By Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
122 pages
London: Cox and Wyman, Ltd., 1983
ISBN: 0-330-28095-3

Comments by Bob Corbett
October 2001

Most books I read, fiction and non-fiction alike, I read for the content, not the form. I love good writing and style, but tend to concentrate on ideas, philosophy and meanings. This novel elecits a very different mode of encounter. I was captivated by the form and came to care little for the content, amazed and excited at how Gabriel Garcia Marquez would unfold the next element of the story.

Actually there is little to the story. Bayardo San Roman, rich, mysterious, a stranger to the town arranges a marriage with Angela Vicario. On their wedding night Bayardo returns his new wife to her family because she was not a virgin. Her parents beat a name of the offender out of her and she names Santiago Nasar, a rich, handsome man about town. Her two brothers then kill him early then morning after the wedding. No surprises, a quite straight forward familiar tale.

It's all in the telling. An unnamed narrator investigates the murder 27 years after the fact. He, himself was there at the time but was among the few town people who didn't see the actual killing itself. There was no doubt of the killers, virtually everyone in town knew it was coming (thus the title of a death foretold) and dozens actually witnessed the multiple stabbing. However, no one made a serious move to stop the murderers, even before the fact when their intent was well-known.

Marquez's narrator slowly unpacks the story and in the end only one question remains unanswered -- was Santiago Nasar really the person who took Angela's virginity? We never really find out, but the narrator himself is quite suspicious of her charges. Even her reaffirmation those 27 years later lacks conviction.

Not only is Marquez's unraveling of the story phenomenally well done, bringing a great suspense and surprise to a story we already know, and there is a subtle macabre satire on the customs and mores of the village. Almost everyone knew of the pending murder, but the narrator presents, straight faced without blush, the silly excuses they give for not interfering. There are no principled stands that Santiago deserves his fate, nor any class claim rejoicing in the upper class man getting his. Rather, they plead that they never really thought they'd kill him, or didn't know what to do and such simple excuses, all of which are clearly unbelievable. In the meantime the Vicario brothers are presented as doing all in their power to get stopped -- making their waiting and plotting as public as it can get.

This is simply a marvelous book, magnificently written, short and quick to read and not to be missed by anyone wishing to experience a master writer at work.

Bob Corbett

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Bob Corbett