Completed: Chronicle of a Death Foretold (Spanish Lit Month)

Cover: Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia MarquezChronicle of a Death Foretold
Gabriel García Márquez
(1981, Colombia)
Translated from Spanish by Gregory Rabassa

She had watched him from the same hammock and in the same position in which I found her prostrated by the last lights of old age when I returned to this forgotten village, trying to put the broken mirror of memory back together from so many scattered shards. (6)

I confess that I’ve been avoiding writing this post for some time now, at first simply because I couldn’t bear to write anything after a tragic event just outside the office where I work, and later because this very book brings back to mind that tragedy. Not, fortunately, a premeditated murder, but a hit-skip accident, killing a man getting in (or out of?) his–legally–parked car. In the novella, an unnamed narrator is looking back on events of twenty-seven years previous, trying to understand how his friend came to be killed on that day so many years ago while so many bystanders seemingly knew it was coming yet did nothing to stop it. So too, my coworkers and I gleaned every piece of information we could–and in a small town everyone seems to know someone who knows something–as we tried to understand this tragedy, knowing that it could have been any one of us.

At the distance I am now from my initial reading, and as I am now understanding Chronicle of a Death Foretold in a way I didn’t before the accident, I can’t be certain I am remembering it entirely correctly, but if I am, there seem to be two recurrent threads underpinning the novella: piecing a story together bit by bit and the elusivity of accurate memory. The second thread is the one I noticed as I read: the recurrence over and over again of conflicting memories: it was nice that day, no it was raining; they had met this way, no they had not. The suggestion is not just that our memories are malleable or fickle, but that we may not recognize the significance of any given event until well after the fact, at a great enough distance that we can’t trust that we are recalling the correct event, or that the enormity of the event may overwhelm our capacity for memory.

I had a very confused memory of the festival before I decided to rescue it piece by piece from the memory of others. (23)

In the days after the accident, with little released from official news sources, limited by a slow-developing police investigation, we too were left to piece the story together. Everyone seemed to know a different piece, to have heard something from a different source. It was then that I began to see in Chronicle what Márquez, who started his career as a journalist, would have known well–that a story does not come from just one person, one vantage. There are many viewpoints that make it up, and each is important in relation to understanding the whole. And yet, is any tragedy ever understandable?

For years we couldn’t talk about anything else. Our daily conduct, dominated then by so many linear habits, had suddenly begun to spin around a single common anxiety. The cocks of dawn would catch us trying to give order to the chain of many chance events that had made absurdity possible, and it was obvious that we weren’t doing it from an urge to clear up mysteries but because none of us could go on living without an exact knowledge of the place and the mission assigned to us by fate. (96)

I read this for Spanish Lit Month hosted by Stu of Winstons dad’s blog and Richard of Caravana de recuerdos. Thankfully, they’ve extended the month a bit into August!