‘Berta Isla’ by Javier Marias

‘Berta Isla’ by Javier Marias

WHO: Javier Marías


WHEN: Published by Knopf August 7, 2019

WHERE: The author lives in Madrid.

WHY: “Javier Marías 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.” —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

“A brooding tale of lives darkened by separation and deception.
Marías propels his philosophical debate with the urgency of a thriller, including a bravura plot twist. Skilled and provocative.” –KIRKUS REVIEWS

. . . . .


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.

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Translated from the Spanish
by Margaret Jull Costa.
480 pages. $28.95 ISBN 978-0-525-52136-5

To interview the author, contact:
Josie Kals | 212-572-2565 | jkals@penguinrandomhouse.com