Book Review – Fiction: SAY HER NAME

By Francisco Goldman
Reviewed by Mark D. Walker

An evocative story of love and loss by acclaimed author Francisco Goldman who marries Mexican writer Aura Estrada. Tragically, a month before their second wedding anniversary, Aura breaks her neck body surfing. In order to deal with the loss and a deep-seated feeling of guilt, Goldman wrote this novel chronicling his love and feelings of unspeakable loss, which reflect the stages of grief when love and passion give way to inexplicable pain.

The author traces every memory from his loved one’s memory and university days in Mexico City to her studies at Columbia University and their early years together in New York City, and their travels in Mexico and Europe. Humor and humility lighten the pain the author experiences through the madness of grief and creates a living portrait of their love and his deep loss.

His visceral reaction to a dream he has of a conversation with Aura’s spirit is most poignant,

“…I woke before dawn to find Aura stretched out beside me in our bed, nearly invisible, a lighter darkness within the darkness of the room but with her distinct shape….

Did you just come in from the tree? I asked Aura.

No, she said. Mi amor, that’s your imagination. Pobrecito, she giggled. Why would I want to hide in a tree in the middle of winter?

So this is my imagination, too?

No, this is me. Of course it is.

Aura, do you promise?

Si, mi amor, it’s me.

I don’t get it. If you can visit me like you are now, then why don’t you come all the time? I’ve been so lonely without you.

We’re not allowed out that often, she said. If I were here all the time, then I would be a ghost, and I don’t want to be a ghost. Ghosts suffer.

That makes sense, I said. And I thought, It really does make sense.”

But with that, “Aura was gone, dispelled back into the air, into the chilled early morning light.”

Making a traumatic situation even more trying was the hatred of Aura’s family for Goldman, especially her devoted mother, Juanita.

“I thought of Juanita and Leopoldo and their hatred of me, and their determination to erase from Aura’s history our love and marriage. In a way, I thought, it’s as if they took those windows down and instead of putting them away and keeping them safe, they stole and hid them. These words came to me: Your hatred can save me. Your hatred can even free me. Because it leaves behind an emptiness that I have an obligation to fill in for Aura and me. Those are the words that came to me in that church.”

I was introduced to Goldman through his best-known book, “The Long Night of White Chickens,” which resonated with me, since he provides such a cross-cultural perspective on life—his mother is a Catholic Guatemalan and his father is Jewish. He also meets Aura at a Mexican hacienda, and I spent time with my Guatemalan wife on a coffee plantation.

Goldman’s works have been translated and published in 15 languages, including French, which is why this book was the winner of the Prix Femina Etranger award.

Say Her Name is a love story, a bold inquiry into destiny and accountability, and a tribute to Aura, who she was and who she might have become.

Product details

⦁ Paperback: 368 pages
⦁ Publisher: Grove Press; Reprint edition (April 10, 2012)
⦁ Language: English
⦁ ISBN-10: 0802145809
⦁ ISBN-13: 978-0802145802
⦁ Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1 x 8.2 inches
⦁ Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (⦁ View shipping rates and policies)
⦁ Average Customer Review: ⦁ 4.0 out of 5 stars⦁    ⦁ 66 customer reviews
⦁ Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #638,085 in Books (⦁ See Top 100 in Books)
⦁ #1958 in ⦁ Books > ⦁ Literature ⦁ &⦁ Fiction > ⦁ Genre Fiction > ⦁ Biographical
⦁ #35646 in ⦁ Books > ⦁ Literature ⦁ &⦁ Fiction > ⦁ Literary

Posted in All, Book Reviews: Fiction.