BOOK REVIEW: CHRONICLE OF A DEATH FORETOLD

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Author: Gabriel García Márquez

Reviewer: Vera Omwocha

Published 1981
Bayardo San Román had been napping in a rocking chair in the parlour toward the end of September, when Angela Vicario and her mother crossed the square carrying two baskets of artificial flowers. Bayardo San Román half-awoke, saw the two women dressed in the unforgiving black worn by the only creatures in the morass of two o’clock in the afternoon, and asked who the young one was. The landlady answered him that she was the youngest daughter of the woman with her and that her name was Angela Vicario. Bayardo San Román followed them with his look to the other side of the square.
“She’s well named,” he said.
Then he rested his head on the back of the rocker and closed his eyes again.
“When I wake up, remind me that I’m going to marry her.”

Just like that? And with such arrogance? You’d think. But Bayardo San Román is a good-looking foreigner in search of a wife. He’s also wealthy (something that endears him to the town people.) Angela is not keen on marrying him but her family – and the community – places in her hands the responsibility of holding the ‘prize’ of their destiny. When Angela cites a lack of love, her mother answers,

“Love can be learned too.” – (if the guy had been poor, her mother would have said, ‘love can be unlearned too’.)

On their wedding night, Bayardo San Román discovers that it is not lack of love but  lack of virginity that troubles his new bride. He disgracefully returns her to her parents. Angela’s brothers, Pedro Vicario and Pablo Vicario seek to avenge the honour of their sister when Santiago Nasar’s name escapes Angela’s lips as the perpetrator. 

Word spreads that Santiago is a man on the death list but no one does anything to prevent it; not the butcher, the police officer, the Colonel nor even the local priest.

“They all saw him come out, and they all understood that now he knew they were going to kill him.”

Strangely, the twins are not exactly delighted to commit the crime but the town people condemn Santiago to his death. They look at him as an outsider, and they’re mad at him for being ‘rich’. 

 The author aligns Santiago’s murder day with the day the Bishop was coming to the small town to, ironically, bless the marriage of Angela Vicario and Bayardo San Román.

After the disgrace and the murder, the Vicario family and Angela’s now ex-husband move from the town. It is after Bayardo San Román returns Angela to her parents that she falls in love with him. She writes letters to him every day for 17 years. He finally comes to her, carrying the suitcase with the letters, unopened.

Told in a non-linear plot, the twists of the events all point to the murder of Santiago Nasar.

At the end, the narrator seems to point his allegiance to Santiago and his innocence.

“The truth is that she (Angela) spoke about her misfortune without any shame in order to cover up the other misfortune, the real one, that was burning in her insides.” 

27 years after the murder, the narrator comes back to seek answers: Was Santiago guilty of the crime? Was Angela telling the truth? Why didn’t anyone stop the murder?

The town people haven’t changed much – they are as unhelpful as they were before Santiago’s death. The effect and guilt of the murder has not been swept by the broom of time – not just for the victims but for the whole town.

Despite it’s brevity, the story is surreal and tense.

The ultimate question is the why, not just on the twins but the whole town.  The murder would have been prevented, but why did it happen?

And the puzzle may just be for you to solve.

And I think, “There had never been a death more preventable.”

This novella is based on a true story:Gabriel García Márquez court case