It was a clear, cold morning in an unnamed village in Colombia. Excited to see the bishop, who visited their town very rarely, the villagers were stunned when they learned, a few hours later, that the well-loved and respected Vicario twins had murdered a fellow villager, Santiago Nasar, in an attempt to restore her sister’s honor. The greatest irony of the situation, however, is that although the brothers tell anyone who will listen about their plans to murder Santiago, in the hopes that they will be stopped, the villagers either ignore the announcement, assume someone else has taken care of it, or, in some cases, actually encourage the twins to follow through.
This is the premise of Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s enduring literary work: Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Surprisingly, the actual novel is not a chronicle in any sense of the word; the narrator is shockingly unreliable and tells the sequence of events completely out of order. As for “death foretold,” where one might expect that to refer to the fact that the Vicario twins made their intentions perfectly clear to all, thus announcing the death, the truth is that the entire novel is steeped in dramatic irony, since the reader knows from the outset that Santiago Nasar is fated to die – it has been “foretold” by the narrator.
Aside from the murder itself, one of the more significant aspects of the novel is its representation of Colombian culture and society. Although traditional authorities are present, such as the bishop and the police, it quickly becomes clear that the ultimate authority in the town is the social construct of honor. The Vicario twins, who are established as good people, are pushed to commit a heinous crime because of honor, and people encourage them to do it because of the same. Even if the authorities previously mentioned attempt to stop them, the need to retain honor prevails.
Ultimately, Chronicle of a Death Foretold is intriguing because it completely subverts the reader’s initial expectations for it while also shining a light on the influence of society on a murder. A departure from traditional “murder mysteries,” this novel manages to retain the aspects of a mystery while also being open about its true meaning, making it a fascinating read.
– Mahak M.
Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.