Books

Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Say Her Name

A Novel

by Francisco Goldman

“Passionate and moving . . . [about] the miracle of the astonishing, spirited, deeply original young woman Francisco Goldman so adored . . . At times I felt the book itself had a pulse.” —Robin Romm, The New York Times Book Review

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 368
  • Publication Date April 10, 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4580-2
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $15.00
  • Imprint Grove Hardcover
  • Page Count 368
  • Publication Date April 05, 2011
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-1981-0
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $24.00
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Publication Date April 05, 2011
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-9567-8
  • US List Price $15.00

About The Book

Celebrated novelist Francisco Goldman married a beautiful young writer named Aura Estrada in a romantic Mexican hacienda in the summer of 2005. The month before their second anniversary, during a long-awaited holiday, Aura broke her neck while body surfing. Francisco, blamed for Aura’s death by her family and blaming himself, wanted to die, too. But instead he wrote Say Her Name, a novel chronicling his great love and unspeakable loss, tracking the stages of grief when pure love gives way to bottomless pain.

Suddenly a widower, Goldman collects everything he can about his wife, hungry to keep Aura alive with every memory. From her childhood and university days in Mexico City with her fiercely devoted mother to her studies at Columbia University, through their newlywed years in New York City and travels to Mexico and Europe—and always through the prism of her gifted writings—Goldman seeks her essence and grieves her loss. Humor leavens the pain as he lives through the madness of utter grief and creates a living portrait of a love as joyous and playful as it is deep and profound.

Say Her Name is a love story, a bold inquiry into destiny and accountability, and a tribute to Aura, who she was and who she would have been.

Read the extraordinary piece adapted from Say Her Name in The New Yorker.

Tags Literary

Praise

“Passionate and moving . . . Beautifully written . . . The truth that emerges in this book has less to do with the mystery of [Aura’s] death . . . than with the miracle of the astonishing, spirited, deeply original young woman Goldman so adored. . . . So remarkable is this resurrection that at times I felt the book itself had a pulse.” —Robin Romm, The New York Times Book Review (front cover)

“A masterpiece of storytelling and scene-setting.” —Colm Toibin, The Guardian (Best Books of 2011)

“Goldman’s searing novel Say Her Name is for me the book of the year. . . . A soaring paean to a brilliant young woman and to the infinite invincible power of love.” —Junot Díaz, New York (Favorite Books of the Year)

“To call Francisco Goldman’s book about the death of his young Mexican wife an elegy hardly represents it. Lament is closer, but insufficient. It is a chain of eruptions, a meteor shower; not just telling but bombarding us in a loss that glitters. With the power and fine temper of its writing, it is as much poem as prose. . . . Tense set pieces, respectively heartbreaking and chilling . . . generate the book’s propulsive drama. What they propel, though, is its most remarkable achievement: the incandescent portrait of a marriage of opposites.” —Richard Eder, The Boston Globe

Say Her Name brings something new to the rime of the grieving survivor: fresh supplies of imagination, ruthlessness and over-the-edge crazy love. . . . The intensity, tenderness and heat of this love is extraordinary; how many of us have ever been loved so well? Or would recognize such love, were it not laid out with such intelligence and precision?” —Marion Winik, Newsday

“[Say Her Name] is exhilarating, a testament to love that questions our suppositions about luck, fate, good fortune, and tragedy, and demands our agency in interpreting the narrative arc of an altered life. . . . Goldman’s novel stands as an incisive, diamond-sharp act of love.” —Jayne Anne Phillips, Vanity Fair

“Quietly devastating . . . Powerful . . . As the story builds—inevitably, unbearably—toward Aura’s last day, Goldman has so convincingly brought her to life that her death still somehow comes as a shock. . . . Goldman’s beautifully written, deeply felt ode to his wife . . . lets you meet this unusual woman through Goldman’s lovestruck gaze, and you can’t help falling for her a little too. Even after the book ends, the sting of Aura’s absence lingers.” —Rob Brunner, Entertainment Weekly (A-)

Say Her Name is the real thing—350 mesmerizing pages that don’t fit the usual script. . . . Honest and exquisitely written, a . . . love story with real emotional power.” —Ellen Emry Heltzel, The Seattle Times

“One of the best novels I’ve read in years. Finish this book and you will be reminded what love is and what it costs and how it saves us.” —Junot Díaz (interview with The Rumpus)

“Not only beautifully written, but an incredible portrait of a marriage and the tragedy that eventually pulls it apart.” —Devyani Saltzman, The Globe and Mail (Favorite Book of the Year)

“Wrenching but also warm and often funny . . . The beautiful and skilled fluidity of Goldman’s writing . . . never falters. [He] spins all his threads continuously, almost breathlessly, as if weaving a spell that keeps Aura present, as though he’s afraid to pause for breath lest the spell be broken. It is the spell of storytelling itself; the magic of incantation that creates and keeps alive the beloved.” —Laura Cogan, Zyzzyva

“Extraordinary . . . The more deeply you have loved in your life, the more this book will wrench you . . . In a voice that is alternately lush and naked, lyrical and sardonic, philosophical and wry . . . Say Her Name will transport you into the most primal joy in the human repertoire—the joy of loving . . . [It] pushes back against the tides of forgetting, and gives Aura a new body, a literary body, to inhabit—a body so vivid that by the end of the book we feel as though we ourselves have met and loved this woman.” —Carolina de Robertis, San Francisco Chronicle

“Beautiful, raw, haunting . . . [Say Her Name is] a working diagram of love, all its wiring and bolts . . . Losing a spouse is like contracting an incurable illness. Many medicines will be essayed [but] the only real cure is the return of the lost. Writing a book must present itself as the next best remedy, given . . . how many writers have had recourse to its purgative powers: Joan Didion, Joyce Carol Oates, Calvin Trillin. . . . all wrote memorable books about losing their mates. These are essential volumes in the library of grief and remembrance; with Say Her Name, the inimitable powers of poetic fiction are added to the memorial shelf . . . Writing like this, immediate, hopeful, vibrant, can only be considered an act of creative restoration. It is also a prayer to prevent another loss: forgetting.” —Melissa H. Pierson, The Barnes & Noble Review

“A deftly playful literary work . . . Aura is so vibrant on these pages that we are shocked afresh with each reminder of her death; and thus we feel an infinitesimal fraction of what Goldman must feel. . . . Reminds us that love is flawed, that the coming together of two people is a complicated affair, and that love is delicate partially because of all these lines of fracture in a union that the couple must struggle to contain. . . . We are never in doubt . . . of the author’s love . . . It never wavers and—given life by Goldman’s consummate artistry—it drives the book.” —Veronica Gonzalez, Los Angeles Review of Books

“A heartbreaking novel of loss and grief.” —Karen Holt, O Magazine

“Goldman has called on his formidable resources to tell the story of Aura’s life, their life together and his grief as a widower . . . Harrowing and often splendid reading. . . . these pages manage to bring Aura Estrada back to life. She is unforgettable. Count me glad and grateful to know her name.” —Karen R. Long, The Plain Dealer

“Heartwrenching.” —People

“Riveting . . . In giving Aura’s imagination—as well as her impish humor, her anxieties, her academic and creative struggles, her writing, her love—room to play, Goldman, remarkably, vividly, brings her to life.” —Alden Mudge, Bookpage

“An earthy, sexy book . . . Say Her Name resonates with sense of place and grasp of character . . . [Goldman] describes Aura so vividly it is as though she regains life as a free spirit of remarkable imagination.” —Carlo Wolff, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Goldman’s power of description lulls you into forgetting that you’re reading a tragedy . . . He blurs the line between lover and biographer. . . . [Say Her Name] is a map of grief and work and missed chances.” —Phoebe Connelly, NPR.org

“[Say Her Name] unfolds as a sequence of long flashbacks leading toward Aura’s death, which ticks grimly through the narrative like a bomb . . . Trapped in a Chinese puzzle box of anguish, [Francisco Goldman] revisits moments, words, thoughts, anecdotes and images. His life with Aura seems still to be happening inside him, playing itself over and over, inevitably interrupted but never ended.” —Roxana Robinson, The Washington Post

“Wrenching . . . The story moves inexorably toward [Aura’s] death, but along the way it beautifully preserves the mementos of her life . . . touched with essential and painful wisdom about love.” —Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

“In telling the story of an exuberant young woman coming into her own as a scholar and writer, [Francisco Goldman] finds a kind of haunted solace—and tremendous commemorative power . . . Published as fiction, Goldman’s tribute to his late wife rings devastatingly true.” —Megan O’Grady, Vogue

“This is a beautiful love story, and an extraordinary story of loss. Say Her Name has a forensic honesty, a way of treating each detail, each moment, each emotion, with detailed and exact care. It also has a way of holding the reader, of moving between Brooklyn and Mexico City, capturing the essence of two worlds, capturing the essence of two people who were lucky enough to fall in love.” —Colm Toibin, author of Brooklyn

“There is beautiful writing in this book—beautiful, perceptive descriptions of places, beautifully turned assaults on the citadel of loss, on the firmament of love and passion, indelible glimpses of the self as bedlam. And thank goodness it’s so, because it is such a sad story that only beauty could possibly redeem it.” —Richard Ford

“Unflinching and heartbreaking . . . A most-fitting analogue is Leonard Michaels’s Sylvia. . . . Goldman comes away from writing this novel with an understanding that though his wife’s death was random and meaningless, her life wasn’t.” —Armando Celayo, World Literature in Review

“We may feel we know something about love’s burn, the scorching heat of loss, but reading this book is to stand in front of a blow-torch, to take a farrier’s rasp to raw nerve ends. Say Her Name is wrenching, funny, powerful, and beautiful.” —Annie Proulx

“The madness of love, of death, of loss, of literature—Say Her Name is madness knit up into magnificence. We can only suspect that Francisco Goldman is an alchemist, or a magician, or a Faust, or a Job, or all of these things, for with no breathing equipment, he has mined a pearl from the ocean’s darkest depths. This book is fabulous in every sense of the word.” —Rivka Galchen, author of Atmospheric Disturbances

“A beautiful act of remembrance, love and understanding. An essential, unforgettable love story and a living testament to an extraordinary woman.” —Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story

Say Her Name is a tender and sacred narrative, many-angled, fearless, incandescent in its frankness. As I read it, I felt I were reading something more alive than life itself, and thought this is surely why one reads, why one writes: that one might mingle oneself with a beloved person, a book, a landscape, and hold it . . . utterly alive.” —Kiran Desai, bestselling author of The Inheritance of Loss

“Enrapturing . . . Vivid . . . Goldman has entwined fact and fiction in his previous novels, but never so daringly or so poignantly. . . . Tender, candid, sorrowful, and funny, this ravishing novel embodies the relentless power of the sea, as hearts are exposed like a beach at low tide only to be battered by a resurgent, obliterating force, like the wave that claims Aura’s life on the Oaxaca coast. Out of crushing loss and despair, Goldman has forged a radiant and transcendent masterpiece.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

“Moving and tragic . . . gorgeous, heartbreaking.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Electric and poignant.” —Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

“The feeling, the memorial incarnation that this book creates, is monumental. Essential . . . This book about tragic death is a gift for the living.” —Library Journal (starred review)

Say Her Name must be the only book about love ever written. It’s certainly the only one I’ll ever need to read. Francisco Goldman has alchemized grief into joy, death into life, and the act of reading into one of resurrection. His book is a miracle.” —Susan Choi

“Francisco Goldman tells us that in ‘descending into memory like Orpheus’ he hopes he might ‘bring Aura out alive for a moment.’ But in the act of writing, Goldman transcends the constraints of myth, and achieves nothing short of the impossible. Page by page, by the breath of his own words, Say Her Name restores Aura from shade to flesh, and returns her, unforgettably and permanently, to our world.” —Jhumpa Lahiri

Say Her Name is no mea culpa memoir masquerading as fiction to protect the innocent, but a kind of critical/collage approach to catharsis that is formidable, generous, and depleting . . . The reader might experience an ascending guilt enjoying the lush uncanniness of Goldman’s language of grief, which can be as tailored and whimsical as a Cesar Aira novel and as grounded as Saul Bellow’s Herzog or Humboldt’s Gift. Say Her Name reads very close to suspense literature, wherein the tension that it builds is not over the safety of its characters, but over that first moment when the reader will be compelled to weep, a fracture (wherever it happens for you) into absolute empathy that is delayed with the humor and pacing of a master storyteller who is now a slave to the facts of his real life, and who knows it his job to give these facts away.” —Roberto Ontiveros, Austin American Statesman

“Francisco Goldman’s intimate and elegiac tribute to his late wife initially reads like the latest entry in a long list of tragic love stories starting with Orpheus and Eurydice. That alone would suffice to make this a compelling read. But Goldman goes further .
. . [From] Aura’s diaries, laptop and handwritten notes . . . Pygmalion-like, Goldman reconstructs a fully rounded, wise, soulful, funny Aura . . . Say Her Name sustains Aura Estrada for the ages.” —Rhoda Trooboff, Washington Independent Book Review

Say Her Name is part mystery, part biography, part meditation on grief, and, finally—mostly—a love story. Goldman’s writing has astonished me in the past, but Say Her Name is powerful and surprising and even funny in ways that feel unique. He has, in a sense, invented a form.” —Lila Byock, The Paris Review online

Say Her Name transmutes tragedy into a kind of romantic epiphany . . . An amazing read.” —Corey Seymour, W Magazine

“This book lingers in the spell of love, drawing it out, savoring each note, each dissonance, its mystical strangeness . .
. Say Her Name shimmers with power.” —Laura Cogan, Zyzzyva

“A beguiling, many-layered portrait of a happy marriage . . . and a gut-wrenching account of being its sole survivor.” —Colette Bancroft, The St. Petersburg Times

International Praise for Say Her Name:

“A heartbreaking novel [yet] also a joyful celebration of love.” —Grazia

“An exceptional book . . .A love letter to a woman who could have been a great writer . . . A letter of goodbye from a man falling apart . . . An amazing tribute, beautifully written, reminiscent of the vulnerability of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.” —Viv Groskop, The Independent (UK)

“It is an immensely powerful and thoroughly accomplished piece of work . . . Their relationship is incandescently evoked. [Aura] is returned to life in the retelling.” —Arifa Akbar, The Independent (UK)

“Lightly fictionalised, part memoir, part biography, it [crosses] boundaries of form as readily as its lovers slip from English to Spanish . . . Beyond its startling vivisection of grief, the book’s redeeming beauty lies in its precise evocation of a transformative love, filled with tenderness and comic routines.” —Maya Jaggi, The Guardian (UK)

“Sensitive [and] elegiac . . . A luminously loving account . . . Say Her Name is a work of raw grief refined into lyrical elegance.” —Jane Shilling, Sunday Telegraph (UK)

“What makes Say Her Name so unforgettable, apart from the beauty of the writing, is that the book is written partly as a love story but also partly as a moral trial.” —Sarah Sands, London Evening Standard (UK)

“[Goldman’s] love of and infatuation with [Aura] imbues every page . . . Each perspective illuminates her from a fresh angle, presenting the reader with a portrait of a vibrant and brilliant scholar . . . [Say Her Name is] destined to receive international attention.” —Claire Kilroy, Irish Times

“Goldman[‘s] narrative bears the seamless finish of a classic . . . [a] truly unforgettable work.” —Stephanie Cross, dailymail.co.uk

“A story of boundless love and unspeakable loss, [Say Her Name] is also profoundly restorative: by recounting Aura’s life, [Goldman] has recreated a love affair that will never die.” —Edinburgh International Book Festival, edbookfest.co.uk

“Goldman’s style is vivid and intense . . . assured and powerful, and it’s this true story of his pain and the utterly fearless way he reveals himself—his lies and cowardice, his blind, noble, unfathomable grief—that makes this book compelling.” —Jose Borghino, The Australian

“After Francisco Goldman’s wife died in a freak accident, he sought to keep her alive by writing. . . . Thanks, in part, to Goldman’s powers of revivification, Aura [is] about as forgettable as Cleopatra. Both a beautiful evocation of love and loss, and a searing dispatch written from within a personal Ground Zero . . . [Say Her Name is] the must-read novel of the summer.” —Tom Shone, Sunday Times (UK)

Say Her Name leads the reader into Goldman’s private underworld, and somehow, sure-footedly, manages to navigate a way out.” —Tim Adams, The Guardian/The Observer (UK)

Say Her Name presents and then interrogates two mysteries. The first is the state and nature of love and the second the violation of that love by sudden accidental death . . . By the end the two mysteries become very simple . . . To search for the meaning . . . is pointless and exhausting . . . the memory of love is all that survives in this . . . moving book.” —Helen Dunmore, The Times (UK)

“For all its self-conscious literariness, Say Her Name owes its power to the raw, unsettling immediacy with which Goldman tells his experience of loss.” —Stephen Henighan, TLS (UK)

“A deeply personal lament . . . Goldman . . . mourns the loss of [Aura’s] future and tries to reconcile himself to the role of widower.” —Marie Claire (UK)

“Unbearably moving . . .” —Reader’s Digest (UK), Readersdigest.co.uk , August 2011

“Anguished yet beautiful . . . Goldman . . . puts the story together like an intricate mosaic . . . [Aura] had spark and life, and by the end . . . we readers miss her, too.” —Claire Longrigg, Psychologies Magazine

“[A] beautiful book of mourning, written with finesse, and even with verve . . . Goldman knows very well how to generate images that are evocative or poetic, often light and sometimes funny.” —Raphaëlle Rérolle, Le Monde (France)

Bookseller Praise for Say Her Name:

“By writing this novel, Goldman has transformed a singular, devastating life experience into art, using his practiced eye to catch every nuance and detail of the life of a couple deeply, almost deliriously in love, and the desperate, disbelieving state of grief that ensues when an accident changes everything in an instant. It is a particular story, but also a universal one, rendered beautifully, achingly, and not to be forgotten.” —Marion Abbott, Mrs. Dalloway’s Literary & Garden Arts, Berkeley, CA

“Written following the sudden death of his beloved wife, Francisco Goldman’s Say Her Name is a novel of grief, love, longing, and despair, one of the most powerful I’ve read in a long time. It’s beautiful and so spare and clean that at times I found myself looking away because the pain it evoked was so real. Readers will come to know Frank and Aura better than they know most people, better even than they may know themselves. Always compassionate in his portrayal of the human heart, Goldman is at his very best in this magnificent book.” —Michael Barnard, Rakestraw Books, Danville, CA

“Francisco Goldman, the author of three brilliant novels and a work of nonfiction, has melded those two genres into a stunning work that is true to both forms and to neither. We are first told a few brief facts: that his young wife, Aura, is dead; that her parents believe him to be responsible for her death; and that, two years later, he is still consumed by grief. Then, as he tugs the reader in and out of the vortex of that grief; back and forth between Brooklyn, where they lived, and Mexico City, where she grew to adulthood; in and out of the mystery of her death and the greater mystery of who she was, who they were together, an awful illumination occurs—that madness is the natural outcome of such loss. Memory functions as the detective in this remarkable book, uncovering, detail by detail, the sweet dailyness that coalesced into their passionate and loving life together, and her complicated relationship with her mother. By throwing those lives into bold relief, he reveals in raw, stripped-bare form what love and its loss mean—not the stuff of fact but of the very best fiction.” —Betsy Burton, The King’s English Bookshop, Salt Lake City, UT

Say Her Name is a beautifully written mediation on life, love and loss. Francisco Goldman uses the art of fiction to magically transform the tragic death of his wife into an intense and powerful revelation of her identity—so that when you finish the book, you feel that she is with you, and you know her well.” —Ed Conklin, Chaucer’s Bookstore, Santa Barbara, CA

“In Say Her Name, Francisco Goldman mines the unbearable loss of his vibrant, brilliant young wife Aura through the painstaking excavation of their love and marriage, all the while questioning his complicity in her death. Yes, this is a rumination on grief, but, more fully and accurately, it is a tenderly drawn, devoted celebration of the ways in which passionate, adult, intellectual and artistic love emboldens and enriches life. This book is, simply put, stunning.” —Libby Cowles, Maria’s Bookshop, Durango, CO

“Francisco Goldman’s novel Say Her Name is a beautiful remembrance of his life with his wife and fellow writer Aura Estrada. She dies suddenly and way too young in a freak swimming accident. He paints an extraordinary portrait of their time together, her talents and his stunning grief at her loss—life before, life during and life after. This novel is one for the ages, rich and textural and presented with so much heart and soul that I can only say this story has embedded itself forever into this reader.” —Sheryl Cotleur, Book Passage, Corte Madera, CA

“Francisco Goldman has written a majestic paean to love and life, incongruously centered around the sudden, tragic death of his wife, Aura Estrada. Goldman soars to the height of ecstasy and plunges to the depth of despair as he lays bare the emotions of his marriage and reaction to death. Expressed with surprising humor and incredible insight, he displays the emotions of love and grief in a form that will leave an indelible impression on readers and leave this novel as a permanent monument to his extraordinary wife and talent.” —Bill Cusumano, Nicola’s Books, Ann Arbor, MI

“Francisco Goldman’s Say Her Name is an astonishingly beautiful kaleidoscope of love and loss, set in Brooklyn and Mexico City, before and after the sudden death of his wife. With unabashed clarity, Goldman strips bare his four year relationship with Aura, his picture-perfect bride, granting readers a voyeuristic inventory into their time together. When her life is unexpectedly cut short on an idyllic beach holiday, Goldman’s suffering becomes our own. When Aura’s family places the blame squarely on Francisco, the shock of her death slams headlong into indignation. And when Francisco himself wishes to die, we also die a bit inside. As a reader, I have never encountered a book with such insight into what it is to love, and to how we can survive when those we care for do not. As an aspiring writer, I am in awe at the lightness, humor and grace of his prose. As a bookseller, this book is a grand gift—I am confident that anyone who enjoys reading will also sense the rare magic in Say Her Name, and will be moved, the same as I was. As a husband, this book chills me to the bone. Say Her Name is a book that cries to be read, screams to be shared, and whispers to be remembered.” —Kevin Hunsanger, Green Apple Books, San Francisco, CA

“The words that come to mind to describe this book: lyrical, powerful, painful, beautiful, are like shadows on a cave wall and do not come close to describing the true light that surrounds the experience of reading it. Goldman’s story of loss and love filled my heart in the same way my spirit can soar when viewing a masterful work of art or hearing music of pure genius. I simply would love everyone in the world to read this book, if only to taste for a moment the exquisite pleasure of glimpsing the true beauty of love, told by a master storyteller.” —Lanora Hurley, Next Chapter Bookstore, Mequon WI

“When the love of his life dies in a tragic accident, the narrator of Francisco Goldman’s new novel Say Her Name sifts through the fragments left behind to tell a story of passion, fragility, and eternal connection. Surprisingly lively, Say Her Name is a brilliant exploration of how relationships develop and endure. This is an intricate, intimate look at two lives interrupted. By the end, you will know the beautiful woman this book is written for, and you will never forget her. Lucky you.” —Geoffrey Jennings, Rainy Day Books, Fairway, KS

“Francisco Goldman’s novel is wonderfully creative literary hybrid, a novel based directly on events from the author’s life. Goldman lost the love of his life in a freak accident on a Mexican beach just a couple of weeks shy of their two year anniversary. Recounting the life and love they shared and the time leading up to Aura’s tragic death, Goldman makes readers fall in love with this amazing, intelligent, creative, and beautiful young woman. While it is heartbreaking, it is also a life affirming testament to the power of love. Goldman’s style and passion for his subject make this a singularly unique literary experience.” —Mark LaFramboise, Politics & Prose Bookstore, Washington, DC

“This was not the obituary that I had initially feared. Part Diary, Part Novel, Part Reportage Say Her Name begins almost like stumbling into Francisco Goldman’s mind. The beautiful love letter that is this book winds its way through the stream of consciousness that lays bare all of Goldman’s emotions and thoughts, what he knew and discovered about Aura and how he goes about the process of being startled awake into a completely different life. It is as much a celebration of their life together, of all the small moments they shared, as it is a story of loss. It tells their story in a masterful way that will resonate with everyone that will read it.” —Michael Link, Joseph-Beth/David-Kid Bookstores

“Bringing the dead to life is no easy task but Francisco Goldman has done it in his beautiful novel memorializing his wife, Aura Estrada, who died in a surfing accident in 2007. A great love does indeed live beyond the grave—and Goldman brings us the joys and the comic relief as well as the tragedy that ended his marriage.” —Marian Nielsen, Orinda Books, Orinda, CA

Say Her Name is honest and bracingly beautiful, honoring a remarkable young woman, reveling in love, and confronting unbearable loss. Francisco has created a gift for all who have known, or who wish to know, love, even in its most tragic moments.” —Melinda Powers, Capitola Book Café, Capitola, CA

“There are books writers choose to write, and there are those where they are chosen. The story Frank Goldman tells in his utterly heartfelt, bravely artful Say Her Name, is surely the last one he would have wanted to write. But it became the one he had to write, a book chronicling almost indescribable loss, and at the same time celebrating vivacity, exuberance, and ardent spirit, the young woman that Aura Estrada was, and through writing, is. In the ache and longing there is also a palpable, transcendent gratitude. This book is a gift to everyone who reads it mindfully, instructive in showing how much we are marked by others in our lives—in life, death, presence, absence—what can be carried in the heart, no matter what.” —Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, WA

Say Her Name is a novel of extraordinary emotion. Goldman pulls you down into the depths of his unbearable grief over the loss of his young wife Aura. Yet, as he tells her story, their story, as he seeks to discover everything about her even after she is gone, you come to feel the joyous embrace of his powerful but most gentle love for her. A paean, a tribute, in the end, a gift of immortality, Say Her Name is most of all a very moving read. It is the kind of book that lingers in your thoughts days after you have turned the last page. I will think about it for a long time.” —Suzy Staubach, UConn Co-op, Storrs, CT

“In the summer of 2007, just a month shy of their second wedding anniversary, the author’s young wife, Aura, died tragically while bodysurfing in Mexico. Mr. Goldman lays his heart and soul bare so that readers may contemplate the meaning of love and loss. Aura was a talented young writer with a promising career ahead of her, her husband already a successful author. His love story is profound and his grief heartbreaking, yet somehow this memoir is a tribute to their love, and his grief portrayed so honestly, that it is not a tragic story. I could not put this book down, and let the story sink in for a few days before I picked up another book, so as not to blur its memory. A poetic and touching memorial to love lost.” —Karen Vail, Titcomb’s Bookshop, East Sandwich, MA

“Poignant, painful, and unforgettably personal, Goldman’s book teaches us to see his wife and their short life together through his eyes. In doing so, he has betrayed all other writers as impossible hacks. This is an obsessive almost-biography, an autopsy of a beautiful marriage, and above all, a pitch-perfect love song by an enormously talented writer. In this most private of books there is not a misplayed note or an untrue chord. Simply put, no one writes like this. No one writes this well.” —Jeff Waxman, Seminary Co-op Bookstore, Chicago, IL

“Francisco Goldman’s Say Her Name is brave, bold and beautiful, bracing and moving in equal measure—an extraordinary telling of a love and loss and grief that risks, indeed requires, being called a novel despite its basis in the harsh reality of sudden death of the author’s beloved, to make it real and comprehendible.” —Jonathon Welch, Talking Leaves Books, Buffalo, NY

“Goldman’s novel Say Her Name is an exquisite work. In this portrait of Aura Estrada and the great love they shared, Goldman lovingly documents Estrada’s tragically truncated life and her vast potential as a writer. The book is harrowing in its precise rendering of the details of a tragic sudden death and the grief that follows, but ultimately it is a beautiful testimony to love. Say Her Name will inscribe Francisco Goldman’s name in the firmament of great contemporary writers.” —Paul Yamazaki, City Lights Booksellers, San Francisco, CA

“Remembering is sometimes like ‘juggling a hundred thousand crystal balls all at once, trying to keep all these memories going,’ writes Francisco Goldman in his autobiographical novel Say Her Name. This beautifully written book is, at the same time, an elegant, elegiac novel, a brutal and honest memoir, and a longest and most tender love letter in the world. Say Her Name is a gift of love for the author’s beautiful young wife, Aura Estrada, who died after an accident in the waves at Mezunte beach in Mexico. She was only thirty, a talented writer and a scholar herself. Aura’s absence is deeply felt throughout the whole book, and Francisco’s grief, his longing and his survivor’s guilt, are visible in his widower’s apartment, with Aura’s belongings left untouched: her favorite multicolored silk quilt and stuffed animals, and a folkloric Mexican altar with Aura’s wedding dress over the mirror. I don’t believe in the spirit world, yet when Francisco stops to hug and kiss Aura’s favorite tree, a hale silver maple at the end of his block, I too, felt Aura’s presence. And if that’s not enough, the last pages of Say Her Name will take your breath away, when brokenhearted Francisco brings her back. Aura Estrada.” —Aggie Zivaljevic, Kepler’s Books, Menlo Park, CA

“Poignant, painful, and unforgettably personal, Goldman’s book teaches us to see his wife and their short life together through his eyes. In doing so, he has betrayed all other writers as impossible hacks. This is an obsessive almost-biography, an autopsy of a beautiful marriage, and above all, a pitch-perfect love song by an enormously talented writer. In this most private of books there is not a misplayed note or an untrue chord. Simply put, no one writes like this. No one writes this well. A beautiful book.” —Jeff Waxman, 57th Street Books, Chicago, IL

“Bringing the dead to life is no easy task, but Francisco Goldman has done it in his beautiful novel memorializing his wife, Aura Estrada, who died in a surfing accident in 2007. A great love does indeed live beyond the grave—and Goldman brings us the joys and the comic relief as well as the tragedy that ended his marriage.” —Marian Nielsen, Orinda Books, Orinda, CA

Awards

Winner of the 2011 Prix Femina Etranger
An Indie Next List Notable selection (No. #1 Selection for April 2011)
An ALA Notable Book of the Year
Long-listed for the 2012 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

Best Book of the Year:
New York Times Notable Book
New York Favorite Book
Entertainment Weekly
Boston Globe
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Publishers Weekly
Barnes and Noble
The Guardian
The Globe and Mail
The Daily Telegraph
The Independent
Evening Standard
Sunday Herald
The Herald (Glasgow)
The Daily Mail
Shelf Awareness

Excerpt

1

Aura died on July 25, 2007. I went back to Mexico for the first anniversary because I wanted to be where it had happened, at that beach on the Pacific coast. Now, for the second time in a year, I’d come home again to Brooklyn without her.

Three months before she died, April 24, Aura had turned thirty. We’d been married twenty-six days shy of two years. Aura’s mother and uncle accused me of being responsible for her death. It’s not as if I consider myself not guilty. 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.

From now on, if you have anything to say to me, put it in writing—that’s what Leopoldo, Aura’s uncle, said on the telephone when he told me that he was acting as Aura’s mother’s attorney in the case against me. We haven’t spoken since.

Aura.

Aura and me.

Aura and her mother.

Her mother and me.

A love-hate triangle, or, I don’t know.

Mi amor, is this really happening?

Où sont les axolotls?

Whenever Aura took leave of her mother, whether at the Mexico City airport or if she was just leaving her mother’s apartment at night, or even when they were parting after a meal in a restaurant, her mother would lift her hand to make the sign of the cross over her and whisper a little prayer asking the Virgin of Guadalupe to protect her daughter.

Axolotls are a species of salamander that never metamorphose out of the larval state, something like pollywogs that never become frogs. They used to be abundant in the lakes around the ancient city of Mexico, and were a favorite food of the Aztecs. Until recently, axolotls were said to be still living in the brackish canals of Xochimilco; in reality they’re practically extinct even there. They survive in aquariums, laboratories, and zoos.

Aura loved the Julio Cortézar short story about a man who becomes so mesmerized by the axolotls in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris that he turns into an axolotl. Every day, sometimes even three times a day, the nameless man in that story visits the Jardin des Plantes to stare at the strange little animals in their cramped aquarium, at their translucent milky bodies and delicate lizard’s tails, their pink fl at triangular Aztec faces and tiny feet with nearly humanlike fingers, the odd reddish sprigs that sprout from their gills, the golden glow of their eyes, the way they hardly ever move, only now and then twitching their gills, or abruptly swimming with a single undulation of their bodies. They seem so alien that he becomes convinced they’re not just animals, that they bear some mysterious relation to him, are mutely enslaved inside their bodies yet somehow, with their pulsing golden eyes, are begging him to save them. One day the man is staring at the axolotls as usual, his face close to the outside of the tank, but in the middle of that same sentence, the “I” is now on the inside of the tank, staring through the glass at the man, the transition happens just like that. The story ends with the axolotl hoping that he’s succeeded in communicating something to the man, in bridging their silent solitudes, and that the reason the man no longer visits the aquarium is because he’s off somewhere writing a story about what it is to be an axolotl.

The first time Aura and I went to Paris together, about five months after she’d moved in with me, she wanted to go to the Jardin des Plantes to see Cortázar’s axolotls more than she wanted to do anything else. She’d been to Paris before, but had only recently discovered Cortázar’s story. You would have thought that the only reason we’d fl own to Paris was to see the axolotls, though actually Aura had an interview at the Sorbonne, because she was considering transferring from Columbia. Our very first afternoon, we went to the Jardin des Plantes, and paid to enter its small nineteenth century zoo. In front of the entrance to the amphibian house, or vivarium, there was a mounted poster with information in French about amphibians and endangered species, illustrated with an image of a red-gilled axolotl in profile, its happy extraterrestrial’s face and albino monkey arms and hands. Inside, the tanks ran in a row around the room, smallish illuminated rectangles set into the wall, each framing a somewhat different humid habitat: moss, ferns, rocks, tree branches, pools of water. We went from tank to tank, reading the placards: various species of salamanders, newts, frogs, but no axolotls. We circled the room again, in case we’d somehow missed them. Finally Aura went up to the guard, a middle-aged man in uniform, and asked where the axolotls were. He didn’t know anything about the axolotls, but something in Aura’s expression seemed to give him pause, and he asked her to wait; he left the room and a moment later came back with a woman, somewhat younger than him, wearing a blue lab coat. She and Aura spoke quietly, in French, so I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but the woman’s expression was lively and kind. When we went outside, Aura stood there for a moment with a quietly stunned expression. Then she told me that the woman remembered the axolotls; she’d even said that she missed them. But they’d been taken away a few years before and were now in some university laboratory. Aura was in her charcoal gray woolen coat, a whitish wool scarf wrapped around her neck, strands of her straight black hair mussed around her soft round cheeks, which were flushed as if burning with cold, though it wasn’t particularly cold. Tears, just a few, not a flood, warm salty tears overflowed from Aura’s brimming eyes and slid down her cheeks.

Who cries over something like that? I remember thinking. I kissed the tears, breathing in that briny Aura warmth. Whatever it was that so got to Aura about the axolotls not being there seemed part of the same mystery that the axolotl at the end of Cortázar’s story hopes the man will reveal by writing a story. I always wished that I could know what it was like to be Aura.

Où sont les axolotls? she wrote in her notebook. Where are they?

Aura moved in with me in Brooklyn about six weeks after she’d arrived in New York from Mexico City with her multiple scholarships, including a Fulbright and another from the Mexican government, to begin studying for a PhD in Spanish-language literature at Columbia. We lived together almost four years. At Columbia she shared her university housing with another foreign student, a Korean girl, a botanist of some highly specialized kind. I saw that apartment only two or three times before I moved Aura’s things to my place. It was a railroad flat, with a long narrow hallway, two bedrooms, a living room at the front. A student apartment, filled with student things: her Ikea bookcase, a set of charcoal-hued nonstick pots and pans and utensils, a red beanbag chair, a stereo unit, a small toolbox, from Ikea too, still sealed in its clear plastic wrapper. Her mattress on the floor, clothing heaped all over it. That apartment made me feel nostalgic as hell—for college days, youth. I was dying to make love to her then and there, in the sumptuous mess of that bed, but she was nervous about her roommate coming in, so we didn’t.

I took her away from that apartment, leaving her roommate, whom Aura got along with fine, on her own. But a month or so later, once she felt sure that she was going to stay with me, Aura found another student to take her share, a Russian girl who seemed like someone the Korean girl would like.

Up there, on Amsterdam Avenue and 119th Street, Aura lived at the edge of campus. In Brooklyn, she had to ride the subway at least one hour each way to get to Columbia, usually during rush hour, and she went almost every day. She could take the F train, transfer at Fourteenth Street and make her way through a maze of stairways and long tunnels, grim and freezing in winter, to the 2 and 3 express trains, and switch to the local at Ninety-sixth Street. Or she could walk twenty-five minutes from our apartment to Borough Hall and catch the 2 or 3 there. Eventually she decided she preferred the second option, and that was what she did almost every day. In winter the trek could be brutally cold, especially in the thin wool coats she wore, until finally I convinced her to let me buy her one of those hooded North Face down coats, swaddling her from the top of the head to below the knees in goose down—puffed blue nylon. No, mi amor, it doesn’t make you look fat, not you in particular, everybody looks like a walking sleeping bag in one of those, and who cares anyway? Isn’t it better to be snug and warm? When she wore the coat with the hood up, collar closed under her chin, with her gleaming black eyes, she looked like a little Iroquois girl walking around inside her own papoose, and she hardly ever went out into the cold without it.

Another complication of the long commute was that she regularly got lost. She’d absentmindedly miss her stop or else take the train in the wrong direction and, engrossed in her book, her thoughts, her iPod, wouldn’t notice until she was deep into Brooklyn. Then she’d call from a pay phone in some subway station I’d never heard of, Hola, mi amor, well, here I am in the Beverly Road Station, I went the wrong way again—her voice determinedly matter-of-fact, no big deal, just another over-scheduled New Yorker coping with a routine dilemma of city life, but sounding a touch defeated anyhow. She didn’t like being teased about going the wrong way on the subway, or getting lost even when she was walking in our own neighborhood, but sometimes I couldn’t help it.

From Aura’s first day in our Brooklyn apartment to nearly her last, I walked her to the subway stop every morning—except on those mornings when she rode her bicycle to Borough Hall and left it locked there, though that routine didn’t last long because the homeless drunks and junkies of downtown Brooklyn kept stealing her bike seat, or when it was raining or when she was just running so behind that she took a taxi to Borough Hall, or on the rare occasion when she flew out the door like a furious little tornado because it was getting late and I was still stuck on the can yelling for her to wait, and the two or three times when she was just so pissed off at me about something or other that she absolutely didn’t want me to walk with her.

Usually though, I walked her to the F train stop on Bergen, or I walked her to Borough Hall, though eventually we agreed that when she was headed to Borough Hall I would go only as far as the French guy’s deli on Verandah Place—I had work to do and couldn’t just lose nearly an hour every day going to the station and back—though she would try to coax me farther, to Atlantic Avenue, or to Borough Hall after all, or even up to Columbia. Then I’d spend the day in Butler Library—a few semesters previous I’d taught a writing workshop at Columbia and I still had my ID card—reading or writing or trying to write in a notebook, or I’d sit at one of the library computers checking e-mail or killing time with online newspapers, routinely starting with the Boston Globe sports section (I grew up in Boston). Usually we’d have lunch at Ollie’s, then go and blow money on DVDs and CDs at Kim’s, or browse in Labyrinth Books, coming out carrying heavy bags of books neither of us had the extra time to read. On days when she hadn’t convinced me to accompany her to Columbia in the morning, she’d sometimes phone and ask me to come all the way up there just to have lunch with her, and as often as not, I’d go. Aura would say,

Francisco, I didn’t get married to eat lunch by myself. I didn’t get married to spend time by myself.

On those morning walks to the subway, Aura always did most or even all of the talking, about her classes, professors, other students, about some new idea for a short story or novel, or about her mother. Even when she was being especially neuras, going on about her regular anxieties, I’d try to come up with new encouragements or else rephrase or repeat prior ones. But I especially loved it when she was in the mood to stop every few steps and kiss and nip at my lips like a baby tiger, and her mimed silent laughter after my ouch, and the way she’d complain, “Ya no me quieres, verdad?” If I wasn’t holding her hand or didn’t have my arm around her the instant she wanted me to. I loved our ritual except when I didn’t really love it, when I’d worry, How am I ever going to get another damned book written with this woman who makes me walk her to the subway every morning and cajoles me into coming up to Columbia to have lunch with her?

I still regularly imagine that Aura is beside me on the sidewalk. Sometimes I imagine I’m holding her hand, and walk with my arm held out by my side a little. Nobody is surprised to see people talking to themselves in the street anymore, assuming that they must be speaking into some Bluetooth device. But people do stare when they notice that your eyes are red and wet, your lips twisted into a sobbing grimace. I wonder what they think they are seeing and what they imagine has caused the weeping. On the surface, a window has briefly, alarmingly, opened.

One day that first fall after Aura’s death, in Brooklyn, on the corner of Smith and Union, I noticed an old lady standing on the opposite corner, waiting to cross the street, a normal-looking old lady from the neighborhood, neat gray hair, a little hunched, a sweet jowly expression on her pale face, looking as if she were enjoying the sunlight and October weather as she waited patiently for the light to change. The thought was like a silent bomb: Aura will never find out about being old, she’ll never get to look back on her own long life. That was all it took, thinking about the unfairness of that and about the lovely and accomplished old lady Aura had surely been destined to become.

Destined. Was I destined to have come into Aura’s life when I did, or did I intrude where I didn’t belong and disrupt its predestined path? Was Aura supposed to have married someone else, maybe some other Columbia student, that guy studying a few seats away from her in Butler Library or the one in the Hungarian Pastry Shop who couldn’t stop shyly peeking at her? How can anything other than what happened be accurately described as destined? What about her own free will, her own responsibility for her choices? When the light changed and I crossed Smith Street, did that old lady notice my face as we passed? I don’t know. My blurred gaze was fixed on the pavement and I wanted to be back inside our apartment. Aura was more present there than she was anywhere else.

The apartment, which I’d been renting for eight years by then, was the parlor floor of a four-story brownstone. Back when the Rizzitanos, the Italian family that still owned the building, used to live there, occupying all four floors, the parlor would have been their living room. But it was our bedroom. It had such tall ceilings that to change a lightbulb in the hanging lamp I’d climb a five-foot stepladder, stand on tiptoes atop its rickety pinnacle and reach up as high as I could, though still end up bent over, arms flapping, fighting for balance—Aura, watching from her desk in the corner, said, You look like an amateur bird. Around the tops of the walls ran a plaster cornice, whitewashed like the walls, a neoclassical row of repeating rosettes atop a wider one of curled fronds. Two long windows, with deep sills and curtains, faced the street, and between the windows, rising from floor to ceiling like a chimney, was the apartment’s gaudiest feature: an immense mirror in a baroque, goldpainted wooden frame. Now Aura’s wedding dress partly covered the mirror, hung from a clothes hanger and butcher twine that I’d tied around gilded curlicues on opposite sides at the top. And on the marble shelf at the foot of the mirror was an altar made up of some of Aura’s belongings.

When I came back from Mexico that first time, six weeks after Aura’s death, Valentina, who studied with Aura at Columbia, and their friend Adele Ramírez, who was visiting from Mexico and staying with Valentina, came to pick me up at Newark Airport in Valentina’s investment-banker husband’s BMW station wagon. I had five suitcases: two of my own and three filled with Aura’s things, not just her clothes—I’d refused to throw or give away almost anything of hers—but also some of her books and photos, and a short lifetime’s worth of her diaries, notebooks, and loose papers. I’m sure that if that day some of my guy friends had come for me at the airport instead, and we’d walked into our apartment, it would have been much different, probably we would have taken a disbelieving look around and said, Let’s go to a bar. But I’d hardly finished bringing in the suitcases before Valentina and Adele went to work building the altar. They dashed around the apartment as if they knew where everything was better than I did, choosing and carrying treasures back, occasionally asking for my opinion or suggestion. Adele, a visual artist, crouched over the marble shelf at the foot of the mirror, arranging: the denim hat with a cloth flower stitched onto it that Aura bought during our trip to Hong Kong; the green canvas satchel she brought to the beach that last day, with everything inside it just as she’d left it, her wallet, her sunglasses, and the two slender books she was reading (Bruno Schulz and Silvina Ocampo); her hairbrush, long strands of black hair snagged in the bristles; the cardboard tube of Chinese pick-up sticks she bought in the mall near our apartment in Mexico City and took into the T.G.I. Fridays there, where we sat drinking tequila and playing pick-up sticks two weeks before she died; a copy of the Boston Review, where her last published essay in English had appeared early that last summer; her favorite (and only) pair of Marc Jacobs shoes; her little turquoise drinking fl ask; a few other trinkets, souvenirs, adornments; photographs; candles; and standing empty on the floor at the foot of the altar, her shiny mod black-and-white-striped rubber rain boots with the hot pink soles. Valentina, standing before the towering mirror, announced: I know! Where’s Aura’s wedding dress? I went and got the wedding dress out of the closet, and the stepladder.

It was just the kind of thing Aura and I made fun of: a folkloric Mexican altar in a grad student’s apartment as a manifestation of corny identity politics. But it felt like the right thing to do now, and throughout that first year of Aura’s death and after, the wedding dress remained. I regularly bought flowers to put in the vase on the floor, and lit candles, and bought new candles to replace the burned-out ones.

The wedding dress was made for Aura by a Mexican fashion designer who owned a boutique on Smith Street. We’d become friendly with the owner, Zoila, who was originally from Mexicali. In her store we’d talk about the authentic taco stand we were going to open someday to make money off the drunk, hungry, young people pouring out of the Smith Street bars at night, all three of us pretending that we were really serious about joining in this promising business venture. Then Aura discovered that Zoila’s custom-tailored bridal dresses were recommended on the Web site Daily Candy as a thrifty alternative to the likes of Vera Wang. Aura went to Zoila’s studio, in a loft in downtown Brooklyn, for three or four fittings, and she came home from each feeling more anxious than before. She was, at first, after she went to pick up the finished dress, disappointed in it, finding it more simple than she’d imagined it was going to be, and not much different from some of the ordinary dresses Zoila sold in her store for a quarter of the price. It was an almost minimalist version of a Mexican country girl’s dress, made of fine white cotton, with simple embellishments of silk and lace embroidery, and it widened into ruffles at the bottom.

But in the end, Aura decided that she liked the dress. Maybe it just needed to be in its rightful habitat, the near-desert setting of the Catholic shrine village of Atotonilco, amid an old mission church and cactus and scrub and the green oasis grounds of the restored hacienda that we’d rented for the wedding, beneath the vivid blue and then yellow-gray immensity of the Mexican sky and the turbulent cloud herds coming and going across it. Maybe that was the genius of Zoila’s design for Aura’s dress. A sort of freeze-dried dress, seemingly plain as tissue paper, that shimmered to life in the charged thin air of the high plains of central Mexico. A perfect dress for a Mexican country wedding in August, a girlhood dream of a wedding dress after all. Now the dress was slightly yellowed, the shoulder straps darkened by salty perspiration, and one of the bands of lace running around the dress lower down, above where it widened out, was partly ripped from the fabric, a tear like a bullet hole, and the hem was discolored and torn from having been dragged through mud and danced on and stepped on during the long night into dawn of our wedding party, when Aura had taken off her wedding shoes and slipped into the dancing shoes we’d bought at a bridal shop in Mexico City, which were like a cross between white nurse shoes and seventies disco platform sneakers. A delicate relic, that wedding dress. At night, backed by the mirror’s illusion of depth and the reflected glow of candles and lamps, the baroque frame like a golden corona around it, the dress looks like it’s floating.

* * *

Despite the altar, or maybe partly because of it, our cleaning lady quit. Flor, from Oaxaca, now raising three children in Spanish Harlem, who came to clean once every two weeks, said it made her too sad to be in our apartment. The one time Flor did come, I watched her kneel to pray at the altar, watched her pick up photographs of Aura and press them to her lips, smudging them with her emphatic kisses and tears. She imitated Aura’s reliable words of praise for her work, the happy pitch of her voice: Oh Flor, it’s as if you work miracles! Ay, señor, said Flor. She was always so happy, so full of life, so young, so good, she always asked after my children. How could she do her job now, in that way that had always so pleased Aura, Flor pleadingly asked me, if she couldn’t stop crying? Then she’d taken her sadness and tears home with her, home to her children, she explained later when she phoned, and that wasn’t right, no señor, she couldn’t do it anymore, she was sorry but she had to quit. I didn’t bother to look for a new cleaning lady. I suppose I thought she would feel sorry for me and come back. I tried phoning, finally, to beg her to come back, and got a recorded message that the number was no longer in service. Then, months after she’d quit, incredibly, she repented and did phone and leave her new telephone number—apparently, she’d moved—on the answering machine. But when I phoned back, it was the wrong number. Probably I’d written it down wrong, I’m a touch dyslexic anyway.

Now, fifteen months after Aura’s death, coming home without her again—no one to meet me at the airport this time—I found the apartment exactly as I’d left it in July. The bed was unmade. The first thing I did was open all the windows, letting in the cool, damp October air.

Aura’s MacBook was still there, on her desk. I’d be able to pick up where I’d left off, working on, organizing, trying to piece together her stories, essays, poems, her just begun novel, and her unfinished writings, the thousands of fragments, really, that she left in her computer, in her labyrinthine and scattered manner of storing files and documents. I thought I felt ready to immerse myself in that task.

In the bedroom there were old dead rose petals, darker than blood, on the floor around the vase in front of the altar, but the vase was empty. In the kitchen, Aura’s plants, despite not having been watered in three months, were still alive. I stuck my finger in the soil of one pot and found it moist.

Then I remembered that I’d left a key with the upstairs neighbors, asking them to water Aura’s plants while I was away. I’d only intended to go to Mexico for the first anniversary and stay a month, but I’d stayed three, and they’d kept it up all that time. They’d thrown out the dead roses, which must have begun to rot and smell. And they’d collected my mail in a shopping bag that they had put next to the couch, just inside the apartment door.

On the beach we—I and some of the swimmers who saw or heard my cries for help—pulled Aura out of the water and set her down in the almost ditch-like incline gouged by the waves, and then we picked her up again and carried her to where it was level and laid her on the hot sand. As she fought for air, closing and opening her mouth, whispering only the word “aire” when she needed me to press my lips to hers again, Aura said something that I don’t actually remember hearing, just as I remember so little of what happened, but her cousin Fabiola, before she took off looking for an ambulance, heard it and later told me. What Aura said, one of the last things she ever said to me, was:

Quiéreme mucho, mi amor.
Love me a lot, my love.

No quiero morir. I don’t want to die. That may have been the last full sentence she ever spoke, maybe her very last words.

Did that sound self-exculpating? Is this the kind of statement I should prohibit myself from making? Sure, Aura’s plea and invocation of love would play well on any jury’s emotions and sympathies, but I’m not in a courtroom. I need to stand nakedly before the facts; there’s no way to fool this jury that I am facing. It all matters, and it’s all evidence.

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