- Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, translated by Gregory Rabassa
Cape, 122 pp, £5.95, September 1982, ISBN 0 224 01990 2
We had suspected for a long time that the man Gabriel was capable of miracles, because for many years he had talked too much about angels for someone who had no wings, so that when the miracle of the printing presses occurred we nodded our heads knowingly, but of course the foreknowledge of his sorcery did not release us from its power, and under the spell of that nostalgic witchcraft we arose from our wooden benches and garden swings and ran without once drawing breath to the place where the demented printing presses were breeding books faster than fruit-flies, and the books leapt into our hands without our even having to stretch out our arms, the flood of books spilled out of the print room and knocked down the first arrivals at the presses, who succumbed deliriously to that terrible deluge of narrative as it covered the streets and the sidewalks and rose lap-high in the ground-floor rooms of all the houses for miles around, so that there was no one who could escape from that story, if you were blind or shut your eyes it did you no good because there were always voices reading aloud within earshot, we had all been ravished like willing virgins by that tale, which had the quality of convincing each reader that it was his personal autobiography; and then the book filled up our country and headed out to sea, and we understood in the insanity of our possession that the phenomenon would not cease until the entire surface of the globe had been covered, until seas, mountains, underground railways and deserts had been completely clogged up by the endless copies emerging from the bewitched printing press, with the exception, as Melquiades the gypsy told us, of a single northern country called Britain whose inhabitants had long ago become immune to the book disease, no matter how virulent the strain ...
It is now 15 years since Gabriel Garcia Marquez first published One Hundred Years of Solitude. During that time it has sold over four million copies in the Spanish language alone, and I don’t know how many millions more in translation. The news of a new Marquez book takes over the front pages of Spanish American dailies. Barrow-boys hawk copies in the streets. Critics commit suicide for lack of fresh superlatives. His latest book, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, had a first printing in Spanish of considerably more than one million copies. Not the least extraordinary aspect of the work of ‘Angel Gabriel’ is its ability to make the real world behave in precisely the improbably hyperbolic fashion of a Marquez story.
In Britain, nothing so outrageous has yet taken place. Marquez gets the raves but the person on the South London public conveyance remains unimpressed. It can’t be that the British distrust fantasists. Think of Tolkien. (Maybe they just don’t like good fantasy.) My own theory is that for most Britons South America has just been discovered. A Task Force may succeed where reviewers have failed: that great comma of a continent may have become commercial at last, thus enabling Marquez and all the other members of ‘El Boom’, the great explosion of brilliance in contemporary Spanish American literature, finally to reach the enormous audiences they deserve. Already, John Fowles in a Guardian essay has used the Chronicle to great effect as a prism through which to see the battle for the Malvinas. No doubt the Sun will shortly advise its readers to do the same. No doubt Sandy Woodward is a fan of the tale of Colonel Aureliano Buendia, who organised 32 armed uprisings and lost them all. No doubt Mrs Torture (as an Indian politician once immortally referred to our beloved leader) is appalled that Mario Vargas Llosa’s enormous critical study of Marquez has never even been published here. Great forces are at work.