Award-winning writer, Francisco Goldman, married a beautiful young writer named Aura Estrada in the summer of 2005. The month before their second anniversary, Aura died from injuries sustained in a body surfing accident while they were on holiday. Blamed for Aura’s death by her family, and blaming himself, Francisco wanted to die too. Instead, her wrote ‘Say Her Name.’
In this extraordinary autobiographical novel, Goldman tries to make sense of Aura’s death by reflecting on her life and his memories of her. He writes with incredible detail about Aura’s childhood, about how they first met, about their life together as a married couple – all the time returning to his unbearable sense of loss. At times, Goldman writes as if he is speaking directly to his wife, at times he is a meticulous observer, painting a picture of her which is so vivid that, on these pages at least, he does manage to bring her very much back to life.
There is also an additional dimension to these tragic events, in that Aura’s mother Juanita, blames Goldman for her daughters death. He writes, ‘If I were Juanita, I know I would have wanted to put me in prison, too. Though not for the reasons she and her brother gave.’
The final chapters, which recall the terrible and frustrating events which led to Aura’s death, are incredibly challenging to read because, unlike most novels recalling such events, these are not a work of fiction. These are real events which happened to real people and as readers who already know how the events unfold, the words on the pages become even more poignant.
Sometimes you may choose to read a book for escapism, for fun or for a moment’s distraction. With ‘Say Her Name’ you read because you are immediately drawn into the tragedy of this man’s grief, because you are mesmerised by the life of this couple, and because you care. It isn’t easy reading though, because as we discover the depth of Goldman’s love for his wife and get to know the amazing woman Aura was – and was destined to become – we are, of course, aware of how the story tragically ends.
I found ‘Say Her Name’ to be a compelling, moving novel which manages to weave in moments of humour among the sadness. It is a book which is well worth taking the time and effort to read this autumn.
Francisco Goldman is the author of four books – three works of fiction (The Long Night of White Chickens, The Ordinary Seaman, and The Divine Husband) and one work of non-fiction, The Art of Political Murder.
His fiction and journalism have appeared in the New Yorker, Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, The New York Review of Books, Outside, and many other publications. He lives in New York City and Mexico City.
Read more about Francisco Goldman at http://www.franciscogoldman.com/
‘Say Her Name’ is published by Grove Press UK.