Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez, who died last year, knew how to grab your attention from the very first sentence, as in his Chronicle of a Death Foretold (London: Penguin, 2007).
On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five-thirty in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming on.
García Márquez based his novel on an actual murder that took place at the beginning of the 1950s and the character of the victim is drawn on an old friend of the author but I still have to find out if that friend was actually murdered. There is always something more to learn after reading any of García Márquez’s novels. The story breaches the usual convention of beginning at the beginning but, instead, unfolds the story in reverse, exploring the labyrinthine back story that led to the Vicario brothers killing Santiago Nasar. In each succeeding chapter, not only is a different facet of the story revealed but one reads how, so easily, the death, once it had been foretold, could have been forestalled.
García Márquez is to Latin America what Faulkner is to the Southern states of the USA. Their prose has all the authentic flavours of the region. The former much admired the latter. There are parallels that could be drawn between the two writers but each, it must be stressed is a unique and wonderful writer. Perhaps there is a little more self-deprecating humour in García Márquez’s narrator, who, we learn, has been seeking to compile this chronicle. The focus of the night before the death had been the fabulous wedding celebrations of the groom, Bayardo San Román, to the beautiful Angela Vicario. The marriage lasted around five hours before Bayardo brought her back to her parents’ house and left the town.
The story tells of the reactions of a wide cast of characters both to the news of the intention to kill, widely disbelieved, and the news of the actual killing, and then the whole train of consequences. What is not foretold (nor will I reveal it) is the fascinatingly surprising dénouement which could be a whole new story on its own.
Read García Márquez for the near continuous perfection of his dramatic prose and, after this one, go on over time to his complete works.
I have only one complaint. I have noticed before that the American publisher Alfred A Knopf buys the copyright in the translations he commissions which is fine as far as it goes but in the edition I have just read the translator’s name is nowhere mentioned and that is unforgivable. Those in the know are aware it was one of two people: Gregory Rabassa or Edith Grossman (in this case Rabassa); and readers of his work in English ought to know and respect them.