One of the foremost writers of El Boom Latinoamericano of the 1960’s, Gabriel García Márquez has steadily produced a series of works that have won for him both popular international acclaim and the official recognition that attaches to the Nobel Prize for Literature (1982). While his reputation rests securely upon such epic works as Cien años de soledad (1967; One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1970), and El otoño del patriarca (1975; The Autumn of the Patriarch, 1976), and such short fiction as Lo hojarasca (1955; Leaf Storm and Other Stories, 1972) and El coronel no tiene quien la escriba (1962; No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories, 1968); his Chronicle of a Death Foretold (published in Colombia in 1981 as Crónica de una muerte anunciada) clearly contributed to his official recognition as a master storyteller and continues to bring him popular acclaim despite its mixed critical reception. Measured against his longer and more ambitious works, García Márquez’s latest novel falls short of the virtuosity of One Hundred Years of Solitude and The Autumn of the Patriarch, but it is nevertheless a richly complex work, a monument to García Márquez’s artistry.
A virtually undisguised García Márquez shuttles back and forth between August, 1950, and his present moment of writing to narrate a series of events based on historical fact, his own research into the facts of the case and their fictionalized outcome, and his quest that leads him, at various historical points, to return to his “forgotten village, trying to put the broken mirror of memory back together from so many scattered shards.” One must approach these authorial and narrational shuttlings warily, particularly in those instances in which fact and fiction intersect: The narrator remains a fictional character of limited perspective and at times appears to be the victim of some authorial irony. One must also tread warily in the footsteps of the narrator, who leads the reader, familiarly and openly, to a place abutting that celebrated region of a mind’s geography García Márquez calls the Macondo, the Caribbean coastal area of northern Colombia that has its North American counterpart in the famous Yoknapatawpha county of his avowed master, William Faulkner. The mind’s geography also intersects that of cartographers: The unnamed village may not be unlike the author’s native Aracataca; both Riohacha, where the Vicario brothers serve out their brief sentence, and Manaure, where the rest of the Vicarios live after Santiago Nasar’s death, are surely on the map. These places also belong to a magical region filled with the incongruities, oddities, small insanities, and omnipresent hostilities that characterize its genuinely human, sometimes warm, and truly unforgettable populace. So, too, the facts upon which García Márquez weaves his fiction are verifiable: In 1951, two brothers murdered a man in Sucre, Colombia, for being the supposed lover of their sister, another man’s bride. García Márquez, then a journalist, was acquainted with the victim. The fictional treatment of these bare facts is pure García Márquez and partakes of what has been termed his “magical realism”, 6 a technique that superadds fantasy to the shards of history in surprising ways.
The chronicle García Márquez presents is a tale of slaughter that affects the village’s entire population. Twin brothers, Pablo and Pedro Vicario, avenge the honor of their sister, Angela, a bride of five hours, returned home by her groom, Bayardo San Román, upon his discovery that she was not a virgin. Santiago Nasar, the man whom Angela names when asked who deflowered her, is an unlikely suspect; indeed, no one really believes that he is responsible. It is Nasar’s death that is foretold in the novel’s first sentence, variously heralded before the fact, and explicated, discussed, and rationalized once it has occurred. The chronicle is itself, however, incomplete, despite the fact that García Márquez has said it was thirty years in the making: The one shard of memory not found and replaced is the secret Angela Vicario never reveals—the name of her actual lover.
As author and narrator, García Márquez uses the improbabilities of life and the techniques of fiction to comment upon the nature of reality in a work that treats life in the spirit of art and art in the spirit of life. Early in the chronicle, the narrator refers to the door before which Nasar was murdered as having been “cited several times with a dime-novel title: ’The Fatal Door.’” Later, twenty-three years after the tragedy, the narrator, unlike his creator, finds himself in an uncertain period of his life selling encyclopedias and medical books...
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