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A Heart So White

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  8,406 ratings  ·  819 reviews
Javier Marías's A Heart So White chronicles with unnerving insistence the relentless power of the past. Juan knows little of the interior life of his father Ranz; but when Juan marries, he begins to consider the past anew, and begins to ponder what he doesn't really want to know. Secrecy—its possible convenience, its price, and even its civility—hovers throughout the novel ...more
Paperback, 280 pages
Published May 17th 2002 by New Directions (first published February 13th 1992)
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Hajer Mirwali I think this one, A Heart So White, is a good place to start. But really, start anywhere with any writer.

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Average rating 4.01  · 
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Jeffrey Keeten
Aug 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jeffrey by: Kris
”Listening is the most dangerous thing of all, listening means knowing, finding out about something and knowing what’s going on, our ears don’t have lids that can instinctively close against the words uttered, they can’t hide from what they sense they’re about to hear, it’s always too late.”

Juan is trained to listen to people. He is a professional translator, so when he is listening to conversations it comes in his ears in one language and comes out his mouth in another language. He is the only
Steven Godin
Masterfully intriguing and told using a seductive and challenging narrative, Javier Marias goes from sentence to dazzling sentence that reaches deep within the human psyche to reveal a family's past shrouded in mystery, where questions that are asked leads to unsettling hostilities, all the while exploring themes of love, desire and the good and bad side of marriage.

And it's marriage that sits somewhat uncomfortably in the foreground in 'A Heart so White'. Marias examines the commonplace yet pec
Vit Babenco
Jun 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
All that is told is fiction but all fiction relates to reality…
Recounting an event distorts it, recounting facts distorts and twists and almost negates them, everything that one recounts, however true, becomes unreal and approximate, the truth doesn't depend on things actually existing or happening, but on their remaining hidden or unknown or untold…

A Heart So White is in a way an anatomy of wedlock – a scrupulous analysis of man and wife relations in general and discovering a family secret in p
Jun 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
There are so many layers to this book. You have to be willing to give it time, especially in the first third or so, when Marías writes long, intricate, sentences that fold back on themselves, with parentheses within parentheses. Through this style, Marías presents the thoughts and interpretations of the protagonist, Juan, a translator who describes himself as committed, almost addicted, to understanding all he hears, all he sees, everything around him. Juan has recently married another translato ...more
Jul 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Very unusual story about betrayal and confession.

Set in the deeply catholic countries of Spain and Cuba, it argues that too much knowledge between lovers and spouses destroys love. I wonder if that is true. It reminds me of Jeanette Winterson's thoughts in The Passion, where she reflects on the theme that "between sex and fear, passion lies". Too much familiarity, trust and knowledge would thus by default make passion disappear. The same idea is repeated in Written on the Body, where boredom is
Jan 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is not easy to read, but for me it is one of the highlights of the new Spanish literature. Linguistically, it is formulated excellently, but presented in getting used to long sentences. It begins very dramatically and captivating. Then at the end the bow closes and you understand the beginning. In between, there are some digressions that do not quite thematically fit the book, but still represent nice literary excursions. The plot comes in several strands together, which are described ...more
What do I wish to hear? About the present? The past, may be? Or a little tune on the waiting future? Do I wish to eavesdrop on my best friend to find out what she thinks of me when I am not around? Am I tempted to open a letter addressed to my partner with no overt allusion to my name or salutation on the envelope? Am I inclined to return to an unknown place just so I can hear a random conversation complete in my mind? Do I wish to pause a few seconds longer at the traffic so I can hear the bant ...more

My hands are of your color; but I shame
To wear a heart so white.
William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Time keeps on moving at an indifferent pace and yet it keeps on changing; every second, every day, and every year. Since we all are busy living, we attach little importance to the things happened and the words spoken in the past as most of the times we are under the impression that it doesn’t hold the power to change our present or affect our future (not devastatingly at least). Certainly there are poeti
Stephen P
Dec 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Lovers of both eloquence and surprise
Recommended to Stephen by: Anything Marias Is Sent by M.Puma

A book about boundaries, both protected and invaded as well as about time. What is present already is diffused into the past and therefore cannot be known. One cannot know anything! At some point it will be long enough ago that it can be laughed at as though those laughing and remembering were not participants. There are secrets. He lives in a world of suspicions, trying to interpret, translate, so he is well defended, everything is in its place as when he returns from a trip and unpacks each th
Jul 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spanish
Over beers with a friend, I was trying to articulate what it is about Graham Swift, one of his favorite novelists, that I didn't like. I meant to be gentle, not wanting to bruise his feelings, but he doubtlessly was prepared for another rant. After 30 years of friendship he well knows my attempts at persuasion and my underlying insistence on being right. (We spent a similar evening arguing with voices raised but without consequence over who was the most musically influential Beatle). But skills ...more
Stephen Ford
Oct 08, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: nobody
This is one of the worst books I have ever read. Where shall I start? Its banal insights may just about justify a short story by a teenager; the dialogue is stilted, pretentious and postured; and no interesting events occur - nothing actually happens.

Most importantly, the style is pedestrian, repetitive, circumlocutary. For instance: "Carefully, very carefully (but not that carefully) I crossed the room." So which is it, Marias? Carefully, very carefully or not that carefully? And why should I c
Dec 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Intriguing book. It is impossible to read at a normal speed, you are forced to slow down as ideas pop up like little cartoon balloons in almost every sentence. You have to reflect on them, as they seem to remain hovering above the book and only drift away very slowly. The book does not have much dialogue and is written in a breathless voice. I cannot even say if I find that tone attractive or not, neither if I like the book very much. The book is about secrets; secrets kept and secrets revealed. ...more
“I did not want to know but I have since come to know that one of the girls, when she wasn’t a girl any more and hadn’t long been back from her honeymoon, went into the bathroom, stood in front of the mirror, unbuttoned her blouse, took off her bra and aimed her own father’s gun at her heart, her father at the time was in the living room with other members of the family and three guests.”

And so with the first sentence we dive into unknown depths.

The title of the book is from Macbeth, in the sc
Ben Loory
Sep 10, 2011 rated it liked it
liked it, didn't love it, didn't really "really like it," found myself often sighing loudly towards the end-- JUST FRIGGIN SAY WHAT YOU'RE GONNA SAY ALREADY AND STOP SAYING IT EIGHTY TIMES IN A ROW-- but there's no doubt marias is an extremely talented writer, above all a great writer of scenes... there are scenes in this book-- many, many scenes-- that i will probably remember my whole life (bathroom, balcony, meeting of interpreters, post office, museum guard, wow there are a lot)... it's just ...more
Aug 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Listening is the most dangerous thing of all."

One of the benefits of a summer birthday is the marginalized chance of being ill on said day. Of course, as we age, the day becomes ever ambivalent. Today I found myself sick beyond preparation. It has been a rough week w/ viruses making rounds at work and my own sinuses self-immolating. That said, I was hoping for a reprieve today. It didn't happen.

Instead my wife and I perched in our living room and read. Art Tatum and Eric Dolphy contributed grea
I enjoyed this a lot, but it is not an easy book to summarise. Loosely it is a book about family secrets, communication and relationships, with a long-hidden tragedy at its core, and focuses on a son's attempts to understand his father's past and come to terms with the psychological effects of his recent marriage, written in a rich language with a lot of sudden changes of focus, and occasional repetitions. Trying to break it down like that doesn't convey how rewarding the read is.
Chris Chapman
Oct 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: zz-yr-2017
Marías's problem with women?

Yes, it is a question. But more of that later.

Firstly, this book is extraordinary. The scene where Juan is interpreting at a meeting between Margaret Thatcher and Felipe Gonzalez (they are not named but it’s pretty clear it’s them) is stunning, a tour de force of humour, tension and disquiet. The entire book is a series of scenes like this, developed over many pages, sometimes with little action, but always rich with observation and ideas via the narrator, Juan. They
Jim Elkins
Oct 09, 2012 added it
Shelves: spanish
When Epiphanies seem Managed

Marias has a rhythm that he repeats throughout the book, in which an apparently natural inner monologue leads up to a surprising insight or an unexpected obstacle. It is clear that he thinks these changes of direction produce meaning, and that their accumulation can lead to deeper meanings. But for me, it's consistently disappointing to see him leading up to one of those moments, and imagining that the result will be expressive or even profound, and then turning, sati
Dec 27, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: library
This novel by acclaimed-Spaniard-who-has-yet-to-be-recognized-in-the-US was given to me by my boyfriend, who strongly prefers books that tell you a story and let you make your own judgment, rather than stories that are too morally guided. Reading a story for the story is all well and good, but when you buy your girlfriend a book, expect her to read into things and to take things at least a tad personally (especially if it involves a man thrice widowed and a stranger threatening to kill his wife) ...more
M. Sarki
Sep 23, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

The number of pages of made-time that it takes for Javier Marías to get anywhere is simultaneously relaxing in its pace and frustrating in its ramble. But what better activities does one have to do with one's time than to sit still with a book written by a master-observer regarding the human condition? There are few topics the author fails to elaborate on within his process, the hours of contemplation required in finding and eventually knowing his subjects
Jul 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

This is the cover but GR has taken away my librarian status so I can't fix this ISBN record...

I started this knowing nothing about it other than it was written by a Spaniard and was on the Guardian's list of 1000 novels everyone should read. And now I am glad that is so as if someone had tried to describe this to me, I probably would have thought "That's not for me". How wrong would I have been!

Marias's writing was engaging and he slowly builds up a sense of tension and suspense throughout the
Adam Dalva
Dec 05, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An incredibly ambitious book, more than the sum of its parts, and one that I in large part loved. It DRAGS on occasion, possibly intentionally, and I had to force my way through some sections (those meandering, paragraph long sentences are always so risky), but there is so much that is good here. I will particularly remember a dating sequence in New York that is an early '90s version of OK Cupid, but also that wonderful beginning (something out of the Marquez you wish had existed), that wonderfu ...more
Stephen Durrant
Jun 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
This, I believe, is my fourth Marias' book. I do consider him one of the best contemporary novelists and always find his books interesting. But he can be hard going, and I found this work particularly so. Marias' books are in some ways meditations. "A Heart So White" concerns a marriage between two interpreters, and one could, I suppose, regard this as a book about interpreting. We wait, often outside the realm of action, then words are finally spoken, we become obliged, trapped . . . or words a ...more
Feb 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Introduction by Jonathan Coe
‘I think it was Faulkner who once said that when you strike a match in a dark wilderness it is not in order to see anything better lighted, but just in order to see how much more darkness there is around. I think that literature does mainly that. It is not really supposed to ‘answer’ things, not even to make them clearer, but rather to explore – often blindly – the huge areas of darkness, and show them better.’
‘Among other things, there is a certain rueful world-weari
Nov 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Repetition. That's one of the themes in A Heart So White. So what does the author do through his hero? He has him repeat some key notions throughout the book, although, the reader has no idea that those notions are key before the end. Thus, he doesn't simply talk about repetition. He lets the reader experience it.
Waiting. That's another theme in the book. One that is actually linked to repetition. So how does Marias communicate his theme to the reader? He talks about it at some point and then l
Justin Evans
Jun 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
What do love and democracy have in common? The unnamed English politician in HSW suggests that in a democracy politicians "have to do it in a way which [the people] believe they've chosen, just as couples get together believing that both have chosen to do so, with their eyes wide open." (65) But in fact, one party always obliges the other--the unstated suggestion here is that politicians always oblige the electorate to act as those politicians want us to, while making us think that we've chosen ...more
Oct 23, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
[Note: Italian translation]
While reading this I was trying to figure out 2 things: 1) what was it that I didn't like about it, and 2) why I liked it so much. And that, in a nutshell, is a description of Marías's paradoxical style (and method).
One of the things that bothered me was the way all the characters seemed to talk in the same way, with the same style. In his other books, I found good excuses (see my other reviews of Marías) , and in this one the narrator out-and-out says it: This is the
Jul 17, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the first chapter the reader discovers a mystery. There is a death, but the circumstances behind it are completely hidden from the reader. This first chapter, however, sets the stage for everything which follows. It's dark and beautifully written, despite the horror of the occasion.

The story continues from there and picks up with Juan who has just gotten married. Juan understands there's a story in his family that he has not heard yet, and isn't sure he wants to hear. His wife, Luisa, becomes
Dec 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spanish-lit, español
Wow what a book! I was first tipped off by a GoodReads friend and then saw Donna Tart (The Goldfinch) highly praise the book in a Globe and Mail "Best Book read in 2013" and it just so happened that I had purchased the book on a recent trip. So I just started reading it and the opening hooked me.

A woman recently visiting her family home after her honeymoon, gets her father's gun, goes into the bathroom and shoots herself. Then Javier Marías begins to unravel what happens through his narrator, Ju
Feb 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, spanish-lit
“Recounting an event distorts it, recounting facts distorts and twists and almost negates them, everything that one recounts, however true, becomes unreal and approximate, the truth doesn’t depend on things actually existing or happening, but on their remaining hidden or unknown or untold, as soon as they’re related or shown or made manifest, even in a medium that seems real, on television or in the newspapers, in what is called reality or life or even real life, they become part of some analogy
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Reading 1001: A Heart So White 4 9 Jun 01, 2020 04:16AM  
Reading 1001: Buddy Read May: A Heart so white 11 18 Jun 01, 2020 03:54AM  
Guardian Newspape...: Heart So White, A - July 2017 12 22 Aug 23, 2017 08:57AM  
Goodreads Librari...: adding edition details inima-atat-de-alba 8 22 Nov 29, 2015 06:45AM  
Goodreads Librari...: add edition description inima... 5 18 Nov 28, 2015 11:55PM  
Goodreads Librari...: correct title inima atit de alba 2 120 Nov 28, 2015 04:03AM  
Goodreads Librari...: Please combine 4 23 May 17, 2013 09:25AM  

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Javier Marías is a Spanish novelist, translator, and columnist. His work has been translated into 42 languages. Born in Madrid, his father was the philosopher Julián Marías, who was briefly imprisoned and then banned from teaching for opposing Franco. Parts of his childhood were spent in the United States, where his father taught at various institutions, including Yale University and Wellesley Col ...more

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“Listening is the most dangerous thing of all, listening means knowing, finding out about something and knowing what’s going on, our ears don’t have lids that can instinctively close against the words uttered, they can’t hide from what they sense they’re about to hear, it’s always too late.” 57 likes
“It's always the chest of the other person we lean back against for support, we only really feel supported or backed up when, as the latter verb itself indicates, there's someone behind us, someone we perhaps cannot even see and who covers our back with their chest, so close it almost brushes our back and in the end always does, and at times, that someone places a hand on our shoulder, a hand to calm us and also to hold us. That's how most married people and most couples sleep or think they sleep, the two turn to the same side when they say goodnight, so that one has his or her back to the other throughout the whole night, when he or she wakes up startled from a nightmare, or is unable to get to sleep, or is suffering from a fever or feels alone and abandoned in the darkness, they have only to turn round and see before them the face of the person protecting them, the person who will let themselves be kissed on any part of the face that is kissable (nose, eyes and mouth; chin, forehead and cheeks, the whole face) or perhaps, half-asleep, will place a hand on their shoulder to calm them, or to hold them, or even to cling to them.” 45 likes
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