Jennifer Campaniolo's Reviews > Say Her Name

Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman
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's review
Aug 18, 2011

really liked it

This is another book that I first discovered after reading a very affecting excerpt in the New Yorker (as a book publicist, I'm aware that they are the holy grail for literary excerpts--oh, and O magazine, which is where I first discovered Eat, Pray, Love and This Life is in Your Hands.)

Journalist and sometime novelist Francisco Goldman has written a heartbreaking and true love story of epic proportions--despite the fact that the relationship only lasted four years. He met and married Columbia University student Aura Estrada in New York City. She is 22 years younger than he, but both share a Mexican heritage and each is able to bring out a lighthearted, impulsive side in the other which he illustrates with great detail. You can feel the love and happiness they shared with great poignancy, in particular because you know that it will be short-lived.

This is because you know from the beginning of the book that Aura has died, though you don't learn the specifics until late in the book. Although her death is tragic and creates a permanent rift in Francisco's relationship with his in-laws (who blame him for her death), what matters to Goldman is capturing the real Aura before and during their relationship--breathing life back into his beloved young wife.

He succeeds in his resurrection. Aura is spritely, fun-loving, book smart, sassy, and popular--even among the French people they meet while on vacation in Paris. Spanish waiters, busboys, and other kitchen help can't help coming by just to talk to Aura, even when she's having dinner with Francisco. She's not necessarily a great beauty (although to Francisco she might as well be Mona Lisa) but she has that spark that draws people to her. She also has a difficult mother and an absent father who leaves the family when she's just a girl. It's not a stretch to imagine that Francisco is something of a father figure for her (though he stresses that he could be very immature for his age).

I admire Goldman's honesty, even when he talks about some ill-advised affairs he has after Aura's death, almost exclusively with younger women and some even Aura's friends. This only compounds the hurt for everyone who loves and misses her.

Ultimately, though I do feel like he sentimentalizes Aura because their love was so short-lived (how would he feel if they were married for 20 years, with all the ups and downs of a typical marriage?) Four years is still a new relationship. But for someone who never felt real love before, Goldman believes he's lost his soul mate. Anyway, there are no rules for grieving.

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