Review: Chronicle of A Death Foretold

21Jun14

Don’t let the size of this book fool you. The story is only 120 pages long, but Gabriel Garcia Marquez gives you a lot to absorb.

Illustrated first line

First line illustrated by Flavorwire. Click through to see more.

It’s the morning after a huge wedding in a small town. What most of the recovering revelers don’t know is that the groom took the bride back to her parents’ house in the middle of the night, in disgrace, because apparently she wasn’t a virgin. In many small towns, this is Kind of a Big Deal Still, so once they’ve got the name of the man responsible, the bride’s brothers set out to kill him…and they’re not very quiet about making their intentions known.

Santiago Nasar, however, has no idea he’s a walking dead man. This is in large part due to everyone else’s failure to do or say anything. A few people do try to warn him, but they can’t find him, or just keep missing him, or something. A few other people think it might be a good idea to do something, but are distracted by other things. A few more people think it might be a good idea to do something, but then decide not to, for various reasons (the main one being that it’s probably not a good idea to interfere with A Matter of Honor). It’s like a Rube Goldberg Machine of doom, and the inevitably the story eventually contains one very dead Santiago Nasar. Honor having been avenged, the bride’s brothers go to jail for a while, but then get to go on with their lives. And the disgraced bride eventually reunites with her husband many years later, after time has mellowed them both.

What really struck me about this story is how much human beings haven’t changed. The book was published in 1983, so for some readers there might be a temptation to say, “Well, that’s how it was ‘back then.'” But are we really any better or more evolved, as people? How many honor killings still take place all over the world, over the notion that maybe a woman would like to have choice and autonomy over her own body? Even in the supposedly liberal Western cultures, where virginity is less of a big deal (though still a deal), women’s sexuality is rigidly policed by codes that deem her either a prude or a slut if she chooses to play by her own rules. What’s interesting here is that it’s the man who is killed, while the woman gets to live and have a normal life; you could even make the argument that perhaps we have taken major steps backward.

We could talk about that all day, because it’s fascinating, but what I find even MORE interesting is the entire town’s complicity in the murder, which reminded me very much of what happened to Kitty Genovese.  Even the townsfolk who feel moved to do something are trapped by the larger current of the bystander effect, some of which is fueled by the notion that Nasar has it coming, and some of which is driven by the fact that people had other things to do, and felt the situation was “not their problem.” Even the town priest, arguably the person in the best position to take a moral or ethical stand, succumbs to inactivity and indecision:

“The truth is, I didn’t know what to do,” he told me. “My first thought was that it wasn’t any business of mine but something for the civil authorities, but then I made up my mind to say something in passing to Placida Linero [Nasar’s mother].” Yet when he’d crossed the square, he’d forgotten completely. “You have to understand,” he told me, “that the bishop was coming on that unfortunate day.” At the moment of the crime he felt such despair and was so disgusted with himself that the only thing he could think of was to ring the fire alarm. –pg. 70

Ugh. Horrible. But we the readers probably shouldn’t get too far up on our high horses. Garcia Marquez’s story is a cautionary tale for us, as we go about our daily business: what is my responsibility to my neighbor? What will I do if I see somebody in need of help? What do I do if I know something bad is going to happen? Is it my business to intervene?

I could–and most likely will–read this story again and again, and want to talk about it with people. If you care, even just a little, about the world and your place in it, you might want to try it on for size and see what you think.

 

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