My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Sure wish there were half stars. 3.5
Maria Duenas’ second novel to appear in translation, The Heart Has Its Reasons, is dramatic in a different way from her previous international bestseller, The Time In Between, a novel that dealt with the suspense of both love and war. The Heart Has Its Reasons is more a novel of the havoc of love. The book is told in the first person: Blanca Perea, a Spanish professor of linguistics, discovers that the husband who just left her is having a child with his lover—the third child he never wanted, and Blanca did. She wants to get far, far away, and lick her emotional wounds far away from her grown sons and ex-husband, and takes a sabbatical from the university to travel all the way to California to work on a project far beneath her level of expertise, compiling and classifying some documents—a project that requires a Spanish native with a humanities doctorate.
When Blanca arrives at the University of Santa Cecilia, she discovers much disarray—tumult that matches her own life. The papers she’s to deal with have lain in a basement for many years; there’s a conflict between the department head and a former University professor who’s visiting Santa Cecilia (but why is he neglecting his own university?); there’s the very odd daughter of the very creepy ex-department secretary; there are students protesting against the proposed construction of a mall in a beautiful park. There’s a mess to match the mess of her heart. There’s lots of academic intrigue, many hints of dangers lurking. In the end, though, this is not a novel of plot, but an exploration of grief, loss, and recovery; of growing up and growing onward, of heart and home.
I wish I had read the previous novel (still on my to-read list) so that I had a little more perspective on how much of the book’s sense of emotional disconnection is due to the author, and how much to the translator—that book had a different translator. But I am not intrigued enough to read it in the original Spanish.
Pros: accurate depiction of academics and university culture, intriguing background of Spaniards in California if you don’t know it, a snapshot of Spain’s modern history. Cons: like I said, I don’t know if it’s the translator’s choice, or the author’s: despite the very dramatic, sometimes passionate, actions and words of the characters, it feels like one is “reading about,” rather than immersed in the story. The very formal, sometimes literal translation definitely lets you know you are in the head of a foreigner, but the lack of colloquialism imposes a distance. The most egregious “literal” example: Chapter 6, “four portentous GE electric irons.” In order to be “portentous” in English, they should signify something that comes up later. What came up, at the very end of the book, was that Chapter 6, a flashback, is supposedly based on something that a native English speaker wrote.
Liked it, didn’t love it. Pretty sure I could predict that as the overall opinion of my book group, as well; some will love it, some will hate it, most will like it.
(Thanks to Atria and Netgalley for the E-ARC for review.)
View all my reviews