Confusion is the solution to false clarity. That is to say, questioning something and admitting to know nothing is better than fully trusting in a lie you were made to believe in. But that is always the harder way around things, as we see in Nobel Prize recipient Gabriel Garcia Marquez‘s Chronicle of a Death Foretold.
The story revolves around the events leading up to the brutal murder of Santiago Nasar, in Colombia at around the 1950’s, recounted by the testaments of the inhabitants of the town 27 years after the crime. We come to see that Santiago Nasar was killed by Pedro and Pablo Vicario, twin brothers of Angela Vicario. Her husband for two hours, Bayardo San Roman, returned her to her family having found out that she was no longer a virgin when she did not stain during their honeymoon. She puts the blame on Santiago Nasar as the one who took her virginity, and the twins set out in the morning to hunt him down, to reclaim their sister’s honor. Whether or not Santiago Nasar was truly guilty of the said crime was never revealed.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s writing style shifts back and forth from flashbacks to present day. In fact, it would take until halfway through the second chapter just to get used to reading the story, with how the time setting changes. Not only does it move from flashback to flashback and testimony to testimony of yet another character, but it also goes around the parts of the story. At first, you were reading about the morning when Santiago Nasar was about to die, then you’d find yourself reading about Bayardo San Roman’s courtship for Angela Vicario, then you’d find yourself on the day before his death, and then after his death, and then to the time when the brothers were hunting him down–all of these meshed in with the current day testimonies, as the unnamed narrator, a distant cousin of Angela Vicario, and a companion of Santiago Nasar, tries to unravel the mystery of his death by interviewing the people twenty-seven years after. It’s an entirely messy narration that makes you feel like you need to own a fully operating time machine just to understand what was happening.
But it is the fact that despite these huge jumps, loops and zig-zags, the entire narrative still remains so beautifully superfluous, that makes Chronicles of a Death Foretold so captivating a read. How Garcia Marquez wrote it makes it seem like experimental writing, but so masterfully crafted. With his skills in journalism, it makes you feel as if you were reading facts–fast paced and accurate. But as with his roundabout writing style, it then gently curves right back into artistry, using surreal insights and all too detailed descriptions for any interviewer to find out. The words of his unnamed narrator colorfully illustrates every single aspect of the story. How Garcia Marquez gave every single character a name, even the minor ones like the butcher, or the man off the street, the town’s favorite whore, among others, gave the narrative not only a realistic feel, like historical accounts or investigative case books, but also created for the novel the illustration of the lives of an entire town.
Through the narrative, the novel discusses themes and issues of society that not only applies to Colombia in the 50’s, but lives up to today. One of them would be the helplessness of women. It was said there that Angela Vicario was the most beautiful of the four sisters, and was described as the perfect bride. And why? Because she was the one who was best at making cloth flowers, and cooking, and cleaning, and embroidery–all the domestic work one would expect of a woman. And the Vicario sisters were raised in such a manner that they were to master these skills, because marrying a man is the only way to advance in life.
We see here that Clothilde Armenta, the wife of a shopkeeper who runs the bar in town, wasn’t listened to when she was trying to warn everyone that the Vicario brothers have set out to kill Santiago Nasar. Not only do women have no independent power in society, they also have no voice. And it is by this very act that we see how the higher men who had the power to stop the crime–the bishop, the priest, the police, the Colonel–did nothing. Absolutely nothing to stop the crime, even when the entire town has been informed by the Vicario brothers themselves that they were to kill him the moment they find him.
It was mentioned, over and over again, that the Bishop did not care. Not only that, but also that he hated the people in that town. He was coming over by boat, and the people talked about receiving the bishop as if he would not even come down to meet his people. He was just to pass over them. And they were right, because that was exactly what he did.
Also, the priest who tried to make an autopsy in place of the doctor who left the town…another example of useless men in high places.
If only the women were to be allowed enough power, what do you think they’d pursue? Well, as it seems, Angela Vicario would pursue love. However, as her mother tells her, “love can be learned too.” She had to be wed to Bayardo San Roman out of tradition. It is by society’s orders that Angela Vicario had to be wed to someone she did not love. It is by society’s curse that dictates why it is shameful to be marry a woman who has lost her virginity. It is by society’s understanding that honor–or better yet, vengeance–is a good enough excuse to murder. It is by society’s law that the Vicario brothers must kill Santiago Nasar for honor, regardless of his innocence or guilt. Society dictates what is true, just, honorable and allowable. It is the inescapable curse.
This cultural strangulation was what caused the murder in the first place. As Angela Vicario desperately tried to give a name, and decidedly took Santiago Nasar’s, it was described that he was now a butterfly perfectly pinned unto a wall. His fate was inescapable with one simple declaration. But Angela was just a victim of society as well, a butterfly that has long been pinned down to a wall, since birth, to become a bride. That was all she would ever become, and that was all she could ever be.
Now, whether or not Santiago Nasar was the man will never be known. And this entire mesh of interconnected bits of story will never, ever reveal to you the truth, but only confuse you further. But you get more than what you came for, in this book. And for that, Gabriel Garcia Marquez triumphs, and truly succeeds as a writer.
Five stars, for the most unique narrative I have ever encountered.