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3.5 out of 5 stars22
3.5 out of 5 stars
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on 22 March 2013
This is an excellent novel but you have to work at it. I don't usually like my books so introspective, and Marias' style which involves repetition of words and phrases can strike a discordant note, but it is a gripping story.
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on 4 August 2012
This book was one we chose for our book club. I got it from the library and wasn't sure if it was going to be an easy read or a tedious, boring drudge through some long, descriptive sentences. I read it in 6 days and couldn't put it down. There was stage at the early part of the bookwhen it did become a bit dull. Then the story picked up and the tale of how Juan met his wife really grabbed my attention. I laughed and really couldn't stop reading. There was an unexpected twist near the end. All together I thought this book was well written, had my attention and I actually cared about all of the characters.
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I remain enthralled with Javier Marias. This is the fourth book of his that I've read; the other three are: While the Women are Sleeping,Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me (Penguin Modern Classics), and Dark Back of Time (Vintage International). Each title is taken from a line in Shakespeare. In the case of this book, the line is uttered by Lady Macbeth, after the murder of Duncan. She says: "My hands are of your color, but I shame to wear a heart so white." And so what does that really mean? The beauty of Shakespeare, here as well as other places, is the possible ambiguities. Marias proposes that it might mean "nonchalance," but it could also mean "pale and fearful" or "cowardly." I could think of some others. It is an excellent title, given the subject matter of this book, some of which is the most essential to human existence: what do we really know about our parents, and hence how we got here; and what do we really know about the person who shares our bed every night? Marias continues to show the relevance of Shakespeare to our daily lives. He takes the "white heart" theme, and about nine others, develops them, and plays them back through the lives of his characters. Point and Counterpoint. And even a "riff" or two. I couldn't help but think of how Aaron Copland took the melody from a straightforward Shaker song: "'Tis a gift to be simple," and turned it into his masterpiece, "Copland: Appalachian Spring; Rodeo; Billy the Kid; Fanfare for the Common Man."

Late in the book we learn that the narrator's name is Juan. His father is Ranz, who has been married to three women, all of whom have died. Juan is the product of his father's union with his last wife, Juana. In terms of "pulling the reader in," Marias does, when he commences the novel with the suicide of Teresa. I once recall a police officer who told me that women almost never commit suicide in a way that disfigures their body. Teresa's did, however, which alerted at least me to the seriousness of the causation.

Marias weaves wildly disparate characters and scenarios into his novel, with elements of both pathos and humor. The cover of this edition depicts one of the themes well...of characters standing at windows, or in the street, observing each other from a distance, and wondering what the true circumstances of the other's condition is. In an early scene, he is in Havana (the birthplace of his maternal grandmother), on his honeymoon. He observes a woman, a stranger, whose name is later revealed as Miriam, yelling at him. Her anger was misplaced; it was meant for the occupant in the next room, Guillermo. Juan overhears snippets of conversation, concerning love, marriage, and murder, and speculates on the outcome. Juan, as well as his new wife, make their living as interpreters, and so it is a "gut" reflex to be translating the words of others. Another scene involves the deliberate mis-interpretation of the remarks of two high level politicians from different countries. As Marias says: "...the task of the translator or interpreter of speeches and reports is boring in the extreme, both because of the identical and fundamentally incomprehensible jargon universally used by all parliamentarians, delegates, ministers, politicians, deputies, ambassadors, experts and representatives of all kinds from every nation in the world, and because of the unvarying turgid nature of all their speeches, appeals, protests, harangues and reports." Clearly, Marias has "been there," and so why not a scenario that plays with meanings, just to liven things up? There is also a scene involving an Australian politician, at an all-English speaking conference, who demands to be "interpreted," which is particularly funny. Another scene of pathos and humor occurs in NYC, with Berta, slightly disfigured in a car accident, who is still searching for "Mr. Right" via the dating services and lonely heart ads, sending videos of herself... Oh, the sorrow and the pity. It was a scene worthy of the best of Paul Auster. There is also a scene involving the Prado museum in Madrid, and his father, who has mastered the corrupt dealings of the international art market.

But the heart of the novel is the deep physiological interactions among Juan, his wife, Luisa, and his father, Ranz, as the past is revealed. In the matter of the interwoven themes of love and violence, Marias raises the question of how each of us, as well as our friends, might be involved. The novel was profoundly satisfying; Marias is a genius at insight, and has the writing skills to make complex themes and scenarios "work." Whither the Nobel Prize? 6-stars.
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on 9 November 2013
A very interesting style of writing because it feels as though you are sitting at the feet of a storyteller who gives you thoughts and details as they pop into his head. All the different threads of the story tie up and repeat through time so that you have a sense of recall, but there are also things left unfinished so you are left wondering about them; WHY did Custardoy lurk under the lampost? Was there a secret there?? WHY did the husband, newly married, get into such an intimate situation with his ex?? Many human traits are shown here, many of them uncomfortable, but a compelling story nonetheless. I look forward to reading more by this author.
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on 3 August 2012
It always amazes me how a book so boring, dull and lifeless can win so many awards. After an encouraging start - mystery, shock and drama - this book descends into an awkward mix of tantalizing reference and overwritten, indescribably boring passages of pointlessness. Perhaps this does serve as a literary lesson. Perhaps there is something worth mulling over. Then again, perhaps there isn't. Far too many writers indulging in this sort of monotonous writing forget sometimes that to be able to tell a story is the sign of a truly gifted author. Even one that employs literary device. A triumph of style (not even that good) over content (non-existent). Dull.
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on 25 December 2013
It was the first Marias' book I read....and after that he became one of the top writers in my own list... Plus he brought me back and made reread Shakespeare.... as the book gave me a key to unlock some hidden secret in Shakespeare's works....
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on 18 November 2013
I am new to this author but now a big fan. Unexpectedly vibrant and thought-provoking in equal measure. if you haven't read him yet waste no more time.
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on 24 April 2008
'A Heart So White' is an emotionally-layered and incredibly nuanced yarn that explores - evidently - the human heart, its immense power and the darkness that lies therein. Page by page - almost too methodically sometimes - the book questions what love is, the lies that sustain love, and the limits to which it can drive us. Starting with the protagonist, Juan, being mistaken for some one's lover, and then overhearing a lovers' spat while caring for his new wife, who is delirious with fever, the story slowly unfurls Juan's own history, paralleling the story of the bickering lovers with that of Juan's father with a truly surprising conclusion.

Javier Marias is the kind of writer that I don't imagine would be an easy read for the typical UK reader since, for the last fifteen years or so, the average book buyer picks up sensationalist or shallow entertaining books which are promoted to death, with, of course, the odd masterpiece - like Margaret Atwood's 'The Blind Assassin' thrown in. Indeed Javier Marias may have found it hard to find a publisher if he was English, so thank god for Spanish and thank god for translation!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 November 2009
A Heart So White is exceptional. I read it a while ago, so the fine details do not stick with me, but I recall a powerful book, sensitively written, with immense intelligence and lovingly crafted sentences (well done to the translator!) I remember sympathetic, flawed characters, tragedy wrought excellently. It builds wonderfully, slowly, and is not a quick read: that's not to say it is difficult to ingest, it just requires patience. I remember that it has a great shock at the end. I remember that I enjoyed it immensely, found it rewarding, and recommend it to people ages after I read it. If you have a reading list, this should go on it. A major world writer.
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on 1 September 2015
Since when has the omition of full stops been seen as masterful?Full stops have a grammatical function!! It's not clever to not use them!
I would definately not recommend this book!
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