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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Eternal love, impossible grief ~ "Say Her Name" by Francisco Goldman

Publisher:  Grove Press (of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.)
Pages:  350
Author:  Francisco Goldman, award-winning novelist and journalist

The Dame Reviews :

Once, looking for comfort in my own blinding grief, I sought solace in the book "Grief" by C. S. Lewis.  I simply couldn't find any books on the market that could reach the level of agony I was experiencing, nor could I find another human being who could relate to it.  "Grief" failed to comfort me with it's intellectualizing the process of grief.  Grief of losing my husband had left me crying out for understanding--for some relief from the pain.  Grief is emotional and physical agony...it's not something that just dissipates as the days go by like people say it does.  It's something that rewires you, shatters your whole life and changes you forever.  Finally,  Francisco Goldman has touched the ends of that agony and is capable of sharing it with us.  There is hope for those who need that comfort now...both for women and men.

Francisco Goldman is positively a man familiar with the agonies of grief.  He knows the living death of grief.  He knows the impossiblities of having to go on living after the death of the one person who makes life worth living.  And, he is the most gorgeous and generous of tellers of that experience I have ever known to be alive in my time.  He's a writer of the most profound gifts to share.

"Say Her Name" is a magnificent tribute to Goldman's love, Aura, his precious young wife of only 4 years.  Her life affected him in such a way as to brand his heart and soul eternally, and he shows that in an eloquence of language and writing that is timeless, heart-wrenching, and a memorial of their relationship. 

I was simply spellbound by his story and his prose.  Although this book is non-fiction, you will be instantly gripped by the love story and the angst of it.  It is a book that haunts you.

Descriptively, Goldman is a master writer.  Let me quote him as he speaks of loss and desolution here:

"Every day a ghostly ruin.  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.  The life we were going to live, the years we were going to spend together, it was as if that life had already occurred millennia ago, in a lost secret city deep in the jungle, now crumbled into ruins, overgrown, its inhabitants extinguished, never discovered, their story never told by any human being outside it--a lost city with a lost name that only I remember--"

What touched me at a level of wonder and anger, actually, was that in the telling of his relationship with his wife, Aura, I saw Mr. Goldman's self-effacing and self-sacrificing love; while Aura's was more narcissistic and selfish.  Although Francisco gave her his all in love, she was often "ashamed" of him, hiding him away from her college peers, "made jokes" about his age and how ugly he was; i.e., he was easily 30 yrs. older, and manipulated him into all sorts of things.  Goldman shares these qualities openly and without rancour as a part of who Aura was and what their relationship was like; but, as a reader, I was struck by how insensitive she was to him in return of his obvious devotion to her. Was he was aware of this as he wrote the book?  I doubt it.  I believe he was only telling the parts about her that he remembered and wanted to preserve. I don't mean to say that Aura didn't love Francisco, she seemed to, of course, and they had a beautiful relationship, but his love was more profound, I think.  Aura was a young woman intent on being a writer and she had determination to that end.

Francisco considers even Aura's flaws precious and enduringly "her," in essence.  At one point he describes her not wanting to wear her wedding ring because she was embarrassed, and he understood, even wondering if she'd lost it all together since it was so often off her finger.  He had paid a small fortune for the ring, but in his mind he tells that it would have been fine with him if she'd lost the ring (the price of a car!) because "just that she'd accepted it to say they were married at one time" was enough for him.  And, he'd buy her another if she wanted it.  I found that wholly shocking in the selflessness of love.  But, in that he said it the way he said it made it resonate with truth for me.  He loved Aura profoundly, more than he loved himself.

This is a book that plumbs the depths of love and despair.  It is so heartachingly written that it sometimes overwhelms the text itself; I was struck silent in reading as my mind stopped to comprehend the depth of the personal secrets he shares. 

This paragraph describes the joy and excitement of love better than any I've read in recent years...the visual, the spiritual, the psychological, the senses, the joy:

"...I slipped into the shop and bought a necklace that Aura had seemed to like.  That's how I was, buying her presents, an overjoyed spendthrift piling up credit card debt with squirrelly endeavor.  Overcoming that mysterious three-day crisis had strengthened our love--our mystical wedding...just two weeks away.  I took a picture of Aura, in sleeveless black shirt, standing on the balcony outside our room in the late afternoon, a hazy blue mountain backdrop, her cheeks and nose flushed, a bashful smile and tilt to her head, a soft vulnerable shine to her eyes, all of this making her look even younger, startlingly and preposterously younger, like an enamored, just-ravished quinceanera, I recognize with some disbelief every time I look at that photograph.  As evening fell, the mountainside grew so feverishly alive with sparkling and moving lights it was like a shaken-up snow globe, and a faint electric noisiness filled the air, as if coming from insect-sized motors and music boxes floating across the valley.  We sat on the balcony, drinking wine.  I pulled the necklace from my pocket."

It is not until the end of the book that we learn of the tragic death of Aura...how she actually died.  Throughout the book, I wondered about it, but I thought Goldman's method was perfect since it kept me held close to the story, compelled to know the details of their relationship, drawn into his personal voyage through crisis, loss and grief to the apex of his life's worst nightmare.  I respected his handling of her death.

I'm not sure if it was cathartic for Mr. Goldman to write his book or if it simply worked as a chronicle and a memorial. I found no real resolution for him except that he seems to feel he's done all in this life he can do for Aura that would matter to her (that is my sense at the end of the book).  I believe in that resolution.  There comes a time when that's all we who are left behind can do...that and speak their names, continue to miss them and never forget.  And, with time and working through our grief as Mr. Goldman does, we come to understand our loved ones better and to accept them for who they really were.  We are never the same, however.

There are so many beautiful passages and so many grief-stricken passages in this wonderful book, I feel inadequate to describe it to you in full.  I must ask you to try it for yourself. 

I wish I had more than 5 stars to give "Say Her Name"...I wish I could give it to everyone who has lost a loved one.  I wish you'd get a copy and enjoy it for the next several days.  It's a magnificient book.

Please, for Mr. Goldman's sake...just "Say Her Name,"  it's AURA.



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