Jeff Scott's Reviews > The Painter of Battles

The Painter of Battles by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
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's review
Apr 19, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction, war, art, spanish-fiction
Read from April 19 to 24, 2010

This book discusses the horrors of war and the futility of capturing it for others to see. Are you trying to tell the horrors of war to dissuade it, or are you really fascinated by it (and in that way perpetuate it?)

Faulques is a war photographer, or was one. He now focuses on a mural to adorn the wall of a lighthouse. It shall feature every famous battle depicted over the centuries of war. He is interrupted by his own past. A subject of one of his award winning photographs has sought him out, to kill him.

The subject, a soldier in the Balkan War, forces Faulques to re-examine his past and get to the root of his true intentions. Why is he fascinated with war? What is his purpose in capturing it in film and now in this mural. The examination makes him face a horrible secret and decide who he really is.

I found the discussion of art fascinating. The melding of art and war is an interesting business and the author has a definite opinion on them. I found myself looking up famous works of art mentioned in the book and studying some war photography. Some of the fictional examples in the book were enough to turn your stomach. I cannot imagine being in that moment where people are being slaughtered and to not be able to do anything about it (not that one person could anything in that moment). The artist and the soldier wrestle with these thoughts. A fascinating discussion.

A man believes he is a woman's lover when in truth he is only her witness. P 170

"I had a lot of that kind of time," he said suddenly. "I can't say that it was a good thing, but I had it. For two and a half years, my only view was of a fence and a mountain of white rock. There was no uncertainty there, not even close. It was a concrete mountain, bare, no vegetation, and a cold wind blew off it during the winter. You understand? A wind that shook the fence with a sound I have in my head and can't blot out. The sound of a frozen, unyielding landscape, you know, senor Faulques? Like your photographs?" p. 49

I am a simple tourist of disaster, happy to be that, with a camera that serves as a pretext for feeling I'm alive, as it was in those long-ago days when every human had a shadow glued to his heels. I would have liked to write a novel, or make a movie about the dead friends of a Knight Templar, about a love-sick Samurai, about a Russian count who drank like a Cossack and gambled like a criminal in Monte Carlo before he became the doorman at Le Gran Vefour in Paris, but I don't have the talent to do that. So I look. I take pictures. And you are my passport, for the moment. The hand the leads me across landscapes like the one in that painting. As for the definitive image, the one that everyone is looking for in our profession--including you, though you never say it--isn't that important, I don't care whether I find it or not. You know that I would shoot-clic, clic, clic--with our without film in the camera. You know damn well I would. But it's different with you, Faulques. Your eyes, so charged with defensiveness, want to ask an accounting of God using their own rules. Or weapons. They want to peer into Paradise, not at the beginning of Creation but at the end, just at the brink of the abyss. Although you will never capture that with one miserable photo. p. 64

Look at those faces. The man who kills and dies, confused, blind, locked together with his enemy. The history of the labyrinth, or the world. Our history. p. 68

faulques, who had herak's head in his viewfinder, an insignificant, common face that in times of peace would have been considered almost pitiful, slowly lowered his camera without pressing the shutter release, with the certainty that no photograph in the world, not even the image and sound that television cameras were recording could reflect or interpret that reality. Geological amorality, Olvido had said once in regard to something else, although it may have been about the same thing: impossible to photograph the indolent yawn of the universe. P 162


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Reading Progress

04/22/2010 page 72
32.14% "And there's a moment when everything comes to a stop... your hope evaporates. That's when you become a true prisoner."

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