Chronicle of a Death Foretold and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

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  • Chronicle of a Death Foretold and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

When I read One Hundred Years of Solitude (by Gabriel García Márquez, published 1967) half a decade ago, I didn’t understand it, but I loved every bit of it. As I struggled for months through the saga (part of which I read in the original Spanish, part in translation by Gregory Rabassa), I found myself absorbed in  a magical world as a family’s sweeping story unfolded on a complicated and satisfying stage. It was a rewarding immersion, and I’ve looked forward to my next García Márquez novel.

However, the short novella Chronicle of a Death Foretold (published 1981, and read in translation from Spanish by Gregory Rabassa) did nothing for me. I was incredibly disappointed. At less than 120 pages, I didn’t feel swept up in anything, and I was disappointed that it didn’t have any magical realism, which is part of why I loved the other novel so much.

That said, I liked the language, which was reminiscent of One Hundred Years, and I still consider García Márquez highly deserving of the Nobel Prize in Literature (awarded in 1982) for his talent with words. Besides, reading the novella prompted me to reread One Hundred Years, and while I still failed to understand that epic saga, it was still a very satisfying read.

Beyond my disappointments, the plot of Chronicle was also not engaging for me. Twenty-seven years previously, a man was killed. The entire community knew ahead of time that the murder was going to happen, and no one stopped it. The unnamed narrator from the village reports on the facts of what happened and supposes the reasons behind everyone’s actions. But in the end, the murder remains unjustifiable to the reader; the entire community seems at fault.

From my perspective, the tragedy’s reasons were disgusting, and I do think this was part of the point. We learn early on that the bride, Angela Vicario, has been returned to her family just hours after the wedding because she is found to not be a virgin; Santiago Nasar is labeled as her previous lover and the Vicario twins go out to seek revenge on Angela’s honor. Santiago Nasar’s supposed “dishonoring” of Angela Vicario is the reason the entire village remains silent on the murder that they know will happen. Despite the fact that the village seems to accept the murder, I think that in his novella García Márquez is criticizing the traditions of such a community. This novella illustrates the tragedy of tradition.

Because I was disappointed, I decided to revisit my first García Márquez novel: One Hundred Years of Solitude (again read in the Gregory Rabassa translation). As was mentioned on Twitter, one can read it one hundred times, get a different insight each time, and yet still not understand it. This reread was no exception.

On this reread, I was impressed with all the references to time, to memory, and to solitude. Everyone was ultimately alone with their memories. There is truth in the basic witticisms García Márquez writes:

Time was not passing, as she had just admitted, but … it was turning in a circle. (page 335)

Time also stumbled and had accidents and could therefore splinter and leave an eternalized fragment in a room. (page 348)

One Hundred Years is full of “eternalized fragments” haunting rooms, memories, and even items. This is a novel that I don’t believe can be “spoiled” because, as Úrsula comments, everything comes full circle and everything makes sense to the main characters by the end. I’d forgotten the end of the novel, but when I got there it pulled everything that had happened in the previous 400 pages into a cohesive purpose.

Everything written on [the parchments] was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth. (page 416-417).

It’s so satisfying to get to that last line, and even though I can’t explain what it means, it does make inexplicable sense in the context of the unfolding saga.

I would describe magical realism (García Márquez style, at least) as “exaggerated.” Using folkloric stories as a base, he multiplies the facts a few times to create an impossible story, such as purchasing 72 chamber pots in order to keep the 70+ visitors from lining up at the bathroom door, or Úrsula herself living to be 150 or 160, or the millions of ants that reappear every morning, despite the thorough cleaning of the previous day. (Come to think of it, that is one I can relate to!) By exaggerating, García Márquez in turn captures the wonder that is the world, from the simple majesty of ice to the miracles of the heavens. My favorite character was the first José Arcadio Buendía, because he would spend weeks in his work room and then come forth with the solemn declaration, “The earth is round, like an orange,” (page 4), only to be mocked as crazy by his village. He was just so perfectly described and so creative.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, there is a lot of sex in One Hundred Years, even incestuous (Úrusula’s main worry is that some of the offspring will have a pig’s tale because of incestuous relations). But all of this, too, is an exaggeration of the circle of life. (And are not we all, essentially, “brothers” and “sisters” if you go back far enough?). The sensuality of One Hundred Years adds to the “magic” that is life for these characters, who grow from infancy to death. It’s ironic that even with so many sexual relationships in the novel, everyone is ultimately alone. This is a novel about solitude with memories, and the ways that time tricks us: everything and everyone seem to come full circle in the end.

As I mentioned, I didn’t like the novella Chronicle of a Death Foretold. But there is value in reading García Márquez, and I’m glad I gave him another try. I think in the future, however, I’ll keep returning to One Hundred Years when I want to be caught up in a complicated and rewarding saga. I’m afraid the other novels won’t quite stack up to my first experience with García Márquez.

Have you read other Gabriel García Márquez novels? What other magical realism sagas can you recommend to me?

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  1. I’ve only read Love in the Time of Cholera which I did not like at all… but everyone else seems to love it, so don’t listen to me 🙂 I have 100 Years on my tbr so will try it at some point.

  2. I haven’t read 100 Years of Solitude (it was my book group’s selection last month, and I am embarassed to say I only read 28 pages. However, the discussion was very intriguing and I hope to get to it someday).

    I did read Love in the Time of Cholera many years ago and loved it. I don’t really remember any magical realism though. I know some of Isabel Allende’s books like House of the Spirits include magical realism. I do highly recommend Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (also a great movie adaptation). Alice Hoffman’s books are considered magical realism, though I haven’t read her either.

    1. Karenlibrarian, We’ve considered 100 YEARS for our book group! I have to lead the discussions, though, and I”d have no idea where to begin! I’m glad it was a good discussion for you. I read LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE last year and liked it. And I have read some Allende, but none of it was magical realism. If there is no magical realism in LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA, I may have to avoid it, since it’s the magical realism that made me love GGM in this book!

      1. I looked up Magical Realism on Wikipedia and it included a lot of books I wouldn’t have expected (Love in the Time of Cholera was one of them). It may have been magical realism and I just didn’t realize it. It was a long time ago!

  3. You’ll probably remember I tried to read Love in the Time of Cholera back in the spring and decided to give up halfway through. I really just didn’t like his writing (or at least the translation of his writing – hard to say which). I really had high hopes going into 100 Years of Solitude for my book club (same as mentioned by Karen above). By the time I got 30 pages in, however, I was so irritated by the same writing things that irritated me in Cholera that I gave it up. I let Jason take my place in the group. He hasn’t finished the book (though he’s like 2/3rds through?) and he says it’s interesting, and hard to judge. I sort of wish i could read it in the original Spanish, though after two translations having the same irritations, perhaps it’s more the writing than the translation that bothered me. Ah well.

    1. Amanda, yeah, I don’t think it’s the translator. It’s probably just GGM’s style. It’s very different and may take some getting used to! Definitely a words book, not a plot or characters book.

    2. I’m reading it in Spanish this semester for a class… so I’ll you know how that goes! I didn’t like Love in the Time of Cholera either. Very meh.

  4. One Hundred Years is one of my very favorite books! I love it for all the reasons you mention – it’s so rich and vibrant, it’s a book you can spend your whole life reading and never tire of it. I have only read one other Marquez, and that was Love in the Time of Cholera – I thought it was also quite wonderful, especially the language, though it didn’t have as strong a magical realist vibe to me.

    I did read Isabel Allende’s House of the Spirits earlier this year, and that might be one you’d be interested in trying out as it does magical realism very well. It’s very brutal, however, so I’m not expecting you to love it, but I would say it’s a really interesting read on Chilean history.

    1. Steph, I do need to keep rereading it. So magical. I’ll have to revisit Allende but not quite in the mood for another brutal book right now (I’m getting lots of brutal with the Africa books I’m reading this month!)

  5. I’ve only read ‘A Chronicle of a Death Foretold’ only because I’d watched the film starring Rupert Everett on whom I had a crush. I didn’t even realised until a few years ago that it was by García Márquez and have been meaning to re-read it as I preferred the film version then. I’ve been meaning to read either ‘A Hundred Years of Solitude’ or ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ but haven’t gotten around to it yet. I heard one was easier to read than the other, but can’t remember which;P

    1. sakura, interesting that Rupert Everett is in the movie. It seems like such a Spanish setting. Anyway, I suspect 100 YEARS is NOT the easier to read one. It’s very wandering and definitely not a plot of character book!

      1. House of the Spirits is supposed to be in Chile and it stars Meryl Streep, Jeremy Irons and Winona Ryder! I guess it’s not the only Latino fiction adaptation without Latino stars.

  6. I’ve read other negative reviews of Chronicle of a Death Foretold, but I suspect it might actually be a better fit for me than Hundred Years of Solitude, about which I was just lukewarm. I’m not a fan of magical realism, particularly when it’s so pronounced as in that novel (e.g., not explicable psychologically). Also felt underwhelmed by the characterization; it’s sort of fairy-tale-esque, in that the book is more about situations than character, and that’s not my favorite story-telling mode. But in any case, I know it’s a favorite of very many people, and it’s so interesting to read their impassioned thoughts about it! The subjectivity of reading, & hearing everyone’s different opinions really is one of the most rewarding parts. 🙂

    1. Emily, oh, see I love the not explained psychologically! So yes, this fairy tale book was wonderful for me. I do hope you enjoy the Chronicle of a Death Foretold. I wouldn’t say that is about character either, but maybe it’s closer to your type of book.

  7. I’ve not yet read anything by Garcia Marquez. I believe I have either Love in the Time of Cholera or One Hundred Years of Solitude on my shelf. I’m a bit intimidated by him; so many people either adore his books or gave up part way through them!

    1. Erin, well, people are obviously divided! I hope you end up in the “I love it” camp! but no pressure of course, either way works as long as you give it a try!

  8. I loved 100 Years when I read it back in July. It was so beautifully written! I have Cholera on my shelf and I am going to make it a point to get to it eventually.

  9. I read One Hundred Years of Solitude a couple of months ago and loved it very much. The theme of solitude for all the characters struck me since first page. ‘Exaggerated’ was also the word I used to describe the events and characters. I haven’t read Chronicle of a Death Foretold and heard mixed reviews, but I think I’ll read it eventually anyway. I intend to read most, if not all of his books now! (Read Memories of my Melancholy Whore years ago but it didn’t do much for me. Love in the Time of Cholera will be my next.)

    1. mee, I read the summery for some of these books and think, no probably wont’ like that one, so I probably won’t read much more Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But I will revisit 100 Years again! I do like it.

  10. Oh, I loved Chronicle of a Death Foretold! I have also been meaning to re-read One Hundred Years of Solitude. I didn’t love Love in the Time of Cholera but it has its moments; I recommend Garcia Marquez’s (long) short story “The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and her Heartless Grandmother”, which is simply one of the best stories I have ever read and has many magical realist elements.

    I also second the suggestion of Like Water for Chocolate.

    1. Claire (Paperback Reader), I’ll have to find the short story! And I did like LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE. I wonder why I didn’t like CHRONICLE? I guess I just wanted something more, including the magical realism.

  11. I have only read Death in the Time of Cholera, and I didn’t care for it. I would like to read some of his other works though.

    If you want to join the November Novella Challenge, you are welcome to use Chronicle of a Death Foretold for it! Join at novembernovellachallenge.blogspot.com

  12. I read Chronicle of a Death Foretold before I read One Hundred Years of Solitude, so perhaps my opinion is colored by that a little bit, but I thought Chronicle of a Death Foretold was very good. It’s certainly not his masterpiece, but it’s deceptively simple. Though I’m fuzzy on all the details right now, because I read this one 6 or so years ago, there is magical realism in this one, it’s just not as apparent. It has to do with time – the time in this novel is not normal. I remember we had to calculate the amount of time it took for the book to happen, and only one person got the answer right. I definitely have to reread this one!

    1. Lu, “Deceptively simple” is I think a good phrase! I think I was disappointed because I read it so quickly, since it’s so short. I wonder if I reread it I’d find more. I don’t remember the magical realism, interesting that it’s about the time. How interesting.

  13. Actually, Chronicle of a Death Foretold DOES indeed have a lot of Magic Realism. It’s just not as lucid as in One Hundred Years of Solitude.

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