book response: Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Marquez (1981)

Gabriel Garcia Marquez won the Noble Prize in Literature in 1982 for the sum of his works only a year after his novella Chronicle of a Death Foretold. In my limited experience with fiction, I heard echoes of Edgar Allen Poe's first person narrative horror mysteries. There is no mystery in this story though, but there is horror. One of the horrors is the small town hypocrisy that permits young men to fulfill their lusts, but any young women who do likewise bring shame on their family, a shame that seeks retribution by honor killing. One of the many ironies in the book is that it is the Latins who perform the honor killing against an Arab. The author also condemns the rash decision to murder by contrasting the findings of the narrator over a decade later, finding that the accusation by one woman, was enough to bring judgment, though the victim was known for his Romeo ways. Most of the town served as a jury in Santiago Nasar's "trial," also agreeing with the decision of the murderous twin brothers who repeatedly announced to any who would listen their intention. But the narrator asserts the twins were actually hoping someone would thwart them. The mayor took their butchering knives, but went home and got two more. They had just spent the night partying with Nasar, now they felt condemned to kill them and defend their sister's honor.

Since almost no one accepts responsibility to stop a murder, everyone ends up sharing the blame. This last concept makes me think of Nazi Germany. I actually started this book to take a break from my reading on the genocides of World War 2.

On an entirely different angle, the religious themes were loud. Santiago had hoped to visit the bishop who was steaming down river, but the bishop did not pull into port, only waving at those who brought gifts and offerings to celebrate his visit, suggesting the church does not really care to visit with the back country folk, such as Santiago (Saint James [Jacob in Hebrew, the crafty grandson of Abraham]) son of the Arab immigrant Ibrahim (Abraham) who also slept with his maid (Hagar). Maria Cervantes runs a brothel (Mary Magdalene). The defended sister is Angela Vicario (angel priest/vicar). One of Santiago's wound marks are described as stigmata. I still can't figure out if those overlapping names are significant, but as someone overly familiar with the Bible's stories, I can't escape noticing those names and the characters.

In the Bible, Abraham cannot make a child with his wife Sarah, so she offers him her servant, Hagar as a surrogate. She conceives and gives birth to Ishmael, but Sarah, casts her out in jealousy. Eventually, Sarah miraculously conceives and gives birth to Isaac, who inherits everything of his father. He ends up with twin boys, Jacob and Esau. Jacob tricks Esau out of his inheritance and ends up fleeing from Esau to save his life. Jacob ends up with 2 sister wives and each of their nurses as concubines/surrogate mothers. In this book, Santiago Nasar is more of a conflation of Isaac and Jacob. The murderous twins are Pablo (Paul) and Pedro (Peter). It could possibly indicate Marquez's perception of Christian hatred toward Jews in general history, or maybe that of Columbian Catholics and Columbian Jews in particular. There were Jews who fled Hitler by coming to Columbia when the author was very young. The Columbian government actually halted immigration throughout most of Hitler's reign, from 1939-45.

I'm not claiming to have solved the deeper meaning of this novella, but it's my response to it.

This story is interesting, but not compelling. It's a good break from depressing historical reading, but it's not a book I'll keep on my bookshelf.
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