The Miasma of the Funereal: Remembering Marquez

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‘Life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it.’

By Soibam Haripriya

Thus to remembrance Gabriel Garcia Marquez dedicates his autobiography titled ‘Living to tell the tale’. While his work could only be referred to by various superlatives his autobiography gives a glimpse of the various events that inspired his works and one begins to feel closer to the magic that life itself is that informs the magic-realism of his work. His demise on the 14th of April, last month is certainly the end of an era.

In his work he describes cities and provinces which resemble no other, a terrain of languid breezes, sickly sweet warm summer siesta and the sorrow of rivers that had shifted its course yet the provincial towns seem much closer home in its tales of death and ruins woven into the fabric of the everyday. And if one has to chose amongst his novella that brings him closer home that anything else it would be Chronicle of a Death Foretold. The title itself evokes the feeling of the everyday of places torn by war and patriarch autocrats. However the story itself is a poignantly woven tale of a man going to be killed. A man the whole town knew was going to get killed and this knowledge being of no help to save his life. Santiago Nasar’s life hung so close to death and yet he allowed to die with the whole town in an seemingly scheming knowledge of the manner of his death, an almost oracular knowledge –a destiny which will not change its course. While he lived under a tapestry of death in ignorance of this fact, the knowledge had spread to the townspeople and all men of authority (beginning from the priest, the police and even the Bishop) in a manner that is at once unbelievable or perhaps as what usually happens, everyone waited for the other to intervene.

‘You always have to take the side of the dead,’ said the narrator’s mother when she was on her way to warn Santiago of his impending doom. The act had already happened when she has rushed out to the streets. A quote that would always resonate and draws us to an ethical question of how to treat the death, or those living whose death are foretold. The statement however seem so incongruous to us, for accusations are always hurled towards the dead –death and mute and unanswering. It is easy to unravel the deeds of the death, after all who will answer back? The point to be noted here is the importance of life itself. ‘There had never been a death more foretold.’ and yet Santiago had to die. The story which was based on someone Marquez knew – Cayetano Gentile. Of the story itself he says ‘What interested me was no longer the crime itself but the literary theme of collective responsibility.’

The other theme in the book that has universal resonance is the theme of the suffering of women. Angela Vicario was sent home on the night of the wedding by the groom for not being a virgin, thus leading to the chain of events that led to the cause of the death of Santiago at the hands of her twin brothers. Of the manner of how the bride of Bayardo San Roman –Angela Vicario (and her sisters) were raised the narrator‘s mother says ‘Any man will be happy with them because they’ve been raised to suffer.’ In a juxtaposition or rather the binaries of prostitute-saint one can see the narrator describe a character –Maria Alejandrina Cervantes as ‘the most elegant and the most tender woman I have ever known, and the most serviceable in bed’ and yet the sense of this binary is aggravated by the fact that honour seem to be one of the themes that is posed to the reader –honour of the woman and the machismo of the brothers who had to restore the lost honour of Angela Vicario. It is ambiguously left unsaid as to whether Santiago is actually the man who did the act– when questioned by her brother to give the name of the man ‘She looked for it in the shadows, she found it at first sight among the many, many easily confused names from this world and the other, and she nailed it to the wall with her well-aimed dart, like a butterfly with no will whose sentence has always been written. “Santiago Nasar,” she said.’ Santiago seemingly is a name conjured from many others and yet this conjuring killed him. A mere proclamation with no evidence leading to death is a theme closer home than perhaps Marquez would realise, for many it is not magic-realism but realism itself. The narrator says ‘My personal impression is that he died without understanding his death’ and yes many continue to die without the pleasure of this knowledge.
to be continued…

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