Sunday, April 17, 2011

Book Review: "Say Her Name" by Francisco Goldman

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. It is a beautifully written yet sometimes difficult book to read, as Goldman tends to use 20 words where 5 will do, and sometimes the way the book jumps from present to past, fiction to truth, fantasy to reality was a bit confusing. But in the end, this is a love story, both as Aura and Francisco's relationship unfolds and after it ended. As he said at one point in the book, "Maybe memory is overrated. Maybe forgetting is better."

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