Short but Sharply Provocative Masterpiece!

1:40 AM 17 MARCH 2019

Gabriel Garcia Márquez was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, following “Chronicle of a Death Foretold”, which was published the year before. This short novella (122 pages) was generally lauded as a masterpiece and translated from the original Spanish, it is clearly a complex literary exploration of individual and collectively-held values and the moral standards underpinning them.


Set in a small, diverse Caribbean community, the opening sentence immediately peaks the readers curiosity:–
“On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five-thirty in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming on.”


Notwithstanding the proximity of ‘the church’ and the attendant moral authority, the most heinous crime is about to be perpetrated. The plot goes on to test the case for an ‘honour killing’, in undermining this most fundamental of commandments and the complicity of individuals and society in rationalizing the sacrifice of an ostensibly innocent man. In spite of the subsequent handwringing, the acceptance of the concept of dishonouring an individual, a family, a community, breathes life into a chain of reactions and responses, which culminate in a barbaric, unchecked thirst for revenge, on behalf of victims, apparently unable to withstand the expectation of social norms. And there are a series of ‘victims’ and consciences to be expiated.


However, the ambiguities discovered through the author’s examination of the circumstances and subsequent reflections seventeen years later give credence to the possibility of fate, yet the certainty that the killing solved nothing and surely failed to salvage any sense of honour.


This book is provocative and deliberately harrowing in its dissection of a community through the lens of a murder enquiry. Moreover, it questions our capacity for independence within a human hive.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

We can learn from books…even forgotten ones!

8:42 PM 26 DECEMBER 2017

Occasionally it can fun to take a punt on an ‘unknown’ book, from a public library, charity shop or friend’s shelf, but when such a lottery yields an unexpected pearl it can be all the more rewarding. ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ was one such absorbing read, by an author (Carlos Ruiz Zafόn) unfamiliar to me, but this story is made all the more intriguing by its draw on several genres. Set in post-civil war Barcelona, there are elements of historical drama, echoes of gothic mystery and romance, thriller and even comedic moments. It’s a heady cocktail, yet the layering of the narrative is so expertly written that the reader is skilfully drawn into the complex lives of the interconnected characters. Central among them is Daniel, who, aged ten, is introduced to the strange ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Books’, where he is fated to choose ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ written by Julian Carax.


“…few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart…”and so it proves for Daniel, as his ownership of the rare book triggers his curiosity about the mysterious author and burgeons into an ardent adult need to solve the puzzle that is Carax.


Along the way, Daniel’s relationships with his father, friends, neighbours and those close to Carax offer vivid insight into the dark days of Franco’s Spain. None more so than a vagrant, the ebullient Fermin Romero de Torres, who befriends Daniel and though exposing him to the unwanted attention of his former police torturer (Inspector Fumero), also protects Daniel and infuses him with a romantic verve for life. By contrast, a rather sinister character disfigured by fire is also lurking, bent on relieving Daniel of his book. Peril it seems is never far away.


Still, notwithstanding the well-defined Spanish social strata and the distribution of power across wealth, family and state lines, Daniel navigates a courageous path, which challenges the status quo and unashamedly asserts the capacity of love to breach such man-made boundaries.


The various strands of the plot are woven together seamlessly to create a highly satisfying whole and Zafόn’s attention to the detail of his creation ensures there are no ‘loose ends’, which I rather liked. All in all a very entertaining read, though as Mr Carax suggests, “Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.” I hope not.


As an aside, this novel was translated into English by Lucia Graves, daughter of Robert Graves, whose books about Emperor Claudius are among my earlier reviews. However, we should acknowledge that the quality of Ms Graves work has ensured that this novel seems to lose little in translation.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.