaging, with a realistic quality that puts the reader on the streets of the town as the foretold death comes to pass. I was reminded of the classic Gary Cooper film High Noon, in which a sheriff is unable to rouse any townspeople to help him confront a band of violent gunslingers. Just like Cooper, the Vicario brothers appeal to the people of the town for help in preventing the murder they are required to commit. No townspeople act to prevent the tragedy, making them all somewhat complicit in Nasar’s murder. Some even urge the brothers on, living vicariously through the Vicarios (classic pun, I know). This is only the second Marquez book I have read, but I look forward to reading many more in the future.
The Current Count
13 Read, 87 To Go