When I mention the name Gabriel García Márquez in St Andrews, I either get a confused facial expression as a response, or a raving review of his most acclaimed novel, Cien Años de Soledad. Being a huge fan of the text myself, it is wonderful to be able to discuss Latin American literature to any capacity with my university peers, seeing as it is so heavily underrated and unspoken about within the UK in general. Within Latin America, however, Márquez is a demigod of sorts. He, along names like Jorge Luis Borges and Isabel Allende, has gained immortalised status within our literary canon. Having grown up in an environment that sang his praises constantly, I have spent the past few years exploring his work and eventually understanding why this is the case. Like any annoying lover of literature with the personality of a middle-aged woman in a book club, my instinct is to recommend the authors I love most whenever I am given the opportunity to do so. So as I explored his oeuvre from El Amor en los Tiempos del Cólera to Relato de un Náufrago to Memoria de Mis Putas Tristes, and further, I realise that the text I should suggest for people to fall in love with Márquez is not Cien Años but rather his novella Crónica de Una Muerte Anunciada, or in its translated English, Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Here’s my elevator pitch as to why.
Firstly, Crónica is a very short text, with my edition of the text having around 96 pages in total. Knowing the attention span of my generation (not excluding myself, having knowingly abandoned Infinite Jest embarrassingly early on), the idea of having a text to read through in maybe one or two sittings is very appealing. It is engulfing, fascinating, and perhaps one of the lightest texts to read through the first time that captures the uniquely Latin American magic about it that is so deeply irresistible to the common reader.
Secondly, to appeal to the crew obsessed with true crime, the novella is styled like a strange sort of murder mystery (if I am not to give away too much). In it, the death of Santiago Nasar is the most central event (the spoiler’s in the title), and a series of twists and turns keep you as a reader constantly engaged in its non-chronological storytelling order. The mystery of the novella, however, lies not in your basic whodunit tale where we search for the perpetrator of the murder (this is made abundantly clear throughout), but in the question of why. The men who murder Santiago Nasar for having allegedly “defiled” their sister before her wedding night tell everyone in the town they are going to murder him, and as we go from character to character receiving their testimonies with decades of retrospective provided, we realize that absolutely no one did anything to stop it. One could say that García Márquez is the only one who has an answer to these mysteries in what is unwritten, with unreliable testimonies littering the story abundantly – making it all the more fundamentally captivating to read.
Thirdly, for lack of a better cliché to use, the beauty really does exist in the details. While Crónica does not drag on for ages, it is a deeply complex text to contemplate altogether. It is the kind of book you can read over and over again in order to find new undiscovered elements every time that you do. The story is told in an unconventional format and is full of prophetic, biblical symbology throughout. Santiago Nasar’s character can be read as guilty of nothing other than his own Otherness, of Middle Eastern descent and the victim of an intolerant society that sees him as an Orientalist fantasy alone. He can also be read as a Christ figure, a lamb to the slaughter whose sole purpose in life was the grand gesture of his death. Was he a horrible person who deserved what he had coming at him? The details of this mysterious why question tell everything in different ways – it really all depends on how you read the novella.
Lastly is the fact that Crónica is told as though from a journalistic perspective, something fascinating and refreshing that highlights Márquez’s background as a youthful journalist. He does the thing every skillful reporter does by turning you, the reader, into a witness, which makes the telling of the story all the more fascinating and interactive. Not only is he giving you the opportunity to fill in the blank spaces yourself, Márquez is granting you a space from which your observational skills are put to the test.
Gabriel García Marquez’s work is challenging no doubt, but at the same time, difficult to lose interest in. This is something that seems contradictory when the concept of “challenging literature” for English speakers is often associated with the nonsensical rambling of James Joyce’s Ulysses. He wraps you up in a frenzy with his language and his story, but above all in his storytelling techniques, and no other work of Márquez’s does so more succinctly and concisely. It is precisely for this reason Crónica is the perfect setup for the magical universe of Colombia he constructed outside of Macondo.