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Say Her Name: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 5, 2011

4.1 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Goldman's (The Divine Husband) fifth book is a highly personal account of the author's life in the aftermath of his young wife's drowning. Goldman moves in time from meeting Aura in New York and her harrowing death on Mexico's Pacific Coast to the painful and solitary two years that followed in Brooklyn, marked in part by his mother-in-law's claim that he was responsible for Aura's death. His struggles to exonerate himself from his own conscience, and from his mother-in-law's legal threats, is electric and poignant, encapsulated in painful such moments as the author's discovery of "the indentations of Aura's scooping fingers like fossils" in the surface of her face scrub soon after her death. Goldman also includes fragments of Aura's fiction and her diary: "Played Atari like crazy, rearranged my Barbie house" recall her youth in Mexico City, and "We're on a plane, we've spent most of the day traveling, Paco asleep on my shoulder" illuminate the private moments of the couple's life. Goldman calls this book a novel and employs some novelistic techniques (composite characters, for instance), but the foundation is in truth: messy, ugly, and wildly complicated truth. (Apr.)
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Review

Winner of the Prix Femina Etranger

A Best Book of the Year:

New York Times Notable
New York magazine
Entertainment Weekly
Boston Globe

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Publishers Weekly
Barnes and Noble
The Guardian
The Globe and Mail
The Daily Telegraph
The Independent
Sunday Herald
The Herald (Glasgow)
The Daily Mail
Shelf Awareness


“Quietly devastating . . . Powerful . . . As the story builds—inevitably, unbearably—toward Aura’s last day, Goldman has so convincingly brought her to life that her death still somehow comes as a shock. . . . Goldman’s beautifully written, deeply felt ode to his wife . . . lets you meet this unusual woman through Goldman’s lovestruck gaze, and you can’t help falling for her a little too. Even after the book ends, the sting of Aura’s absence lingers.” —Entertainment Weekly (A-)

"A masterpiece of storytelling and scene-setting."—Colm Toibin, The Guardian (Best Books of 2011)

"Goldman's searing novel Say Her Name is for me the book of the year. . . . A soaring paean to a brilliant young woman and to the infinite invincible power of love."—Junot Diaz, New York (Favorite Books of the Year)

“Passionate and moving . . . Beautifully written… the truth that emerges in this book has less to do with the mystery of [Aura’s] death . . . than with the miracle of the astonishing, spirited, deeply original young woman Goldman so adored….So remarkable is this resurrection that at times I felt the book itself had a pulse.”—The New York Times Book Review

“To call Francisco Goldman’s book about the death of his young Mexican wife an elegy hardly represents it. Lament is closer, but insufficient. It is a chain of eruptions, a meteor shower; not just telling but bombarding us in a loss that glitters. With the power and fine temper of its writing, it is as much poem as prose. . . . Tense set pieces, respectively heartbreaking and chilling…generate the book’s propulsive drama. What they propel, though, is its most remarkable achievement: the incandescent portrait of a marriage of opposites.”—The Boston Globe

"Say Her Name brings something new to the rime of the grieving survivor: fresh supplies of imagination, ruthlessness and over-the-edge crazy love. . . . The intensity, tenderness and heat of this love is extraordinary; how many of us have ever been loved so well? Or would recognize such love, were it not laid out with such intelligence and precision?” —Newsday

“[Say Her Name] is exhilarating, a testament to love that questions our suppositions about luck, fate, good fortune, and tragedy, and demands our agency in interpreting the narrative arc of an altered life. . . . Goldman’s novel stands as an incisive, diamond-sharp act of love.” —Vanity Fair

“Extraordinary . . . The more deeply you have loved in your life, the more this book will wrench you. . . . In a voice that is alternately lush and naked, lyrical and sardonic, philosophical and wry . . . Say Her Name will transport you into the most primal joy in the human repertoire—the joy of loving…[It] pushes back against the tides of forgetting, and gives Aura a new body, a literary body, to inhabit—a body so vivid that by the end of the book we feel as though we ourselves have met and loved this woman.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Beautiful, raw, haunting . . . [Say Her Name is] a working diagram of love, all its wiring and bolts. . . . Losing a spouse is like contracting an incurable illness. Many medicines will be essayed [but] the only real cure is the return of the lost. Writing a book must present itself as the next best remedy, given . . . how many writers have had recourse to its purgative powers: Joan Didion, Joyce Carol Oates, Calvin Trillin. . . All wrote memorable books about losing their mates. These are essential volumes in the library of grief and remembrance; with Say Her Name, the inimitable powers of poetic fiction are added to the memorial shelf. . . . Writing like this, immediate, hopeful, vibrant, can only be considered an act of creative restoration. It is also a prayer to prevent another loss: forgetting." —Melissa H. Pierson, The Barnes & Noble Review

“A heartbreaking novel of loss and grief.”—O Magazine

“Goldman has called on his formidable resources to tell the story of Aura’s life, their life together and his grief as a widower. . . . Harrowing and often splendid reading . . . these pages manage to bring Aura Estrada back to life. She is unforgettable. Count me glad and grateful to know her name.” —The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Riveting . . . In giving Aura’s imagination—as well as her impish humor, her anxieties, her academic and creative struggles, her writing, her love—room to play, Goldman, remarkably, vividly, brings her to life.” —Bookpage

“An earthy, sexy book . . . Say Her Name resonates with sense of place and grasp of character. . . . [Goldman] describes Aura so vividly it is as though she regains life as a free spirit of remarkable imagination.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"In telling the story of an exuberant young woman coming into her own as a scholar and writer, [Francisco Goldman] finds a kind of haunted solace—and tremendous commemorative power...Published as fiction, Goldman's tribute to his late wife rings devastatingly true." —Vogue

“Goldman's power of description lulls you into forgetting that you're reading a tragedy. . . . He blurs the line between lover and biographer. . . . [Say Her Name] is a map of grief and work and missed chances " —NPR.org

“[Say Her Name] unfolds as a sequence of long flashbacks leading toward Aura’s death, which ticks grimly through the narrative like a bomb. . . . Trapped in a Chinese puzzle box of anguish, [Francisco Goldman] revisits moments, words, thoughts, anecdotes and images. His life with Aura seems still to be happening inside him, playing itself over and over, inevitably interrupted but never ended.” —The Washington Post

Say Her Name is the real thing—350 mesmerizing pages that don’t fit the usual script. . . . Honest and exquisitely written . . . alove story with real emotional power.” —The Seattle Times

“Wrenching . . . The story moves inexorably toward [Aura’s] death, but along the way it beautifully preserves the mementos of her life . . . touched with essential and painful wisdom about love.” —Wall Street Journal

"Thanks to Goldman’s powers of revivification, Aura [is] about as forgettable as Cleopatra. Both a beautiful evocation of love and loss, and a searing dispatch written from within a personal Ground Zero. . . . [Say Her Name is] the must-read novel of the summer.” —Sunday Times (UK)

“This is a beautiful love story, and an extraordinary story of loss. Say Her Name has a forensic honesty, a way of treating each detail, each moment, each emotion, with detailed and exact care. It also has a way of holding the reader, of moving between Brooklyn and Mexico City, capturing the essence of two worlds, capturing the essence of two people who were lucky enough to fall in love.” —Colm Toibin, author of Brooklyn

"There is beautiful writing in this book—beautiful, perceptive descriptions of places, beautifully turned assaults on the citadel of loss, on the firmament of love and passion, indelible glimpses of the self as bedlam. And thank goodness it's so, because it is such a sad story that only beauty could possibly redeem it." —Richard Ford

“We may feel we know something about love’s burn, the scorching heat of loss, but reading this book is to stand in front of a blow-torch, to take a farrier’s rasp to raw nerve ends. Say Her Name is wrenching, funny, powerful, and beautiful.” —Annie Proulx

“The madness of love, of death, of loss, of literature—Say Her Name is madness knit up into magnificence. We can only suspect that Francisco Goldman is an alchemist, or a magician, or a Faust, or a Job, or all of these things, for with no breathing equipment, he has mined a pearl from the ocean’s darkest depths. This book is fabulous in every sense of the word.” —Rivka Galchen, author of Atmospheric Disturbances

“A beautiful act of remembrance, love and understanding. An essential, unforgettable love story and a living testament to an extraordinary woman.” —Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story

Say Her Name is a tender and sacred narrative, many-angled, fearless, incandescent in its frankness. As I read it, I felt I were reading something more alive than life itself, and thought this is surely why one reads, why one writes: that one might mingle oneself with a beloved person, a book, a landscape, and hold it utterly alive.” —Kiran Desai, author of The Inheritance of Loss

“Enrapturing . . . Vivid . . . Goldman has entwined fact and fiction in his previous novels, but never so daringly or so poignantly. . . . Tender, candid, sorrowful, and funny, this ravishing novel embodies the relentless power of the sea, as hearts are exposed like a beach at low tide only to be battered by a resurgent, obliterating force, like the wave that claims Aura’s life on the Oaxaca coast. Out of crushing loss and despair, Goldman has forged a radiant and transcendent masterpiece.” —Booklist (starred review)

“Moving and tragic . . . gorgeous, heartbreaking.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Electric and poignant.”—Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

"The feeling, the memorial incarnation that this book creates, is monumental. Essential . . . This book about tragic death is a gift for the living." —Library Journal (starred review)

Say Her Name must be the only book about love ever written. It's certainly the only one I'll ever need to read. Francisco Goldman has alchemized grief into joy, death into life, and the act of reading into one of resurrection. His book is a miracle.” —Susan Choi

“Francisco Goldman tells us that in ‘descending into memory like Orpheus’ he hopes he might ‘bring Aura out alive for a moment.’ But in the act of writing, Goldman transcends the constraints of myth, and achieves nothing short of the impossible. Page by page, by the breath of his own words, Say Her Name restores Aura from shade to flesh, and returns her, unforgettably and permanently, to our world.” —Jhumpa Lahiri

“Francisco Goldman’s intimate and elegiac tribute to his late wife initially reads like the latest entry in a long list of tragic love stories starting with Orpheus and Eurydice. That alone would suffice to make this a compelling read. But Goldman goes further . . . [From] Aura’s diaries, laptop and handwritten notes . . . Pygmalion-like, Goldman reconstructs a fully rounded, wise, soulful, funny Aura. . . . Say Her Name sustains Aura Estrada for the ages.” —Washington Independent Book Review

Say Her Name is part mystery, part biography, part meditation on grief, and, finally—mostly—a love story. Goldman’s writing has astonished me in the past, but Say Her Name is powerful and surprising and even funny in ways that feel unique. He has, in a sense, invented a form.” —The Paris Review online

"Not only beautifully written, but an incredible portrait oThe Globe and Mail (Favorite Book of the Year)

“This book lingers in the spell of love, drawing it out, savoring each note, each dissonance, its mystical strangeness. . . Say Her Name shimmers with power.” —Zyzzyva

“A beguiling, many-layered portrait of a happy marriage…and a gut-wrenching account of being its sole survivor.” —The St. Petersburg Times

“An exceptional book . . . A love letter to a woman who could have been a great writer . . . A letter of goodbye from a man falling apart…an amazing tribute, beautifully written, reminiscent of the vulnerability of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.” —The Independent (UK)

“Sensitive [and] elegiac . . . A luminously loving account . . . Say Her Name is a work of raw grief refined into lyrical elegance.” —Sunday Times (UK)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; First Edition edition (April 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802119816
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802119810
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,013,758 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Evelyn Getchell TOP 500 REVIEWER on April 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Say Her Name: A Novel by Francisco Goldman is so much more than another book about grief. It is a literary monument erected by a man whose life was utterly blown apart when death wrenched his beloved from his heart. The man is Francisco Goldman and this book is his monument to Aura, his soul mate and the light of his life, a light which was forever extinguished in this world on July 25, 2007.

Usually when I finish a book I can promptly gather up my thoughts about it and quickly translate them into a book review, but this was not the case this time. This deceptive novel snuck up on me, enveloping me slowly in gradually mounting emotion until at the height of pain's crescendo, the story took me prisoner and battered me breathless, leaving me gasping, sobbing and weeping ~ for Aura, for Francisco and for myself. I had to put the book away until I could find my composure, process my own emotions, and think objectively rather than empathetically about this brilliant work of literary art.

The anniversary of my husband's unexpected death by a massive heart attack is quickly approaching. It is extraordinary that lately I have come across so many fine works of literature with which I can identify and find solace. It has been 18 years since I awoke from an afternoon nap, walked into the living room expecting to go to my husband and as usual cover his warm, fuzzy face in my adoring kisses, only to find him face down on the floor. When I turned him over, there was no mistaking that he was gone. It was the worst moment of my life. I will never forget those lifeless blue eyes that only an hour earlier had looked so lovingly into mine.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Grief is, by and large, a private and intimate thing. We utter a few platitudes and then turn away in discomfort from who are laid bare by their grief. And emotionally, we begin to withdraw.

Francisco Goldman shatters those boundaries in his devastating book Say Her Name, forcing the reader to pay witness to the exquisite and blinding pain of a nearly unbearable loss. He positions the reader as a voyeur in a most intimate sadness, revealing the most basic nuances and details and the most complex ramifications of the loss of someone dear.

And in the process, he captures our attention, rather like Samuel Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, until the reader is literally as fascinated and transfixed with Aura Estrada - Francisco Goldman's young and doomed wife - as he himself is. It is a masterful achievement, hard to read, hard to pull oneself away from.

The barebones of his story are these: Francisco Goldman married a much younger would-be writer named Aura, who gives every indication of literary greatness. They revel in their marriage for two short years, but right before their second anniversary, Aura breaks her neck while body surfing and dies the next day. Francisco is raw with grief, which is exacerbated by Aura's passionately devoted and controlling mother Juanita, who blames him for the tragedy.

Brick by brick, Francisco builds a literary altar to the vibrant and exuberant woman he married. And at the same time, he lays naked his own grief at her loss: "Little did I suspect...that I would ever learn what it was like to feel swallowed up by my own sobbing, grief sucking me like marrow from a bone." And later: "Every day a ghostly train. Every day the ruin of the day that was supposed to have been.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Francisco Goldman's not-quite memoir, not-quite novel, arrives with a plethora of quotes attesting to its haunting beauty, heart-wrenching story, exquisite writing. For once, these are not platitudes proffered by fellow writers to help a friend sell books. No, they are nothing less than the truth of the matter. Goldman's account of his all-too-brief marriage to the writer Aura Estrada, before her horrendously early death in a surf-boarding accident, is one of the most moving, passionate, anguished, love stories this reader has EVER encountered. Indeed, there is only one problem with the work. It is SO well done, SO intimate, that one cannot help but feel, every so often, that this is TOO personal. I should not be reading this! I'm an intruder; An outlier! But one does keep reading. Because one cannot stop. And we feel, finally, exhilarated at the end, that such a love... and such a writer... can be.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
My youngest daughter drowned while on vacation in Baja California nine years ago, and I've spent nine years begging people to say her name. This book touched me to the core of my being. Goldman's grief, visitations, second guessing parallel mine. I've read dozens of books about grief and coping during the last nine years, and Say Her Name has been the best; and I'm including C.S. Lewis and Joan Didion.
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When novelist Francisco Goldman's young wife, the Mexican writer Aura Estrada, dies suddenly and unexpectedly in an accident on a beach in Mexico, just short of their second anniversary, he is left grieving, angry and directionless. Aura's mother, with whom she had a fractious, codependent relationship, blames Francisco for her death, and as he recreates the circumstances which surrounded the accident, he wonders if his "encouraging Aura to be Aura" was responsible.

Say Her Name is more than a story about a grieving husband trying to make sense of living without the woman with whom he had hoped to spend the rest of his life. It is the story of a man trying to understand who his wife truly was, and what drove her, using her diaries, the stories she told him and his own fictional license to fill in the answers he doesn't have. It is also the story of a man reliving the happiest times of his life but also questioning why he was chosen to have that happiness, and where his life would have led had Aura lived. The book examines Aura's relationship with her mother, Juanita, her drive to be a successfully published writer before her 30th birthday, and her sometimes erratic behavior. It also chronicles Goldman's grief and his need both to preserve every memory of his wife and their life together, as well as his need to move on.

This is an interesting book, a true story that Goldman incorporated fiction into as he imagined different circumstances in Aura's life. At times it is heartbreaking, at times it is funny, although the reality of Aura's death hangs over every chapter.
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