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Bookmarks Issue: 
53-July-Aug-2011
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missing imageFrancisco Goldman is a professor of literature and creative writing at Trinity College. His works include The Long Night of White Chickens (1992), which won the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction, and The Ordinary Seaman (1997), short-listed for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Both novels were finalists for the Pen/Faulkner Award. Reviewed: The Art of Political Murder ( 4 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2008), which is about the murder of an elderly bishop in Guatemala.

The Story: Francisco Goldman's semiautobiographical novel captures the life of his young wife, Aura Estrada, a doctoral student and an aspiring writer whose life ended in 2007 in a tragic accident only two years into their marriage. Goldman looks back at Aura's childhood days in Mexico and at their first encounter at a New York University literature panel--and ultimately at the loss that follows. Goldman, 20 years her senior, adores the ambitious, intellectual, and vivacious Aura, whose innocent gap-toothed smile and quicksilver moods quickly endear her to him, despite the disapproval of Aura's mother, who ultimately blames Goldman for Aura's death. Goldman pours his grief into his novel, enshrining both a woman called Aura and his irreplaceable love.
Grove Press. 350 pages. $24. ISBN: 9780802119810

Boston Globe 4.5 of 5 Stars
"To call Francisco Goldman's book about the death of his young Mexican wife an elegy hardly represents it. Lament is closer, but insufficient. It is a chain of eruptions, a meteor shower; not just telling but bombarding us in a loss that glitters." Richard Eder

San Francisco Chronicle 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The more deeply you have loved in your life, the more this book will wrench you, hold you by the throat and make you stare down what may be the most primal sorrow in the human repertoire. ... Say Her Name will also transport you into the most primal joy in the human repertoire--the joy of loving--and reveal it with aching vibrancy." Carolina De Robertis

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"For most of the book he explores the before and after while dancing around the details of what actually happened. The effect is powerful. As the story builds--inevitably, unbearably--toward Aura's last day, Goldman has so convincingly brought her to life that her death still somehow comes as a shock." Rob Brunner

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Goldman revives [Aura] through the only power left to him. So remarkable is this resurrection that at times I felt the book itself had a pulse." Robin Romm

NPR 4 of 5 Stars
"In writing Say Her Name, Goldman has shared with the reader the sort of ephemeral fantasy that we invent about the people we love. ... It is rare to be invited into a marriage, offered a drink and asked to hear of all its messy particulars." Phoebe Connelly

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Say Her Name is the real thing--a true tale of a romantic obsession, of grief mediated not through a long shared history but, instead, through the aching awareness of what might have been. ... It's 350 mesmerizing pages that don't fit the usual script." Ellen Emry Heltzel

Critical Summary

Goldman may have included some fictional elements in Say Her Name, but the heartbreak is real. We often speak of the dead living on in the memories of loved ones, but rarely does one encounter memories so masterfully penned that even those who never knew the deceased come to feel as though they did. Goldman, who clings to each cherished memory of his wife and seeks to immortalize her, succeeds in both these goals. The Boston Globe hails the novel as a classic, equal to "other remarkable texts of mourning; in particular with Federico Garcia Lorca's plunging cataract of tribute to the slain bullfighter Ignacio Sanchez Mejias." As the novel closes, Goldman ensures that the reader will come to love and mourn for his Aura.