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Critical Essay #4

Critical Essay #4

In this brief excerpt, Burgess addresses the problems of reading a translation, and of expressing an opinion different from "a world consensus." In this second situation, "dare one (the reviewer, in this case] be wholly frank?"

I have two problems in assessing this brief work [Chronicle of a Death Foretold] by the latest Nobel Prizeman. The first relates to the fact that I've read it in translation, and any judgment on the quality of Garcia Marquez's writing that I would wish to make is necessarily limited. Mr. Rabassa's rendering is smooth and strong with an inevitable North American flavor, but it is English, and Garcia Marquez writes in a very pungent and individual Spanish. The second problem is the one that always comes up when a writer has received the final international accolade: dare one be wholly frank. Dare one set one's critical judgment up against what, though it is really only the verdict of a committee of literati in Stockholm, is accepted as a world consensus? I note, in [the publisher's] publicity handout, that we are to regard Garcia Marquez as "South America's pre-eminent writer"--a view I cannot give accord to so long as Jorge Luis Borges is alive I think, as is often the case with officially acclaimed writers of fiction, that the imputation of greatness has more to do with content--especially when it is social or political-- than with aesthetic values. One Hundred Years of Solitude, a book which impressed me rather less than it seems to have impressed others, has undoubted power, but its power is nothing compared with the genuinely literary explorations of men like Borges and Nabokov. Now here is a new brief novel that is decent, assured, strong, but indubitably minor. I am not seduced by Garcia Marquez's reputation ... into thinking it anything more.

The minimal distinction of the novella lies in the exactness with which its author has recorded the mores of a community in which machismo is the basic ethos. The bishop is coming on a river boat to give his blessing, and sacks of cockscombs await him to make his favorite soup The town swelters in morning heat and hangover. Sex is a weapon, not a gesture of tenderness. The atmosphere is visceral. Rabbits are being gutted by the beginning of the story; at the end the dying Santiago Nasar enters his house "soaked in blood and carrying the roots of his entrails in his hands." There is also an element of debased hidalgo refinement.

Before we get to the end, which is less an end than an initial theme to be embroidered with the views of citizens locked in a tradition that they see no reason to break, we are given a sufficient anthropological survey of a society that has never known the benefits of aspirant Protestant materialism and ambiguous matriarchy. It is the world of Martin Ferrol, the Argentine epic that glorified machismo and helped to keep South American literature out of the real world. The little novel is an honest record, cunningly contrived, but it seems to abet a complacent debasement of morality rather than to open up larger vistas. It is, in a word, claustrophobic. It does not induce a view, as better fiction does, of human possibilities striving to rise out of a morass of conservative stupidity. The heart never lifts. All that is left is a plain narrative style and an orthodox narrative technique managed with extreme competence. Perhaps one is wrong to expect more from a Nobel Prizeman.

Source: Anthony Burgess, "Macho in Minor Key," in New Republic, Vol. 188, No. 17, May 2,1983, p 36.

Critical Essay #5

Critical Essay #5

In the following passage, Rodman looks at Garcia Marquez's message in Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

In much of his work [Gabriel Garcia Marquez] has turned his hometown into a dream kingdom of shattered expectations built on nostalgia; Macondo is bereft of idealism, visions of a better world, calls to arms. These attitudes are seen as part of an old order that must be stripped away to get at the long-concealed truth....

Before [Chronicle of a Death Foretold] came The Autumn of the Patriarch, a monologue of a dying tyrant based on the life of Juan Vicente Gomez of Venezuela, whose crimes had been magnified into myth in the mouths of refugees to Aracataca during the novelist's childhood. The book's highly praised style was baroque and convoluted. Garcia Marquez implausibly defends his method by citing the supposed unreadability of Ulysses when it first came out, and claiming that "today children read it." Although an intellectual tour de force, Autumn lacks the endearing magic of the author at his best.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold, fortunately, brings Garcia Marquez back on track. The setting is Macondo again, with many of the old faces reappearing in minor roles, including the author himself, his family and his wife. The mood is somber and tragic, for this is an account of a horrifyingly brutal and senseless crime....

Part morality tale, part fairy tale, Chronicle of a Death Foretold unfolds like a Greek tragedy. We know everything essential to the plot from the opening page, and yet Garcia Marquez fills in the details with such masterful skill that we hang on breathlessly to the final paragraph, where the murder is described. As in all this writer's strongest work, the writing is lucid, factual, almost literary except for an occasional word or phrase in the vernacular ("rotgut," "eighty-proof hangover") to remind us that this is our world.

What is Garcia Marquez trying to say in his books? I can hear him answer, amiably or scornfully depending on his mood, that he isn't trying to say anything, that he writes because he must, that the words come out this way, virtually trancelike, dictated by his memory and edited by the sum of his parts. Which would be the truth.

Still, one searches for some connection between the public man and the artist. A typical Latin American liberal, the public man supports all Leftist causes, while shying away from justifying the Soviet Union's domestic atrocities and its more barefaced sandbagging of its weak neighbors. He hates Augusto Pinochet and reveres the memory of Salvador Allende, regardless of what Allende did in Chile during his reign. Garcia Marquez excuses Latin America's political infantilism on the grounds that democratic institutions did not have centuries to mature as in Europe--ignoring the United States, which broke away from colonialism at the same time....

As for the artist, Octavio Paz once tried to persuade me that Garcia Marquez has not changed the language the way Pablo Neruda, Cesar Vallejo and Jorge Luis Borges have. "They started a new tradition, he comes at the end of an old one--the rural, epic and magic tradition of Ricardo Guiraldes, Horacio Quiroga, Jose Eustacio Rivera." I disagreed, comparing the Colombian Rivera's horrendous penetration of Amazonia with his successor's recreations of the past. One emerges from Rivera's desperate journey in The Vortex with a sense of suffocating depression, from Garcia Marquez' strolls through Macondo with a reassuring conviction that a world so full of lusty adventurers, irrepressible louts and unconscious poets cannot be as bad as he says it is. The artist triumphs over the public man, over the sociologist.

In other words, whereas Rivera, the conscious artist, succeeded at what he set out to do--horrifying his readers--Garcia Marquez, the unconscious artist and the better one, creates a realm that gives delight. His characters have lives of their own and they refuse to be manipulated They may fulfill their tragic destiny, but they behave with so much spontaneity and good humor that we remember them as the better parts of ourselves and accept their world of irrational "happenings" as the real one.



Source: Selden Rodman, "Triumph of the Artist," in New Leader, Vol. LXVI, No 10, May 16, 1983, pp. 16-17

Critical Essay #6

Critical Essay #6

Mono discusses the problems he found with Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

[Chronicle of a Death Foretold ] is, at one level, a simile for the fiction-making process. Here we are given events that, in some genuine sense, exist--lie formed by history--before they occur And a townful of people--through their action, thought, custom, laziness, pride, willful negligence, through their unconscious art--create this plot-which-was-real. The irony is: that having created it, they cannot avert it. No second draft is possible: even in art, where free will would seem to be most free, a determinism, a manifest destiny, still presides....

A nameless narrator has come back. (Some 27 years, mind you, after Santiago Nasar was turned to human piecework.) Neither he nor the town can stop riding this hobbyhorse.

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

Now that formulation, with all respect to Garcia Marquez, is somewhat self-propelled. I don't believe it. No matter what the event, populations don't he awake for a quarter-century grave-robbing their moral reminiscence. The linear habit will reassert itself. Garcia Marquez's narrator--who previously has employed splendid sparse, aromatic, and elliptical prose--is indulging himself here. For one moment at least Garcia Marquez doesn't trust the event, its portentousness or imagic value.

Otherwise his attack is stark and, given Garcia Marquez's purpose, proper enough. Because the narrator is examining an essentially novelistic occurrence, he has been sequestered as a juror might be. He cannot comment,or probe: and this rather kiln-dries the novel. Angela, Bayardo, Santiago are left without development or chiaroscuro. They seem cryptic and surfacehard: film characters really And there must be no surprise--art here lies in the event itself. That, to start with, is Garcia Marquez's conceit. Angela, we don't know, might have taken her own virginity. Nor will we ever understand why rich Bayardo came to this unmarked burial of a town. Chronicle has become myth: as you don't ask for the psychohistory of Parsifal or Gawain, you must accept Angela, Bayardo, Santiago But beyond Garcia Marquez's glass-brick-hard style (redone brilliantly, as usual, by Greg Rabassa in English), beyond a Warren Report-meticulous detective reconstruction, it is hard to care much for these people. Emotion, you see, might skew our clarity. No character--even when he or she is presumed real--should elude an author's control.

The trial record will be introduced An investigating judge "never thought it legitimate that life should make use of so many coincidences forbidden literature, so that there should be the untrammeled fulfillment of a death so clearly foretold."

Garcia Marquez, I think, is over-indicating here. The events, though pretty sensational, aren't full of unbelievable coincidence. Life often has taken greater poetic license. What will distinguish this happening is the intensity of examination both by his townspeople and by his narrator. Intensity that seems somewhat forced. At one point the narrator, obsessive, will claim that he must put a "broken mirror of memory back together again from so many shards." But memory doesn't just reflect. In general, I wish Garcia Marquez hadn't surrendered so many of the devices and perquisites that belong to fiction: subjectivity, shifting POV, omniscience, judgment, plot surprise. Form is, of course, an artistic choice. Garcia Marquez has given his choice excellent service. But more might have been essayed. After all every death is, to some degree, foretold.

Source: D. Keith Mano, "A Death Foretold," in National Review, Vol. XXXV, No. 11, June 10, 1983, pp 699-700.



Critical Essay #7

Critical Essay #7

In the following essay, Rabassa looks at the structure of Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

When Gabriel Garcia Marquez announced that he was abandoning literature for journalism until the Pinochet dictatorship disappeared from Chile, people expected him to keep his word, and many were surprised when he published Cronica de una muerte anunciada (Chronicle of a Death Foretold). He was not really breaking his pledge, however, as can be seen from what he said in an interview with Rosa E. Pelaez and Cino Colina published in Granma (Havana) and reprinted in Excelsior of Mexico City (31 December 1977). In the interview he is asked what aspect of journalism he likes best, and his answer is reporting. He is subsequently asked about the cronica genre and answers that it is all a matter of definition, that he can see little difference between reporting and the writing of chronicles. He goes on to say that one of his ultimate aims is to combine journalism and fiction in such a way that when the news item becomes boring he will embellish it and improve upon it with inventions of his own. So when he wrote this latest book of his, a short, tight novella, by his lights he was not returning to fiction but carrying on journalism as usual, even though his uncramped definitions could well apply to everything that he had written previously and supposedly had put in abeyance.

The chronicle has long been the primitive method of recording events and people and passing them on into history. Most of what we know about medieval Europe has come from chronicles, and in Africa history has been kept through the oral chronicles of the griots. In Latin America, Brazil in particular, the "chronicle" is a recognized and broadly practiced form, offspring of the more ancient variety, that lies somewhere between journalism and "literature." In the United States certain newspaper columns of a more subjective and personal nature correspond to the Latin American chronicle, which almost inevitably makes its first appearance in the press before going into book form. Therefore Garcia Marquez is correct when he says that it is all a matter of definition in the question of whether or not he has abandoned literature and whether or not he has returned

This new book shows many aspects of life and literature and how one is essentially the same as the other; life imitates art. It starts off in good journalistic style with the "when" and the "what."

On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at 5:30 in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming on....

This use of the temporal to begin the narration reminds one immediately of One Hundred Years of Solitude, which begins in a similar if not identical vein and sets the stage for the necessary retrospect... . The difference is that One Hundred Years of Solitude begins in medias res, in good epic fashion, while this "chronicle" opens almost at the end of the action, not quite so far as the end of life as in The Autumn of the Patriarch, but close to it. This might well show the influence of journalism in the direction that Garcia Marquez's style has been taking through these last three longer works. The first is more legendary and historical as it develops toward its inevitable and fated climax, while the last two depend on journalistic investigation for their development.

Julio Cortazar has spoken about that nightmare for authors (and typesetters) in Spanish: casuali-dad/causalidad (chance/causality). There is no need to worry about such a slip in the interpretation of this story, as the two elements coincide quite neatly. It is known from the beginning of the tale that the Vicario twins are planning to kill Santiago Nasar for having deflowered their sister Angela, thus ruining her marriage to the strange but wealthy newcomer Bayardo San Roman, Many people in the town are aware of the Vicarios' intentions, but through a concatenation of quite normal, even banal, bits of happenstance, nothing is ultimately done to stop them. Indeed, one gathers that even they have little heart for the dirty job that honor is forcing them to do and are only waiting for the authorities or someone to prevent them from bringing it off, since they are prevented by the code from backing down themselves. The title is quite fitting, therefore, in that the death in question has been announced and is foretold Garcfa MaYquez has managed to keep the shock and horror of surprise, however, by seeing to it also that the one person who is blithely unaware of what has been ordained, almost until the moment of the act itself, is Santiago Nasar. In the end chance has become the cause of the inexorable deed: casualidad/causalidad.

The format used for the narration of the tale is quite journalistic The narrator, Garcia Marquez himself, perhaps genuine, perhaps embellished, as he mentioned in the interview cited above, is investigating the murder some twenty years later in order to ascertain how such a thing could have happened, how in the end no one was in a position to stop what nobody, including the perpetrators, wanted to happen. The matter of imperfect memory (there are great discrepancies as to the weather) helps lend uncertainty to a tale or event that had become certain because of uncertainty itself. The narrator also relies upon his own memory; he was home from school at the time of the killing and was a friend and contemporary of Santiago Nasar, having caroused with him the night before the murder. In addition, he interviews the participants and several observers, tracking some of them down to more remote places. The narration is a kind of complicated act of turning something inside-out and right-side-out again in that it resembles the application of fictive techniques to the narration of true events in the manner of Norman Mailer and Truman Capote, but here fiction is treated like fact treated like fiction. This swallowing of his own tale by the snake gives a very strong feeling of authenticity to the story....

Instead of giving us a linear narration of the episodes leading up to the final tragedy, Garcia Marquez divides the novella into chapters, each of which follows the trajectory from a slightly different angle and involves a different combination of characters. The fictive structure is therefore a web of crisscrossed story lines, and in the center (or on the bias) is the hole of solitude and impotence where the killing takes place, uncrossed by any of the lines that would have plugged it and prevented the tragedy. This reminds one of the suicide attempt by Colonel Aureliano Buendia in One Hundred Years of Solitude when, in emulation of the poet Jose" Asuncion Silva, he asks his doctor friend to make a dot on his shirt where his heart is. We later find that the wily physician, on to the colonel's intentions, has designated the one spot in the area of the heart where a bullet can pass without being fatal. As in so many other aspects of this book when compared to the others, and as Garcia Marquez does so many times with a technique that links all of his tales but at the same time differentiates among them, we have mirror images, reverse and obverse.

There is a richness of characters, as one would expect from this author. While he borrows some from his other books, as is his wont, he invents new ones that have great possibilities for expansion into tales of their own, the same as innocent Erendira and her heartless grandmother, conceived in One Hundred Years of Solitude and developed at length in their own novella. As it is, Garcia Marquez is adept at weaving different and seemingly unconnected stories together in order to make the webbing of his complete tale, and any of the tangents that he uses to devise the whole chronicle could be followed off into a separate narrative. There are also intriguing characters on the fringes that we hope to see more of. The wedding and the murder coincide with the bishop's passage up the river (there are always rivers in Garcia Marquez). This episcopal worthy was passing through early in the morning on the day after the abortive wedding and on the day of the killing. The atmosphere, rather than being tetric in advance of the slaughter (the brothers were butchers and killed him with their pig-sticking knives), is ludicrous, for it seems that the bishop's favorite dish is cockscomb soup, and the townspeople have gathered together hundreds of caged roosters as an offering to his grace. At dawn a cacophony ensues as the captive creatures begin to crow and are answered by all the cocks in town. As it so happened, and as predicted by Santiago Nasar's mother, the bishop did not even deign to stop, and his paddlewheeler passed by as he stood on the bridge and dispensed mechanical blessings to the sound of the congregated roosters. This was the comic atmosphere that would surround the death foretold.

What unites so much of Garcia Marquez's writing is the sense of inexorability, of fatefulness.

Things often come to an end that has been there all the while, in spite of what might have been done to avoid it, and often mysteriously and inexplicably, as with the death of Jose Arcadio, the son, in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Here the hand of doom is unavoidable, but the path is tortuous, as it would logically appear that there were ever so many chances to halt the assassination. There is a ouch of mystery too, however, in the fact that the narrator-investigator was never able to find out if Angela Vicario and Santiago Nasar had been lovers. All evidence and logic said that the dashing young rancher, already betrothed to the daughter of one of his Arab father's compatriots, could not possibly have been interested in a brown bird like Angela Vicario. She had her own mystery, however, because in the end, years later, she and Bayardo San Roman come back together again as strangely as they had been joined the first time. He appears one day at her new home in "exile" beyond Riohacha with a suitcase full of the letters she had been writing him--all unopened.

From the beginning we know that Santiago Nasar will be and has been killed, depending on the time of the narrative thread that we happen to be following, but Garcia Marquez does manage, in spite of the repeated retelling of the event by the murderers and others, to maintain the suspense at a high level by never describing the actual murder until the very end. Until then we have been following the chronicler as he puts the bits and pieces together ex post facto, but he has constructed things in such a way that we are still hoping for a reprieve even though we know better. It is a feeling that makes us understand why King Lear was altered in the nineteenth century in order to spare those sentimental audiences the ultimate agony of Cordelia's execution. Garcia Marquez has put the tale together in the down-to-earth manner of Euripides, but in the final pathos he comes close to the effects of Aeschylus.

The little slips of fate that seem so unimportant until they end in tragedy are the blocks that he builds with. Coincidence or lack of it is not so patently contrived as in Mario Vargas Llosa' s novel The Green House, where we have the same characters wearing different masks on different stages. Instead, the epiphanies mount up and reveal the characters and the circumstances (never completely; there is always something unknown) by a succession of banal delights and contretemps....



Chronicle of a Death Foretold might well be the book that Garcia Marquez was projecting in his Havana interview when he said that he wanted to write the false memoirs of his own life. He is not the protagonist of the story, but he is not only the author; he is the narrator. He even tells how he first proposed marriage to his wife and mentions her by name. In this way he is following the tradition of Cervantes, who mingled the real and the fictional to the degree that all levels came together in a time that only Proust could understand, and he is also very close to what Borges is up to in his story 'The Other Borges." When Gabriel Garcia Marquez said that he was abandoning literature for journalism, he probably did not realize the ambiguity of his statement, and since then, as he has done in his reportage, he has come to the conclusion that in technique at least--and possibly in many other ways as well--they are the same.

Source: Gregory Rabassa, "Garcia Marquez's New Book. Literatureof Journalism'," in World Literature Today, 1982, Vol., 1982, No. 1, Winter, pp. 48-51.


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