Review: Talking to Ourselves by Andrés Neuman

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“Discover” is a funny word. When we use it, we don’t often mean that we are the first to do something, but that we are just now becoming aware of something that has long since existed.

This is the feeling that comes when reading Andrés Neuman’s beautiful new novel, Talking to Ourselves.

Because while this is only Neuman’s second book to be translated from the Spanish and made available in the United States, it’s actually his tenth book. Americans may be late in “discovering” Neuman, but this novel about illness, family, love, and loss strikes such a personal chord readers may feel like he was there with us all along.

Talking to Ourselves is the story of Mario, a young father dying of cancer, who decides to take his ten-year-old son on a road trip in an attempt to make some positive final memories. Meanwhile, Mario’s wife Elena becomes distraught when she realizes how little time her husband has left and begins a powerful affair with his doctor.

When Mario and his son return home, the family must confront Mario’s illness as well as their own very different perspectives on family, truth, legacy, and grief.

Told from all three perspectives in three very different styles (journal, tape recording, and stream-of-consciousness), the result is a novel that is brutal in its honesty and subtle with its joy. “Health is so painfully obvious that it makes you ashamed in front of the sick,” Elena writes after visiting her husband in the hospital. To be healthy, then: what an amazing, remarkable gift.  

It is also an intellectual novel, as Elena often moves into contemplations based off quotes from various literary greats. But this is a reflection of her character, not a trick of the author, as Mario and their son digress in their own ways, making each character’s chapters so personal, so close, it feels as though we are in their very skin.

A beautifully written work about the everyday moments that shape, impact, and terrify us, Talking to Ourselves is a novel to be discovered again and again.