Javier Marías’s A Heart So White by Minna Proctor

BOMB 62 Winter 1998
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Javier Marí­as. Photo by Jerry Bauer. Courtesy of Harcourt Brace.

Complicity through knowledge is at the center of Javier Marías’s award-winning Spanish novel. The protagonist, Juan, is an interpreter for the UN, a trade which relies on the symbiosis of listening and translating—the objective mediation of information. After hours, the symbiosis breaks down, and Juan uses his neurotically over-developed skills in the pursuit of knowledge. Knowledge, oh so vexed! Vexed here, because knowledge is bloodstained, inextricable from complicity. Hence, Marías’s continual retreat to the recurring image of Lady Macbeth with bloodied hands: “but I shame to wear a heart so white.”

The consummate eavesdropper, Juan is also an elaborately creative interpreter of the world around him. A scrap of conversation from the next hotel room, a mistaken identity, a friend’s blind date, a dimly remembered nursery rhyme—all material for his investigation, all tortured into significance. Inspired by a post-nuptial identity crisis, the interpreter sets off on a journey back through the tangled branches of his family history. He slowly pieces together the tale of his father’s morally dubious, yet passionate, past; a past that ruthlessly makes conspirators of its participants. From its stunning opening, through its carefully embroidered and inevitable revelation, A Heart So White is rather traditional—refreshingly un-American—in its style and construction. Interpretation is the work of the novelist, and listening is the tragic flaw of this novel’s characters: “Listening is the most dangerous thing of all, for listening means knowing… . ”

—Minna Proctor

A Heart So White, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, was recently published in paperback by Panther/Harvill.

Javier Marías by Paul Ingendaay
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A.G. Porta by Margaret Hooks
​A.G. Porta​

The Catalan author of The No World Concerto talks about his early collaborations with Roberto Bolaño and the slew of novels that followed a lengthy hiatus from writing.

Enrique Vila-Matas by Lina Meruane
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Enrique Vila-Matas’s characters include James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Paul Auster, and even Enrique Vila-Matas. The Catalan author talks with Meruane about his distinct method of interlacing reading, writing, fact, and fiction.

Mercè Rodoreda’s Death in Spring by Katherine Elaine Sanders

Open Letter, 2009

Mercè Rodoreda (1908–1983), often acclaimed as the greatest modern Catalan author, worked as a seamstress and wrote novels while in exile in France and Switzerland for over 20 years during Franco’s regime. 

Originally published in

BOMB 62, Winter 1998

Featuring interviews with Elizabeth Murray, Kerry James Marshall, Anthony Hecht, Michael Winterbottom, Liza Bear, Wong Kar-Wai, Olu Dara, Martin Sherman, and Philip Kan Gotanda. 

Read the issue
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