SAY HER NAME by Francisco Goldman

Book Quote:

“Hold her tight, if you have her; hold her tight, I thought, that’s my advice to all the living. Breathe her in, put your nose in her hair, breathe her in deeply. Say her name. It will always be her name. Not even death can steal it. Same alive as dead, always Aura Estrada.”

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shtulman  (APR 07, 2011)

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. Although he is completely innocent, he blames himself and spirals downward, visualizing himself as “…a hard hollow rectangle filled with tepid blank air. An empty rectangle with sides of slate or lead…”

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. Every second on the clock clicking forward, anything I do or see or think, all of it made of ashes and charred shards, the ruins of the future.”

Hungry to keep Aura alive, Francisco takes us back to Aura’s past, to her complex relationship with her overbearing mother and her yearning for the father who left when she was only four years old (setting her on a course to look for a father replacement). He showcases various writings that Aura created in her advanced studies at Columbia and under the tutelage of two famous authors (revealed in bios to be Peter Carey and Colum McCann) for her MFA program. He paints a word picture of Aura as a young girl, a daughter, a wife, and a writer on the cusp of potential greatness.

And in order to keep himself sane, he channels his grief into his art, documenting their time together and Aura’s extraordinary life: “This is why we need beauty to illuminate even what has most broken…Not to help us transcend or transform it into something, but first and foremost to help us see it.”

At its core, Say Her Name is not “another grief book;” rather, it’s a love story, a tribute to Aura, a universal narrative of what happens when one loved one survives another. It is, I suspect, a novel that Francisco Goldman did not choose to write, but had to write. It is a wrenching and eloquent tale of remembrance, a refusal to give death its victory.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 28 readers
PUBLISHER: Grove Press (April 5, 2011)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shtulman
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Francisco GoldmanWikipedia page on Francisco Goldman
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman

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April 7, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Mexico, Non-fiction, y Award Winning Author

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