Book Review: Francisco Goldman’s “Say Her Name”

Francisco Goldman has turned his pain into one of the most eloquent and most praised novels of the year.

Goldman writes about his young wife’s death in the book, Say Her Name. Goldman was married to Aura Estrada, a Ph.D. candidate in literature who died in a swimming accident in 2007, and he keeps their names and many real life incidents in the novel.

In the book, he describes their first meeting, their difficult families, and their lives spent in New York City and Mexico. The first hundred pages are particularly riveting and, although the subject can be heavy, Goldman’s details make the reader know the characters intimately and feel Francisco’s heartache. Many times Goldman sounds like a teenage boy who can’t believe his crush likes him back – such as this passage in the beginning of their relationship, when he calls Aura and her roommate answers the phone:

“She had a young cheerful voice that came through the phone line like a fresh breeze of spring. Aura was in the shower, she told me. She was in the shower. That phrase evoked so much – it was about six or seven on a weekday evening, normally not an hour for showering unless she was going out, most likely on a date, or whatever it is, I thought grad students call ‘dates.’ Even now it hurts to imagine her engaged in that sweet ritual for anyone other than me: coming out of the bathroom with her hair turbaned in a towel, another wrapped around her torso, choosing her dress, blow-drying her hair, putting on the dress, studying herself in the mirror, applying makeup, taking off the dress and putting on another – one that’s less pretty and sexy but that’s in a way that covers the yin-yang-faced sun-moon tattoo on her chest above her left breasted that she’s had since she was fifteen – reapplying her lip gloss with a Zen calligrapher’s perfect touch, padding around the apartment in still bare or stockinged feet, in that state of restrained excitement just before going out into the night.”

Looking back on her life, Goldman is charmed even by Aura’s annoying characteristics – such as her habit of losing or forgetting things. And his grief is so profound, he kisses a tree that he walks by every day because he imagines seeing her face on it, and he even goes out in the middle of a frigid night because he had forgotten to kiss the tree earlier that day.

Just as Goldman is haunted by his wife’s memories, readers will be haunted by his words.

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Filed under 2011 Books, Book Reviews, Fiction

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