Translated from the Spanish by Gregory Rabassa.
First published 1981; translated first published 1982
Here is Marquez, the master storyteller, with the best implements of his trade. Say, it’s a story set in early 20th century Columbine town about the impossible and inexplicable murder of a man who is accused of soiling the honour of his best friend’s sister; In effect, it’s a story of an honour killing.
Like other stories of such kind this is not a self-conscious, grandiose, cheesy attempt at rousing public disgust over such crimes, or to label a whole cultural system as backward and barbaric which stories of this nature have a habit of doing.
It stands entirely on its own merit for the wonderful way in which Marquez unfolds the events to narrate the story of the murder – in a journalistic style, linking disparate incidents together to make an intelligible whole – while setting the story within the moral archetype of the time and society in which the event takes place. This objectivity sits at the heart of good writing and that’s what sets Marquez apart from a bevy of other writers expending words on the similar theme.
There’s ambiguity with respect to the victim’s role: Was Santiago Nasar, our protagonist, guilty of soiling his friend’s sister’s honour or not? The story ends and despite many contradictory clues, the reader fails to arrive at a solid conclusion as to the culpability of the murdered. It may be seen as a flaw in the plot, or it may be its strength, that is, letting the reader decide for herself.
The most fascinating aspect of the story was how everyone in the town, in a series of perfectly aligned coincidences, got wind of the murder plot and yet nobody took it seriously enough to warn the victim till the last moment when it was too late.
A thrilling reading experience. Full marks.