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Posted: May 23, 2021

A European import worthy of wrestling with

Book Review

By Derryll White

Del Arbol, Victor (2013).  Breathing Through the Wound.

            “There is always something left to be said when there’s no longer any time left to say it.”

Victor Del Arbol asks a recurring question throughout this very thought-provoking novel – what do you believe in? The things that happen to his characters are not easily explained. Personal loss is rampant throughout the pages. In this new era of extremes, driven by the changing winds of COVID-19, this is a darkly meaningful question. What do you believe in?  He creates characters that do not even believe in themselves.  Who charts their fate?

The author creates pain and melancholy that the reader is forced to admit is possible, but wants no part of.  Del Arbol goes deeper, darker, than most people even want to consider.  There is no light, only despair. And in all of that the reader is forced to consider the possibility of putting retribution, death and destruction in motion. Could I?  Is that even possible? There are always consequences.

It takes real fortitude to read the whole of ‘Breathing Through the Wound’, a very long novel. No one is innocent here.  Gloria Tagger, world renowned concert violinist and member of a hugely wealthy family, drives all the characters into very dark places.  This is a European import worthy of wrestling with.

“What is love?  A transient feeling, something we think we possess but that never really belongs to us.”


Excerpts from the novel:

TIME – He rubbed his right knee, swollen as a wine skin.  A huge scar ran clear from one side to the other and, although over the years the skin had grown back around the wound, the flesh had been sucked down underneath it like an earthquake fault line.

Touching the mound of dead flesh was like rubbing up against a time he no longer wanted to remember.

HONESTY – Unaware of being observed, the mysterious woman offered him a tiny cove of sincerity, an insight into who she was that she never would have shown, even posing nude on the divan in his bedroom.  When people feel examined even if their intentions are true, the seed of a lie is born.

HOME – Eduardo didn’t ask any more questions – but he was thinking, buying a house doesn’t make you its owner.  A house has to be lived in to become a home, and that place definitely wasn’t.  What was the point of buying a house and filling it with art, if not to live in it?  He assumed a woman like Gloria A. Tagger had to find a place that gave her meaning, a place that made things make sense.

DEPRESSION – There are people who spend their whole lives suffering without realizing it, who die without discovering the cause of the heaviness that weighs down their days, the vague uneasiness that makes them sullen and sometimes mean, and always unhappy.  People who live in the dark, never learning the cause of their private personal pain, so routine that they accept it as normal, like a migraine or a backache.

WORDS – What are words that go unheard?  Anvils, sledgehammers that keep pain from ever dying.

MADRID – “Madrid is full of people lost at sea, don’t you think?  The waves of its invisible ocean hurl hundreds of desperate souls to its shores every day; they’re everywhere.”

DEPRESSION – What would it be like to kill the dark, remorseless part of you that – though it is you – lives outside of you, hounding you insistently.

CHILDREN – Children grow up, they learn things about themselves, some of them erroneous, and then they leave – whether physically or not, they stop belonging to their parents.  Children are temporary, they’re given only on loan, and sooner or later, they have to be returned, given back to life itself.

PAIN – All she cared about was her own pain.  And pain was an insatiable god who demanded endless sacrifice, who’s hope and dreams being the first of them.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION – The bus to her employers’ suburb was nearly empty.  “They’ll shut down this route any day now.”  The driver said, “Public transportation gives rich people the willies.  It’s too democratic.  Smells like humanity.”

LOVE – Sometimes there are people you want to love and just can’t figure out how.  With so many accumulated misunderstandings you end up losing the way, and it’s impossible to get back on track.

DEATH – People are nothing without the stuff that makes them.  Organs.  Thoughts.  Emotions.  The rest is just a gruesome costume.  The silent vestige of something that once was, but was no longer.  He’d always found odd the human need to venerate bones – graves, tombs, cemeteries, religions – when all of those things in fact constituted the overwhelming proof of the one and only truth he’d ever read in the Bible, Dust you are.  Unto dust you shall return.  Maybe that was why he never went to visit his dead.  Because they weren’t really there.

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.

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