Tag Archives: Other Press

Review: Blitz by David Trueba

I received an advanced review copy of this title from Other Press.  The book was published in the original Spanish in 2014 and this English version has been translated by Mara Faye Lethem.  This is yet another contribution to Spanish Lit Month hosted by Stu and Richard.  A special thanks to the both of them for hosting this literary event.

My Review:
BlitzBeto is a landscape architect who, like many others, has been hit hard by the economic recession in Europe.  Building and maintaining elaborate gardens and parks is a luxury that businesses and municipalities can no longer afford.  In order to make some money to pay the bills, Beto enters a landscape architecture contest in Munich, where the first prize would be enough to keep him afloat for a while.  Beto and his girlfriend, Marta who is also his assistant and partner in his landscape business, both travel to Munich to attend the landscape conference where the prize winners will be announced.

Beto is having a good time in Munich speaking with other architects and listening to their ideas and proposals.  But one night at dinner Beto receives a text message from Marta that clearly wasn’t meant for him.  He says, “Life changes when the love messages aren’t for you. That love message arrived like a lightning bolt, unespected and electric, and changed my life.”  When he confronts Marta about the message, she admits it was meant for her ex-boyfriend with whom she has reconnected and she announces that she leaving Beto to go back to her ex.

Beto’s reaction to this awful news is one of denial and inertia;  he doesn’t want to face his life again in Barcelona where he lives and works with Marta.  He impulsively decides to stay behind in Munich even though he has no money and is about to be thrown out of his hotel room.  Helga, who was serving as a translator for Beto at the landscape conference, steps in and saves Beto in more ways than one.  Helga, at age sixty-two, is about thirty years older than Beto and her offer of help appears to be a natural,  maternal gesture.  Helga takes Beto back to her apartment in Munich and over a bottle of vodka Beto learns that Helga has been divorced for fifteen years and has lived alone ever since.  Throughout the course of their conversation Beto is surprised to discover that he has become very attracted to Helga and he wants to kiss her.

Beto and Helga spend the night together and do much more than kiss.  Trueba offers a brutally honest and at times graphic commentary on the realities of aging.  Helga has sagging skin and wrinkles and Beto is ashamed that he is attracted to this woman who is so different physically and emotionally from Marta.  As they spend time together after their night of passion, Beto feels that he should be embarrassed to be seen with an older woman in a romantic situation and he realizes that this reaction is hurtful to Helga.

Beto has to face reality and say goodbye to Helga and return to the shattered remains of his life in Barcelona.  Their farewell at the airport is awkward because they don’t expect to see each other again despite two nights of emotional and physical intimacy that they shared.  The last part of the book when Beto is back in Spain is narrated like a diary in months.  Beto moves to Madrid and takes a job in a  landscape firm where his career finally takes a positive turn.  But Beto is not successful in finding another woman with whom he wants to be in  a long-term relationship.  The memory and pull of Helga and their unexpected connection always lingers in the back of his mind.

This book is a brutally honest commentary on age and love.  I especially enjoyed the ending which was a bit of a surprise.  Another unique aspect of the book are the pictures that the author includes to illustrate different pieces of the text.  Beto’s idea for his garden that is entered in the Munich competition is illustrated as well as other important scenes from the story.  Trueba’s character-driven story line with it’s straightforward prose is a great read to bring to the beach when it is released this August.

About the Author and Translator:
David TruebaDavid Trueba was born in Madrid in 1969 and has been successful both as a novelist and as a scriptwriter. La buena vida was his widely acclaimed debut as a film director and was followed by Obra Maestra (2001), Soldados de Salamina (2003), Bienvenido a casa (2006), and La silla de Fernando (2007). He is also the author of two previous novels; his debut, Four Friends, sold over 100,000 copies with twenty reprints.  Learning to Lose won the Critics Award in 2009.

Mara Faye Lethem is the translator of Spanish and Catalan authors such as Albert Sánchez Piñol, Juan Marsé, Javier Calvo, Jorge Semprún, and Pablo DeSantis. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, she has lived in Barcelona since 2003.


Filed under Literature in Translation, Spanish Literature, Summer Reading

Review- The Honeymoon: A Novel About George Eliot by Dinitia Smith

I received an advanced review copy of this title from the publisher, Other Press.

My Review:
The HoneymoonThe most upsetting aspect of this fictional biography of George Eliot was the message forced upon her by her family that she was not a beautiful person and never would be.  From the time she was a five-year-old girl she was told that she was physically ugly and that no man would ever marry her.  Her mother favors her other two children over her; her father dotes on her but it seems that he pays her extra attention out of a sense of pity for his ugly child.  It was difficult and sad to read that from an early age the emphasis on her physical appearance greatly affected every aspect of her life.  Her father provided her with the best education because no man would marry her and she would have to be able to support herself.

When the book opens, Marian Evans, which is the famous author’s real name, is on her honeymoon in Venice;  she has just married a man twenty years her junior and it is evident that this is a platonic marriage which is void of any physical pleasures.  Marian and her husband Johnnie seem uneasy for a variety of reasons and most of the book is a flashback to earlier times in her life.  In her younger years, Marian has several affairs with married men which make her feel lonely and guilty.  Her low self esteem, due to what she perceives is her “ugly” exterior, makes her vulnerable to these men when they show her any type of attention.

Marian is depicted as an intelligent, curious, and kind woman.  She has learned several languages including German, Italian and Hebrew.  Whenever she is at a party and around a group of people, the most famous minds among them are attracted to her because of her sharp mind and intellect.  She first has an affair with a good family friend, Charles Bray,  but he casts her off for a young maid.  She is then seduced by the publisher John Chapman who owns the literary magazine she works for.  But when his wife and his other mistress get jealous he ends the affair.  After this string of empty affairs, Marian is dejected and feels that she is doomed to a life of loneliness without the love of a man.

Marian meets George Lewes through a mutual friend and their relationship is built on an appreciation for all things intellectual.  They read the same books, share their writing pieces and go to the theater together.  When they do become lovers George reassures her that, despite the fact that he is legally married, he has every intention of being with her for the rest of his life.  They do stay together and live together as man and wife for over twenty years.  Their deeply emotional and intimate relationship is the best aspect of the book; even though they never have any children together she treats George’s children as her own.  It is George who encourages her to start publishing her writings and he gives her valuable feedback on her manuscripts.

When George dies Marian is absolutely lost.  She begins to rely on Johnnie, a family friend, especially to sort out her finances.  At this point in the book she is a very rich woman because of the success of her novels and Johnnie protects her assets and watches over her like a doting son.  When Johnnie proposes marriage to Marian it is shocking because they have had no hint at any romantic feelings for one another.  It is subtly suggested in the book that Johnnie is gay and he is marrying Marian to try to act like a normal, British man.   He is emotionally struggling but we are never given the exact details of his inner turmoil.  During their honeymoon Johnnie starts to mentally unravel and he attempts suicide by jumping into the canal.

The Honeymoon is an interesting look at the life of this prolific, female, British writer.  I always knew that George Eliot lived with Lewes but were never legally married.  The details in the book about their arrangement were enlightening.  The book also provides an important message: beauty is much deeper than a person’s outward, physical appearance.

About the Author:
D SmithDinitia Smith is novelist, Emmy award-winning filmmaker, and journalist. She worked as a correspondent for The New York Times, specializing in literature and the arts, for 12 years. She has taught at many institutions, including Columbia University.


Filed under Historical Fiction