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A Heart So White Paperback – May 17, 2002

4.1 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Intrusion: A Novel
A loving couple, grieving the loss of their son, finds their marriage in free fall when a beautiful, long-lost acquaintance inserts herself into their lives. Learn More
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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.


Marías...remains almost unknown in America. What are we waiting for? -- Wendy Lesser, The New York Times Book Review

The most subtle and gifted writer in contemporary Spanish literature. -- Boston Globe

The work of a supreme stylist.... It is brilliantly done. -- James Woodall, The Times [London]

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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: #826,640 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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 more..in the next book.
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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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