To Read Is to Fly

“To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries.” 
― Alberto Manguel

 

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A Heart So White - Javier Marías, Margaret Jull Costa There are so many layers to this book. You have to be willing to give it time, especially in the first third or so, when Marías writes long, intricate, sentences that fold back on themselves, with parentheses within parentheses. Through this style, Marías presents the thoughts and interpretations of the protagonist, Juan, a translator who describes himself as committed, almost addicted, to understanding all he hears, all he sees, everything around him. Juan has recently married another translator, Luisa, and throughout the novel he strives to understand his father's secrets, while also exploring the meaning in the stories, secrets, and silences if his relationships - with Luisa, with his father, with the past.

The key to the novel is the title, "A Heart So White," which is taken from Macbeth. Marías threads the line, and the play, throughout the novel, as Juan questions the culpability in listening to someone tell a dangerous secret. What power lies in telling stories, both in words and in silences? Once we hear their secrets, are we destined to repeat the sins of our parents?

I found the pacing of the novel excellent, especially in the last quarter, when Marías picks up the pacing and leaves the reader almost breathless. I am trying to avoid telling much of the plot, as much of the power of the novel lies in opening yourself up to being surprised, wanting to hear characters' secrets and dreading them at the same time. Marías also develops different threads of the novel that all come together eerily in the last two chapters, leaving us with a dread of the cyclical nature of human experience, the repetition in human relationships, and the fear that sins carry over from one generation to the next.

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