Friday, June 26, 2015

Chronicle of a Death Foretold - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The first sentence in the novel announces the impending death sentence on Santiago Nasar, a young, rich, handsome, flamboyant Turk living in a small town. It goes - 'On the day they were going to kill him..'. The night before his death Santiago is part of a wedding revelry - the fairy tale wedding between Angela Vicario, a pretty girl of humble beginnings, and Bayardo Roman of a high descent from another town. Santiago, in drunken revelry, had been calculating wedding expenses, takes a break from drinking to come home, before heading out to the wedding revelry again.

Meanwhile the groom returns the bride - she is not a virgin. Upon enquiries by her pig-slaughtering twin brothers Pablo and Pedro, she reveals the unlikely name of Santiago as the culprit. The simple twins decide to kill Santiago and announce to all and sundry that they intend to kill him near the village square with their pig knives for the dishonor he has brought upon the family. The brothers are almost waiting to be stopped by someone before they commit the crime but no one does, for various reasons. And so the entire village waits for the inevitable, hoping nothing would happen, until Santiago walks down the street and the brothers carve him up, gutting his entrails in a horrid murder, Santiago looks surprised, hinting that he was not the culprit.

The story is told by a narrator twenty seven years after the deed is done. He has met many people and reconstructs the event through their eyes and prejudices. The twins get out after three months and one of them gets married to a girl who finds him attractive after the infamous deed. Angela becomes old but she pursues Bayardo through some two thousand letters and he, returns after a few decades to her with a simple 'I am back' or something like that with all letters unopened. Some feel that Santiago probably deserved it and some feel he did not. Most feel that they did not think that the twins could really do it because Santiago was rich and they were not. But all of them knew that the murder would take place including the mayor who takes away the twins knives before they get another set.

It's completely incomprehensible to me how someone can write such a tale in 122 riveting pages, having revealed the death, the killers, the reasons early in the book. Marquez keeps you hooked to the details you want to know - is he guilty really (you never know), what happens at the murder actually (revealed only in the end), how the main characters are as people, is fantastic. It drives you page by page, full of interesting characters, observations, scenes, mystery. Its story telling at its best.

The story was apparently based on a real life incident in Marquez's life and happened to a family he knew. There are some changes to the real story but the rest of it is true. Marquez wrote about it almost thirty years later. One can however imagine the scenes as they unfold with great clarity.

But what's even more wonderful to me is the way great writers seep under your skin comfortably and make you start writing and thinking like them. For example Marquez says in his inimitable style - 'Nevertheless, she had so many postponed rages the morning of the crime that she went on feeding the dogs the insides of other rabbits, just to embitter Santiago Nasar's breakfast'. It pretty much paints the picture of the Nasar's attractive, middle aged cook Victoria Guzman and of human nature. Like all classic works it will occupy a space no other creative work has before. And just because of that, no other book or story will occupy that position because it is the first in that space.  

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