AUTHOR: José María Merino
READER’S NAME: Monica Chapa Domercq
DATE: June 23, 2013
One of Spain’s well known and prolific novelists, José María Merino, has written his first love story with the publication of El río del Edén. Uniquely written in second person narrative, the novel follows the journey of main character, Daniel, and his son, Silvio, as they travel to the place where Daniel fell in love with Silvio’s mother Tere. Tere’s beloved son, who is affected with Downs Syndrome, tenderly carries her urn to the Eden-like place where Daniel has promised her ashes would be spread.
The initial dialogue between Daniel and Silvio reveal a strained and complicated relationship between father and son and also exposes Daniel as a flawed human being who has found it difficult to love his son and to mature in a meaningful way. The journey, as well as Silvio’s questions and musings about his mother, cause Daniel to reflect on their relationship and the visit to the Eden-like place where his love for Tere originated.
Daniel’s inner thoughts occur in second person narrative and carry the story of love and betrayal along. It is a masterful device of the novel and one that allows a sort of voyeuristic intimacy with the main character. The intensity the reader develops with the protagonist is lightened by Silvio’s character whose heartbreakingly sweet and unexpectedly poignant observations about life are a welcome relief. Merino’s treatment of the infrequently fictionalized subject of Down’s syndrome is excellent both in the portrayal of Silvio and the parenting challenges of Daniel and Tere.
It is clear why José María Merino has been awarded the XI Premio de la Critica de Castilla y León for this novel. The themes of the novel are universal and take on a kind of mythic quality. Although translation might prove a challenge, given the author’s unusual approach, there is no doubt that American readers would be engaged in El río del Edén. Ultimately, Daniel is changed as a result of his physical and psychological journey to “Eden,” and so is the reader.