Book & Movie: The Secret in Their Eyes by Eduardo Sacheri (translated by John Cullen)

Everyone has a secret in Argentinian author Eduardo Sacheri’s novel (released in English earlier this month by Other Press).

Benjamín Miguel Chaparro has retired after a long and storied career in the Buenos Aires’ judiciary system.  Unsure what to do with the surplus of free time he decides to stick with the classic retiree pursuit and write a novel.  He chooses an old case: the 1968 rape and murder of a beautiful, newlywed girl.   As he tells the story  of Liliana Colotto de Morales and her husband, Benjamín revisits events from his own life – which became intertwined with the Morales case.

The Secret in Their Eyes is about more than the repercussions of a murder .  Spanning three decades it provides a snapshot of the brutal political situation in Argentina in the 1970’s & 80’s.  Sacheri’s novel is also an exploration of the pitches of human love – obsessive, secret, unrequited, enabling, lingering.  This sounds heavy-handed, but I think it was the result of serendipity rather than the author’s careful planning.  I don’t say this to in any way minimize Sacheri’s skill.  The best stories take on a life of their own.  They become animate and unpredictable – develop unexpected quirks of character.  I could be assuming too much here but there is a naturalness to the plot and characters of The Secret in Their Eyes that, despite the more macabre aspects, sets it completely in the realm of the possible.  Nothing that happens feels preordained or contrived.  What occurs appears part of the logical progression of events, marked by the choices and motivations of the participants.  The omniscient author is completely obscured.

The Secret in Their Eyes is as a result completely and absolutely riveting.   Sacheri’s prose, indeed the structure of his narrative, is a powerful example of understatement.  The way he builds suspense owes more to Edgar Allen Poe and Agatha Christie than to contemporary television and cinema.  There is an art to foreshadowing.  Sacheri has mastered it.  He respects the intelligence of his reader and seems to understand that sometimes the most effective thing an author can do is to leave blanks in his story  To omit some details for the readers to imagine.  Less is often more.

The film adaptation of The Secret in Their Eyes won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film  (which is probably why English readers have been treated to this wonderful translation).  I don’t normally read a book and watch the film in conjunction, but the movie trailer promised “an unwritten ending”.  How could I resist moving it to the top of my Netflix queue?

It’s not only the ending that’s different.  Someone (the director? screenwriter?) chose to fill in all those blanks Sacheri left for his readers.  Nothing is left to the imagination… even the smallest of mysteries is spelled out and explained.  I would say that the film The Secret in Their Eyes stays true to the spirit of the novel but it plays fast and loose with the letter.  The political setting is almost completely removed.  My favorite character of the novel, Benjamín’s friend and co-worker Sandoval, is given a smaller and drastically different role to play.  Irene, the unrequited love of Benjamín’s life, is made a more prominent part of the story.  Minor characters who in the book make significant contributions to the plot are almost completely absent from the film.

Yet, despite these changes, it is a fantastic movie.  The actors, whose physical appearances I had to sometimes resolve with the mental image I carried of the characters, all give brilliant performances.  A scene at the beginning – when Benjamín arrives at the crime scene and first sees the naked, brutally beaten body of Liliana – is visually staggering in a way that the same scene in the book could not be.  All because of the look on the actor’s (Ricardo Darín’s) face.  The way he breaks off his conversation with the police officer in charge.  You understand why the Morales case – the image of that poor, dead girl – haunted Benjamín.  So while the film is different from the novel I think the one enhances the other.   N.C. Wyeth said he created illustrations that furthered the narrative beyond the text.  Director Juan José Campanella has done that here.

Publisher:  New York, Other Press (2011).
ISBN:  978 1 59051 450 4

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I Hate End of the Year Lists (2010)

Yeah, I know. I’ll probably get kicked out of the union for saying that.  But it’s the truth.  So I thought that instead I’d follow the example of Beth Fish Reads and do more of a wrap-up post for the year rather than a Best Of List (though I will be including a short list of books that stood out for me in 2010).

  • In 2010 I reviewed approximately  57-59 books (that includes mini-reviews of multiple books in a single post)
  • I reviewed books by 50 different authors.  20 books were by female authors & 39 by male authors.
  • 21 Books were by authors from countries other than the United States.  I read and reviewed books from a total of 8 different countries.
  • Only 3 Books were translations. (I am so disappointed by that number!)
  • The N0n-Fiction to Fiction split was 15 to 42.
  • I attempted quite a few challenges last year… all of which fizzled.  Which led me to realize that I’m not particularly good at challenges.

My Top Reads for 2010 weren’t all published in 2010, but that is when I read and reviewed them.  They’re the books, usually by authors I wasn’t familiar with, which (in addition to being well written) got me excited.  Let’s face it – if you read this blog you’re probably something of a bibliophile.  So you understand how wonderful it is to get pitched a curveball every so often.  Well, this year at BookSexy was definitely a good year for curveballs!   In alphabetical order –

What’s coming in 2011?  Well, the plan is more of the same – with an emphasis on more.  I won’t bore you with the technical changes I’m planning for the blog, but here are a few goals/plans that should most directly/noticeably effect you, the reader.

  1. Shorter Reviews – I decided to keep the majority of my reviews to 750 words and under.  There are a few reasons for this, but the main one is that I noticed in my own blog reading habits that I start to drift & skim on the longer posts. (I’m still only at 402 words on this one, so pay attention!)
  2. Goodreads – Personally, I like Librarything better.  But the fact is that all the cool kids hang out over at Goodreads.  2011 is the year I’m going to dust off and start updating the BookSexy Goodreads page.  I also want to join an online reading group, and Goodreads has several that might be interesting.
  3. Join a Reading Group – Online or in person, I don’t care which.  I’ve wanted to join a reading group that meets regularly for the last 10 years and the time for procrastinating is over!  My local library group seems fairly active, and meets once a month after work, so that’s where I intend to start.
  4. More Non-Fiction and More Books in Translation – This was my biggest disappointment when I reviewed the 2010 reading list.  Expect to see more of both in the coming year.

And now back to our regularly scheduled program…

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Taking Bets on the Booker

Well, the 2010 Man Booker Prize Long List is up. I’m not sure if you pay attention to the Man Booker Prize, but if you do (or are interested in doing so) I recommend the following blogs – all of which have traditionally done a wonderful and thorough job of covering the books that make it onto the long & short lists – DoveGreyReader, KevinfromCanada & MookseandtheGripes.

Personally, I like the Booker Prize.  First off it get’s a lot more attention than the literary prizes given out in the U.S. (with the possible exception of the Pulitzer).  Second, it’s quirky.  Every year brings a new panel of judges and so, in theory at least, the books can be radically different from year to year.   2010’s longlist doesn’t disappoint.  (Insert disclaimer here: I haven’t read any of these books, these are just my initial impressions formed from what I’ve heard). The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas is actually an older novel from Australia – published in the UK in time to qualify for this year’s prize.  The Stars in the Bright Sky by Alan Warner seems like a chicklit version of Less than Zero – I can’t really figure that one out.   Peter Carey has a shot at the triple crown with Parrot and Olivier in AmericaRoom, Emma Donoghue’s novel, takes the reader into a basement world inspired by the  Fritzl and Kampusch cases.  Skippy Dies by Paul Murray just looks nifty…

And so, without further ado here’s the list.

  • Parrot & Olivier in America by Peter Carey
  • Room by Emma Donoghue
  • The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore
  • In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut
  • The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
  • The Long Song by Andrea Levy
  • C by Tom McCarthy
  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
  • February by Lisa Moore
  • Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
  • Trespass by Rose Tremain
  • The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
  • The Stars in the Bright Sky by Jonathan Cape

If you’ve read one of finalists, or think the judges committed a gross oversight by overlooking you favorite from 2010, feel free to get it off you chest in the comments section.  It’ll give us all something to talk about while we wait for the bookies to post the odds.  From what I’ve heard, David Mitchell is a favorite going in… but you can’t underestimate Peter Carey…

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