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A Heart So White Paperback – May 17, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Spanish novelist Marias (All Souls), winner of the Barcelona Prize, weaves an ironic tale of love and betrayal in which the sins of a father come back to visit his son. Narrator Juan's twice-widowed, secretive father, Ranz, is a mystery to his 34-year-old son. Before marrying Juan's mother, Ranz had wed her sister, who later killed herself. While Juan is afraid to ask his father about the incident, his own young bride, Luisa, draws the old man out, and the complicated truth slowly emerges. On his Havana honeymoon with Luisa and on his travels as a translator, Juan sees, overhears and stumbles upon scenes that increasingly remind him of what he is slowly learning about his father's world: an unmarried woman extorts money from her married lover in Havana; a lady in New York looks for bed partners in the personal ads. "There are no secrets between people who share a bed," muses Juan. "The bed is like a confessional." It's an observation that Marias takes seriously. Indeed, the tone and structure of the novel can be summed up in one word: foreplay. His characters tease each other-as the author teases the reader-with nibbles of information, half-divulged stories that are meant to arouse a reader's curiosity the way an interrupted caress can awaken a lover's desire. Does this erotics of knowledge work? Much of the book is wordy as Juan turns introspective, but Marias renders these examinations with grace and intelligence, leavening his meditative indulgences with acutely observed psychological detail.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

A harrowing drama of family secrets and their deepening resonance throughout several involved lives, by an accomplished European author whose All Souls (not reviewed) appeared in English translation in 1993. Marias's novel (winner of the Spanish Critics' Award) begins with its narrator Juan's imagined reconstruction of the suicide of his father's first wife, his mother's sister, shortly following their honeymoon. Juan and his new wife, Luisa, are both translators and interpreters who labor to facilitate communication among ``delegates and representatives'' at various multilingual international congresses. They're also both perpetrators and victims of miscommunication within their own relationship and as members of Juan's continually traumatized family. The guilt borne by his father Ranz, a menacing, almost satanic figure whose experience of marriage and widowhood eludes his son's full understanding, casts troubling shadows over all those close to him- -and finds mocking parallels in Juan's friendship with a crippled woman victimized by her recalcitrant lover and in his chance observation of an adulterous couple who may or may not be plotting murder. These perplexities are rendered in an unusual style that blends Jamesian introspection and qualification with headlong melodrama and rapid nonstop sentences. Marias's title and epigraph allude openly to Macbeth's murder of Duncan, and its sinister burden of simultaneous cumulative revelation and deepening mystery powerfully expresses its stated sense that ``nothing that happens happens . . . and the weak wheel of the world is pushed along by forgetful beings who hear and see and know what is not said, never happens, is unknowable and unverifiable.'' The impression of characters caught in the toils of their own self-conscious self- exploration is reminiscent of Sartre's No Exit. The novel circles repeatedly, with an unflinching concentrated gaze, on its people's awkward spasmodic efforts to bridge the gaps that frustrate their need for mutuality and union. The flawed, truncated nature of all human contact and efforts to reach it has rarely been given such remorseless stress. -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions (May 17, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811215059
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811215053
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #691,524 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Javier Marías is an award-winning Spanish novelist. He is also a translator and columnist, as well as the current king of Redonda. He was born in Madrid in 1951 and published his first novel at the age of nineteen. He has held academic posts in Spain, the US (he was a visiting professor at Wellesley College) and Britain, as a lecturer in Spanish Literature at Oxford University. He has been translated into 34 languages, and more than six million copies of his books have been sold worldwide. In 1997 he won the Nelly Sachs Award; the Comunidad de Madrid award in 1998; in 2000 the Grinzane Cavour Award, the Alberto Moravia Prize, and the Dublin IMPAC Award. He also won the Spanish National Translation Award in 1979 for his translation of Tristram Shandy in 1979. He was a professor at Oxford University and the Complutense of Madrid. He currently lives in Madrid.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Johnny O on September 16, 2003
Format: Paperback
I just finished this book last night, and i couldn't wait to review it. This novel is amazing!

The narrator, Juan, is a newlywed, he and his wife Luisa have been married less than a year. His Dad Ranz works with art, was widowed years ago, and apparently has a few secrets that he's kept to himself over the years. Ranz was married twice, to two sisters, the first of whom killed herself shortly after the honeymoon. the question of her suicide and her motives are the carrot dangled in front of the reader in the first few chapters.
But after that, other events begin to take more focus, seemingly unrelated events. Juan, while on his honeymoon in Cuba, is mistaken for another man, a neighbor engaged in an affair. Later while working in New York, he assists a dear friend with a mysterious sexually charged rendezvous with a man from a dating service. Between these events, the advice his father gives him at his wedding, the story of how he met his wife, and Shakespheare's play MacBeth(from which the title is from), you think this story is made up of tangents only to realize he's been painting the answer in vague wispy details. When you finally learn the secret, you're shocked, and yet you begin to see how he was pointing to it all along.
Javier Marias is from Spain, and is a translator and professor. He has over twenty novels written in Spanish, of which only a few have been translated into English. My newest favorite author, i can't wait to sink my teeth into another one of his masterly woven distractions. I can't help from feeling that we're reading the work of an brilliant author whom America won't be able to ignore for much longer.
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44 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 21, 2002
Format: Paperback
For those for whom reading fine books is an integral part of their lives, so much a part that the world of writers seems a comfortable neighborhood, it is always a humbling experience to 'discover' a truly great author by chance. Picking up A HEART SO WHITE by Javier Marias, taking it off the shelf of books meant to read when all the good recent purchases have been finished, in fact a 'filler' until you decide what you really want to read next - this is how I came to this book. What a revelation that an author of this caliber and a book of this magnitude was 'unknown' until that moment.
A HEART SO WHITE is one of the more important books to come out of Spain, indeed out of the world literature in the last decade. Javier Marias writes with a style wholly his own, a liquid use of words that create not only rich images, but experiences in time travel, in plumbing the soul of relationships, of the importance of our individual pasts, of the myriad ways a single instant of time can be metamorphosed by a variety of observors. He is able to write a theme and variations, a prelude and fugue, a sentence so musical that its incredible length serves only to endear us to his luminous mind. The story is important - marriage, a conjugal bed as a theatre of discovery and exploration of the now and the then, and the terrible and beautiful ways a single moment can alter a life. But for this reader the joy of this novel is in the performance that awaits the eyes on every page, the depth of knowledge of the author, and the wonder of the magic of the written word. This book is a masterwork, well worth the commitment it requires of a reader. A Heart So White leaves you breathless, satisfied, yet hungry for the next book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By R. M. Peterson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 1, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I should state upfront that while I am very taken with the writing of Javier Marias, I can well understand that it will not appeal to everyone. Relatively little seems to occur in his novels, and what does happen often proceeds at a glacial pace, as Marias or his narrator painstakingly examines rather mundane situations, occurences, even gestures, and spins out various possible causes and consequences, possible pasts and futures. The writing often is dense, but (for me) it always is engaging, and the reader's reward is a cascade of insightful ideas and perspectives on modern cosmopolitan life.

The opening chapter of A HEART SO WHITE is a brilliant six-page account (all one paragraph) of the suicide of a young woman in the middle of a dinner party, at the end of which it is revealed that she was the narrator's father's wife. Shortly, we learn that the narrator's father, Ranz, later married the suicide's sister, who then became the mother of the narrator. In a sense, the remainder of the book is a quest, somewhat reluctant and oft-diverted, to find out why Ranz's previous wife (and the narrator's aunt) committed suicide, something that Ranz has kept secret for the 35+ years since. In the course of this quest, Marias explores many aspects of secrets and poses the question, Is it better not to know? -- which leads to the related question, Is it really possible to suppress the desire to know?, and then the further question, of course, is, In the end, is knowledge really possible at all?

The novel's title comes from one of several lines from Shakespeare's "Macbeth" that recur throughout the novel and add depth and complexity to the work. Another recurring line from that play is Macbeth's "I have done the deed.
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