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 out-
side of normal literary
circles was demonstrated
in other instances, for
example when he was
brought in as an inter-
mediary between govern-
ment 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
New Yorker
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
still publishing new work more than
two decades after becoming a laureate.
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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 Chronicle
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's latest book is Love Songs: The Hidden

This essay was published on August 23, 2011.

Further Clues:

Interview with Gabriel García Márquez

Gabriel García Márquez's Nobel Prize Lecture
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