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Berta Isla
Cover of Berta Isla
Berta Isla
A novel
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From the award-winning, internationally best-selling Spanish writer, author of The Infatuations, comes a gripping new novel of intrigue and missed chances—at once a spy story and a profound...
From the award-winning, internationally best-selling Spanish writer, author of The Infatuations, comes a gripping new novel of intrigue and missed chances—at once a spy story and a profound...
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Description-

  • From the award-winning, internationally best-selling Spanish writer, author of The Infatuations, comes a gripping new novel of intrigue and missed chances—at once a spy story and a profound examination of a marriage founded on secrets and lies.
    When Berta Isla was a schoolgirl, she decided she would marry Tomás Nevinson—the dashing half-Spanish, half-English boy in her class with an extraordinary gift for languages. But when Tomás returns to Madrid from his studies at Oxford, he is a changed man. Unbeknownst to her, he has been approached by an agent from the British intelligence services, and he has unwittingly set in motion events that will derail forever the life they had planned. With peerless insight into the most shadowed corners of the human soul, Marías plunges the reader into the growing chasm between Berta and Tomás and the decisions that irreversibly change the course of the couple's fate. Berta Isla is a novel of love and truth, fear and secrecy, buried identities, and the destinies we bring upon ourselves.

Excerpts-

  • From the book I

    For a while, she wasn't sure her husband was her husband, much as, when you're dozing, you're not sure whether you're thinking or dreaming, whether you're actually in charge of your own thoughts or have completely lost track of them out of sheer exhaustion. Sometimes she thought he was, sometimes not, and at other times, she decided to believe nothing and simply continue living her life with him, or with that man so similar to him, albeit older. But then she, too, had grown older in his absence; she was very young when they married.

    Those other times were the best times, the calmest, gentlest, most satisfactory times, but they never lasted very long, it's not easy to shrug off such a doubt. She would manage to set it aside for weeks at a time and immerse herself in unconsidered daily life, which most of the Earth's inhabitants have no difficulty in enjoying, those who merely watch the days begin and see how they trace an arc as they pass and then end. Then they imagine there's some sort of closure, a pause, a division or a frontier, marked by falling asleep, but no such thing exists: time continues to advance and to work, not only on our body, but on our consciousness too, time doesn't care whether we're deep asleep or wide awake or unable to sleep at all or if our eyes unwittingly close as if we were raw recruits on night duty, what in Spanish we call la imaginaria, literally, something that exists only in the imagination, perhaps because, afterwards, to the person standing guard while the rest of the world sleeps, it does seem as if that period of time hadn't really happened—always assuming the soldier did manage to stay awake and wasn't subsequently confined to barracks or, in time of war, executed. One irresistible slide into sleep and you find yourself dead, asleep for ever. How very danger­ous everything is.

    When she believed that her husband was her husband, she felt less at ease and found it harder to get out of bed and begin the day, she felt a prisoner of what she had so long been waiting for and which had now happened and for which she no longer waited, because anyone who has grown used to waiting never entirely consents to that waiting coming to a close, it's like having half the air you breathe snatched from you. And when she believed that he wasn't her husband, then she would spend the night feeling agitated and guilty, and hope not to wake up so as not to have to face her own suspicions about him or the reproaches with which she chastised herself. She hated to see herself becoming this hard-hearted wretch. On the other hand, during the times when she decided, or was able, to believe nothing, she felt the lure of the hidden doubt, the post­poned uncertainty, which, sooner or later, would inevitably return. She had discovered how boring it was to live with absolute certainty and how it condemned you to just a single existence, or to experi­encing the real and the imaginary as one and the same, but then none of us ever quite escapes that. She discovered, too, that a state of permanent suspicion is equally unbearable, because it's exhaust­ing to be constantly observing yourself and others, especially if that other is the person closest to you, always comparing him with your memories of him, for memories can never be relied upon. No one can see clearly what is no longer there before them, even if it's only just happened, even if the aroma or discontent left behind by someone is still hanging there in the room. Someone only has to go through a door and disappear for their image to begin to fade, you only have to stop seeing something to stop seeing it clearly or at all; the same happens with hearing and, of...

About the Author-

  • JAVIER MARÍAS was born in Madrid in 1951. He has published fifteen novels, including The Infatuations and A Heart So White, as well as three collections of short stories and several volumes of essays. His work has been translated into forty-four languages, has sold more than eight and a half million copies worldwide, and has won a dazzling array of international literary awards, including the prestigious International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Prix Femina Étranger. Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa.

Reviews-

  • Library Journal

    March 1, 2019

    Schoolgirl Berta Isla sets her sights on Tomás Nevinson, the half-Spanish, half-English charmer who thrills everyone with his gift for languages. But he's a different man when he returns to Madrid from his Oxford studies, having been approached (though not to her knowledge) by British intelligence. From International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award winner Javier.

    Copyright 2019 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    May 15, 2019
    Spanish novelist Marías (Between Eternities, 2017, etc.) revisits perennial themes--the mutability of truth, the untrustworthiness of the powerful, the vagaries of human behavior--in a brooding tale of lives darkened by separation and deception. Berta is intrigued by "Tom or Tomás" from the moment they meet at school in Madrid. Completely bilingual, with a Spanish mother and English father, he's good-looking and entertaining, brilliant at impersonations, and uninterested in the tortured introspection that absorbs most adolescents. These qualities attract the attention of the British Secret Service when he heads to Oxford in 1969, and Tom (as he thinks of himself in England) is pressured into joining after the police inform him that a woman with whom he's been having a casual affair has been murdered. Berta doesn't know this when they marry in 1974, but she's enlightened a few years later, and for decades she reluctantly abides by Tomás' insistence that she must never ask where he goes and what he does during his long absences. "Whatever happens will have nothing to do with me," he insists, "because those of us who do this work both exist and don't exist...the things we do are done by nobody." This existential view of spying echoes throughout the novel in fragments from T.S. Eliot's poem "Little Gidding," with its images of a spirit wandering between two worlds, and in Tom's musings that spies know what others try to forget: that each of us is "an outcast of the universe." Nonetheless, he justifies his life in the shadows as "defence of the Realm," a rote claim Berta rejects with contempt: "How can you say that your causes are just causes, if they're given to you by intermediaries." As usual, Marías propels his philosophical debates with the urgency of a thriller, including a bravura plot twist that completely unmoors Tom/Tomás. But Berta is more of a construct than a credible female character, and the novel has a slightly perfunctory air despite Marías' customary brilliant prose. Skilled and provocative, as always, but not one of the author's best.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 3, 2019
    Marías (Thus Bad Begins) transforms a spy thriller into an eloquent depiction of those left behind at home in this rich novel. Popular, beautiful Berta Isla decides she will marry Tomás Nevinson, a half-Spanish, half-British classmate with a preternatural ability to learn languages, while they are students together in mid-1960s Madrid. During his studies at Oxford, Tomás is recruited by a professor to use his abilities with languages and accents to serve as an infiltrator for the British Secret Intelligence Service
    . He demurs, until he is accused of murdering his British lover and needs help evading the charge. Marías toggles to Berta as a narrator for Tomás’s return to Spain, their marriage in 1974, and his cover job for the British Embassy. Berta struggles to cope with her husband’s long, mysterious absences and forces a confession about his real job after a terrifying threat on their young son’s life. Tomás offers scant details of his work, which only partially satisfies Berta, who spars with him. When he leaves on assignment just before the start of the Falklands War in 1982, Berta’s worries compound as his time away stretches into months and then years. Marías switches back to a third-person narrator for the gut-punching conclusion that explains what happened to Tomás. The espionage premise is initially enticing, but the real draw is the depth of Marías’s characterization. This weighty novel rewards readers with the patience for its deliberate dissection of a marriage.

  • The New York Times Book Review "Marías, a celebrated Spanish author, offers up a masterly premise and plot that are worthy of a Hitchcock adaptation, and the denouement does not disappoint."

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    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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