At the beginning of 2020 I read two of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novels, namely Chronicle of a Death Foretold and Of Love and Other Demons, and it is these novels that I am going to talk about (read: gush over).
The plot of Chronicle of a Death Foretold revolves around the attempt of the narrator to (surprise, surprise) chronicle an event that took place in his community several years ago. The novel is filled with the memories and narratives provided by the members of the apparently closely knit community as they recount the murder of Santiago Nasser by Pablo and Pedro Vicario. The reason for the murder is quite simple, on the wedding night of Angela Vicario and Bayardo San Roman it is revealed that Angela is not a virgin (Horror! Horror!) and she names Santiago as the man responsible for taking away her virginity. As a result Bayardo “returns” Angela to her parent’s home and naturally her brothers Pablo and Pedro take the extremely rational and not at all illogical step of protecting the family’s code of honour by setting out to kill Santiago (what a wonderful world Patriarchy creates). The novel recounts the events prior to, during, and after the murder through the accounts of the locals filtered through the voice of the narrator.
My favourite thing about the novel is the way in which it is composed. It brings together different genres, manipulating each of them without fully conforming to any. The form of storytelling that Marquez adopts provides a social commentary, declares the entire community as directly or indirectly complicit in the murder, and questions the notion of a societal “code of honour”, without outrightly accusing anyone. Even the killers Pablo and Pedro are shown as helpless in the face of what is expected of them by a society that values virginity (read: patriarchal control over female sexuality) and specific forms of (toxic) masculinity.
Of Love and Other Demons is a similarly brilliant novel. It revolves around the twelve year old Sierva Maria. The daughter of a Marquis, for most of her childhood her existence is more or less ignored by her parents and is raised by the slaves instead. As a result, she is fluent in multiple African languages and customs, and feels more comfortable around the slaves than the community she was born in. When she is bitten by a rabid dog, she is subject to multiple healing methods (most of them highly questionable) due to her fathers new found love for her, even though she shows no signs of rabies. Later, on advice from the church, her father sends her to the convent of Santa Clara to receive an exorcism (a shining example of the wonderful influence institutionalised religion and it’s appointed figureheads). What follows is yet more unjust treatment of Sierva Maria by people who claim to hold authority over her life, her isolation and alienation from a society that claims to know what’s best for her while actively doing her harm in the process, and of course the pedophilic plot line where the priest appointed as the exorcist, Father Cayetano, a man in his thirties, falls in love with Sierva Maria. Unsurprisingly, the novel ends with the death of this innocent twelve year old.
Once again, Marquez provides a social critique through his novel. He questions the society that in its superstitious beliefs was responsible for the death of a child. Throughout the novel he also questions different kinds of loves, from parental to romantic. The racial politics adds yet another dimension to the novel and is portrayed most clearly through the alienation of Sierva Maria from the people who are supposedly a member of her community and it’s contrast with the comfort she enjoys with the slaves who raised her and treat her with love instead of trying to control her.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez provides an insight into cultures and customs through his themes and form of writing and is without a doubt one of the most important writers associated with Latin American Literature. His novels are an easy read that at times make you laugh, at other times make you uncomfortable, but most significantly, they make you think and they make you question.