Chronicle of a Death Foretold
by Gabriel García Márquez
In 1996 a shadowy group of kidnappers in
Colombia abducted the brother of the

nation’s President. Their terms for his release
included a demand that writer Gabriel García
Márquez take over as head of state. No, not
even Hemingway or
Faulkner got that kind
of fan support. Márquez’s
clout outside of normal
literary circles was
demonstrated in other
instances, for example
when he was brought in
as an intermediary
between government
and terrorist groups.
Or when his friend Fidel

Castro gave the author a mansion in Havana
not too far from the leader’s own. But such
bosom buddies bring with them risks: a
profile of Márquez from 1999 noted
that the author traveled around his home
country in a car equipped with bulletproof
glass and a bombproof chassis. When not
intervening in affairs of state, Márquez writes
novels, notably
One Hundred Years of Solitude
(1967) and
Love in the Time of Cholera (1985),
and played a decisive role in legitimizing
magical realism as a high literary style in the
modern day. He was awarded the Nobel

Prize in literature in 1982, and was only the
fourth Latin American author to be so

honored.  His memorable response—"Ahhh,
I think I'm gonna relax after all this now!"
—proved to be a happily botched prediction,
and Márquez stands out as one of the few
recipients in recent decades still publishing
new work more than two decades after
becoming a laureate.
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Essay by Ted Gioia

The holy grail of crime fiction is the perfectly
planned murder, a killing so smartly conceived
and efficiently executed that no trace of the
perpetrator can be found. Well, you won’t find
any of that in Gabriel García Márquez’s
of a Death Foretold
. In fact, Márquez's genius here
resides in achieving the exact opposite—namely, a
scrupulous description of the most poorly planned
murder in the annals of modern fiction.

Angela Vicario’s wedding night
turns into a disaster when her
husband, Bayardo San Román,
discovers that his bride is not
a virgin.  He returns her to her
family, and Vicario’s brothers,
the twins Pablo and Pedro, are
entrusted with responsibility
for restoring the family honor.  
This can only be achieved in
one way: killing the man who
violated their sister.   After a
thrashing from her mother and
an interrogation by her brothers,
Angela reveals his name: Santiago Nasar, a prominent and
wealthy townsman with no apparent connection to the girl.

Nasar may not even be the guilty party—no substantiating
evidence supports Angela’s contention. But her brothers
immediately set out to kill him. Along the way, the twins
bungle every detail of their planned assault. As gradually
becomes clear, they have no desire to shed the blood of
Nasar, yet the dictates of family pride and their fear of
disgrace force them to take action. They try to create a
commotion, force a situation in which some outside party
or authority will intervene, will forcibly restrain them
from committing murder. In time, everyone knows their
intentions—the mayor, the priest, friends, casual
acquaintances…except for Santiago Nasar, blissfully
ignorant of the death awaiting him for his imputed

Related Reviews
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Love in the Time of Cholera

Like any good mystery, this one has an investigator—
an unidentified narrator who, we learn in the final page,
may have the last name of (ah, you guessed it) Márquez.  
Our amateur detective painstakingly reconstructs the
events of that fateful day.  Years after the fact, he
continues to interview participants and bystanders,
and even tracks down the official report—or, at least,
322 pages of it, found in a flooded colonial building
that had once served as a stopping point for Sir Francis
Drake (a typical Márquez touch, that). His relentless
efforts result in an exact description of a crime so
immutably predestined that even the reluctance and
ineptness of all parties, most notably the killers
themselves, is insufficient to prevent its occurrence.

The book observes the Aristotelian unities of action,
place and time, with a central plot that unfolds during
the course of a few hours—quite a departure for an
author whose best-known novel transpire over a
hundred years of solitude. The result is Márquez's
most tightly controlled work of fiction, yet one that
still retains much of the whimsy and fancifulness that
are trademarks of this author. But the analogy with
classical tragedy may provide our most telling insights
into this work, in which a pre-ordained destiny plays out
its ineluctable hand, fate proving more resilient than
all other forces, most notably (that recurring theme of
Latin American fiction) human incompetence.   

The murder finally takes place in the final sentence of
the novel.  But this is no plot spoiler:  the death is
foretold in the opening sentence of Márquez’s story. From
start to finish, this account of a hapless crime is narrated
with a precision that is the antithesis of the killing itself.
The reader encounters an endless series of obstacles,
lapses and bad judgments, each of which should have
been sufficient to stop the murder from taking place: the
warning note slipped under the door, the weapons
confiscated by authorities, the drunkenness of the
perpetrators, their decision to wait in the wrong place
for the victim, the widespread advanced knowledge of
the plot, etc.

Can we believe all this? Márquez, to his credit, comes
up with a new twist on the Dickensian novel of
coincidence, which usually thwarts our sense of realism
by allowing things to happen that would never occur in
real life. In
Chronicle of a Death Foretold, the coincidences
conspire not in presenting implausible facts as actualities,
but in omitting all the circumstances that should have
happened, but stubbornly do not. This meditation on
unintended consequences and the failure of human
wishes may be the most distinctly modern element in
this sometimes old fashioned story, and the saving
grace that turns a series of implausible events into a
realism we all recognize.

Ted Gioia writes on music, literature and pop culture.
His latest book is
Love Songs: The Hidden History,
published by Oxford University Press.

Publication date of this essay: August 23, 2011.

Further Clues:

Interview with Gabriel García Márquez

Gabriel García Márquez's Nobel Prize Lecture
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