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Garcia's Heart
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Garcia's Heart

4.3 3
by Liam Durcan

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In this searing debut novel, neurologist Patrick Lazerenko travels to The Hague to witness the war crimes trial of his mentor, Hernan García, a Honduran doctor accused of involvement in torture. Discovered in Montreal years later, García has been extradited to the famous criminal court, supported only by his family and an advocacy group whose motives seem


In this searing debut novel, neurologist Patrick Lazerenko travels to The Hague to witness the war crimes trial of his mentor, Hernan García, a Honduran doctor accused of involvement in torture. Discovered in Montreal years later, García has been extradited to the famous criminal court, supported only by his family and an advocacy group whose motives seem questionable at best.

At the trial, Patrick encounters the ambitious journalist who has built her career on the case. She is convinced that Patrick knows more than he is admitting and won’t stop until she finds out what it is. The defense attorney has his own ideas for Patrick as well, hoping to persuade him to use his latest neurological research to vindicate García. The only one who has asked nothing of Patrick is García himself. After entering a plea of not guilty, García has refused to say a word to anyone.

As García’s supposed crimes are revealed, Patrick wrestles with what truth there may be behind the accusations, haunted as he is by his own youthful memories of the man and his family. He must also contend with seeing García’s daughter, Celia, his former lover. Their relationship ended years before, but he is consumed by his memories of his love for her.

But it isn’t until García’s shocking intentions come to light that Patrick begins to realize that however sophisticated his knowledge of the brain may be, it will take more for him to understand the human heart.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for García’s Heart

“Liam Durcan raises complex and important issues in García’s Heart, exposing the frailty of human nature against the background of medical science.... An intelligent book, thought provoking and satisfying—-a meditation on the workings of the mind.”

—-Clare Morrall, author of Astonishing Splashes of Colour

“Eloquent and haunting, García’s Heart fearlessly explores the moral ambiguities of the modern world. Durcan demonstrates his supreme versatility with his psychologically penetrating, technically assured, yet empathic and human portrait of a man struggling to come to terms with a terrible angel.”

—-Eden Robinson, author of Monkey Beach

“With this remarkable debut novel, Liam Durcan...has firmly ensconced himself within the hallowed ranks of doctors making successful forays into literature, a line running straight from Chekhov through William Carlos Williams and W. Somerset Maugham.”

—-Quill & Quire

“Durcan’s language is sculpted with seemingly effortless precision. His sentences are rich with detail and metaphor, luxurious with reference and allusion, but also lean and raw, getting straight to the point of what he wants to describe.”

—-Literary Review of Canada

Booklist - Allison Block
*STARRED REVIEW* What prompts an honorable man to commit unspeakable acts? That's one of many moral conundrums considered in Durcan's compelling debut. As the novel opens, Boston neurologist Patrick Lazerenko has arrived at The Hague to witness the war crimes trial of Hernan García de la Cruz, a onetime physician from Honduras who became a mentor and friend to Patrick during his formative years in Montreal. Is it possible that Hernan, the man who inspired Patrick to become a doctor, once used his medical knowledge for evil, torturing political subversives in his native land? In his work back in Boston, Patrick researches the brain's role in the decision-making process. Might that cutting-edge expertise now help exonerate Hernan? As the trial moves forward, Patrick retreats into the past, recalling his affection for the García family and his love for Hernan's spirited daughter, Celia. Canadian neurologist and short story writer Durcan (A Short Journey by Car, 2004) renders satisfyingly
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Patrick Lazerenko, a doctor and groundbreaking neuroscience researcher, has parlayed his life's work into a multimillion-dollar consulting firm. And yet, on the cusp of a new marketing campaign for his largest client, he heads to the Hague to attend the war crimes trial of his mentor, Hernan García, a former doctor implicated in a campaign of torture and interrogation in Honduras.

Lazerenko first met Hernan long after he'd given up his medical practice and moved to Canada, where the Garcías ran a successful greengrocery. To Lazerenko, Hernan was a good man, a man of compassion and encouragement. Is it possible to reconcile that man with the emerging portrait of García, the terrible doctor who aided and abetted the torture of thousands? Why does Hernan remain silent? And if Lazerenko can use his science to exonerate him, should he? Conflicted by his questions and desires, Lazerenko tries to penetrate García's heart and mind to better understand him.

At a time when Americans debate the use of wartime torture comes a timely novel to ask the question: How is it that good people are complicit in evil acts? García's Heart is an astounding psychological thriller about moral responsibility and the human capacity for both denial and forgiveness. (Spring 2008 Selection)
Publishers Weekly

Neurologist Durcan (A Short Journey by Car) dissects the ethics involved when politics, medicine and violence collide in this finely wrought novel about a neurologist turned biotech entrepreneur who travels to The Hague to witness his mentor's war crimes trial. Patrick Lazerenko is a punk teen in Montreal when he first meets Hernan García, the Spanish immigrant owner of a neighborhood grocery store. Caught trying to vandalize Hernan's store, Patrick is roped into working off the damages and soon finds himself attached to the García family. When Patrick sees Hernan's backroom medical consultations with local immigrants, he is inspired to become a doctor himself. Years later, a journalist exposes Hernan-dubbed the Angel of Lepaterique-as having been mixed up in the CIA-backed torture of subversive citizens in Honduras in the 1980s. Parallels to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are acute (and even overtly identified) as Hernan is accused of witnessing and aiding in detainee torture. Subplots involving a devious political think-tank, the long-expired romance between Patrick and Hernan's daughter and the goings-on at Patrick's company, provide a rich backdrop to the trial, but the centerpiece is the mélange of complex feelings that arise within Patrick, who finds himself simultaneously condemning and rooting for Hernan. (Nov.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Following his 2004 short story collection, A Short Journey by Car, Durcan's outstanding debut novel walks a taut line between skillful thriller and philosophical novel of ideas. Though he has yet to develop fully his authorial powers and talent, he already writes with an ease reminiscent of Graham Greene. Durcan crafts a character whose background in neurology and medicine-Durcan is himself a neurologist-deftly informs the action. Drawn from Montreal to the Hague to witness the war crimes trial of former mentor Hernan García, Patrick Lazerenko must confront a landslide of moral, political, and personal questions that haunt and confront him at all stages of his association with the Spanish immigrant and his family. As the plot unfolds, the novel takes on a breathtaking immediacy that will awe readers and tune them into probing ethical dilemmas. Suitable for all public and academic libraries.
—Christopher Bussmann

Kirkus Reviews
A judgment on the world stage tests the ethical resolve of a scientist troubled by the crimes of war. Canadian neurologist and award-winning writer Durcan (A Short Journey By Car, 2004) plumbs his stock in trade to inform this audacious literary debut, its purpose no less than finding a window to the soul. When Boston-based neurologist Patrick Lazerenko arrives inauspiciously at the Hague on a miserable November day, even his cab driver knows who he's here to see. The city is gripped by the trial of Hernan Garc'a de la Cruz, a Honduran physician whose alleged complicity in CIA-backed torture earned him the sobriquet, "The Angel of Lapaterique." The good doctor refuses to speak in the courtroom but Lazerenko's memories portray a once-decent man corrupted by the kismet of politics. In fact, Garc'a was once a father figure to Patrick, whose rough, ill-disciplined childhood was turned around by the doctor's care and attention. Far from his humble roots, Lazerenko has built a successful company, Neuronaut, that uses magnetic imaging to assess what Patrick acidly describes as, "moral reasoning," meaning his methods may be able to predict consumer behavior, the effects of different stimuli or possibly even a predilection toward harmful acts. Through the course of the trial, Lazerenko copes with his own pressures, including a hard-nosed and accusatory investigative reporter from Baltimore, a tenuous romantic reunion with Garc'a's daughter Celia and Garc'a's defense attorney, who wants him to use his peculiar scientific skills to clear his friend's name. With his company in a tailspin, Lazerenko struggles to understand Garc'a's actions and reconcile his own disquieting sense of dread. "How do youdislike parts of a man?" he muses. The author's expertise may lie firmly in the field of science, but his shrewd, intricate debut reveals a multitalented artist. A fascinating construct that asks whether men go wrong in the heart or in the head.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
6.11(w) x 8.17(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

Garcia's Heart


"Going to see the Angel?" the cab driver said, and smiled like a man who knew for certain he'd won a bet.

All Patrick Lazerenko had done was get into the cab and ask to go to the tribunal building at Churchillplein. The real destination was obvious to the cab driver. At this time of year, with the hotels catering almost exclusively to dark-suited people on official business, Patrick had the look of a tourist. Standing among a group of businessmen in the lobby of the Hotel Metropole and watching them disperse into the Den Haag drizzle, he had already begun to feel conspicuous, almost wishing he could pick up a briefcase and join their ranks for a day of bloodless regulatory triumph. Other than business, there wasn't much reason to be in Den Haag in November. What was left of the tulips had been interred for weeks, and the jazz festival was a memory of someone else's summer. Patrick wasn't surprised by what the cab driver said. The only public spectacle was taking place at the War Crimes Tribunal building where a man who had come to be known as the Angel of Lepaterique was on trial. It annoyed him to be so easily gauged, and he almost leaned forward to tell the cabbie to mind his own business, but instead he just nodded and said "Yes" in a squeaky voice, a bubble of last night's sleep still clinging to a vocal cord.

Patrick didn't enjoy travelling and this trip hadn't begun well. He'dslept poorly on the flight from Logan—sometimes extra legroom isn't the issue—and the attentions of the first-class stewardesses, which he thought he'd gotten used to, felt like the clumsy interventions of a special-needs teacher. There had been delays with the trains from Schiphol, saddling him with an extra hour to study the fairly limited palate of greys offered by the skies around Amsterdam. He'd assumed it was raining but hadn't bothered to go up to the window to check. By early evening he had arrived in Den Haag and a half-hour later found himself propped up against the reservations counter of the Hotel Metropole, trying to stay awake through the surprisingly elaborate process of check-in, craving the chance to close his eyes, hallucinatory bursts of REM sleep intruding and almost tripping him up as he concentrated to sign his name. Hours later, he awoke in a dark, compact room, got up to undress and then went back to bed, returning to a dream where everything seemed to slowly spin. He awoke again, coming to the surface of sleep's muddy pond for a breath of air that was really the voice of his wake-up call. It was past ten when he finally got out of bed.

As if obliged to point out that Den Haag had more to offer than genocidal criminals, the taxi driver mentioned a few local landmarks worth seeing as they stopped and started through traffic. "The old city," the driver said for clarification, taking pains to make eye contact with Patrick in the rear-view mirror. Patrick thought he must have seen some of this already—cobbled streets and a foreign style of architecture, the theme-park reassurances of European cities—details glimpsed on the ride from the train station. But maybe that was Amsterdam. Or Brussels, from last year. Here, along Johan de Wittlaan Boulevard, the taxi driver explained that it was mostly hotels. Many looked nicer than the Metropole.

The traffic was made up almost entirely of trucks, other taxis, and what appeared to be a scattered fleet of black S-class Mercedes. Every time he looked through the windows into the back seats of other cars, he saw people talking into their mobile phones. He could remember when the sight of all these people talking on their phones would have seemed sophisticated, but that was another time. Now the world was filled with people for whom the choice of ring tone wasthe truest declaration of personality. Even his mother—every digital clock in her house perpetually blinking 12:00, the Greenwich Mean Time of the technologically impaired—had a phone. Now, seeing someone just sitting in a back seat doing nothing made him wonder what was wrong, if they'd lost their phone or had no one to talk to.

A light rain began to fall and the brake lights of the taxis ahead blurred between swipes of the wiper blades. He wondered whether all roads leading to the courthouse were similarly crammed, full of taxis ferrying people with purpose, pouring toward a place where the truth was wrung out. In Boston, he spent almost all his time at work, where he had become used to being the most focused person in the room, the most highly trained, with the most declared competency, so travelling north on Johan de Wittlaan he felt detached, a guest species accidentally transported into the midst of a bustling, exotic ecosystem. If not for the circumstances, it would have been refreshing.

The cab manoeuvred to an outer lane and without warning pulled into a parking lot. A tall, black iron fence with a gateway stood in front of them.

"This is it?"

The taxi driver tilted his head and pulled his shoulders up into a shrug that acknowledged the anticlimax of arrival.

"You'll need your passport."

Patrick fished some new Euros out of his wallet. He got out of the cab and thanked the driver, who said, "Good luck in there" in a tone bleached of any sarcasm or sympathy. The rain had stopped and Patrick took his first good look around. He faced a fence of wrought-iron bars, a cartoonish accessory to the moment, lacking only the clang of a cellblock door being slammed.

To his left across a plaza, in a spot the gods had obviously chosen to take a great jagged crap, the Congress Centrum loomed like a postmodern mother ship. A huge fountain fronted it, its pool duly reflecting the Congress Centrum's facade and another oblong swatch of grey Dutch sky hanging at an awkward angle. It reminded him of a Zeppelin crashing to earth.

He turned around and looked through the iron fence again. Had he not been dropped off in front of it, he would have passed the tribunalbuilding without a second thought. It was smaller than he imagined it would be; three storeys of neo-classical granite, a design Albert Speer's mother would be proud of, without any marking to indicate what went on inside. He had read that the tribunal building once belonged to an insurance company, which now, looking at it, made complete aesthetic sense. Once past the gate, he was ushered into a guardhouse a short distance from the entrance. There, he presented his Canadian passport to a UN official in a kiosk and received a blue ticket stamped with the date.

He was a physician—at the tribunal that designation alone would make people assume a professional interest in forensics, which he would deny—and as such, he was entitled to a special tribunal pass, a pink ticket, instead of the blue one. But it wasn't as though a pink-ticket holder was granted any special privileges, no all-access pass to go behind the scenes and meet the star of the show. All the pink ticket meant was having to fill out forms and list credentials, so he'd decided to skip it.

It satisfied him to come to the tribunal that morning as a nameless citizen, happy to be mistaken for another tourist cruising through the zoo to see what monsters had been let out for display. He wanted to be a nobody in the gallery, as anonymous as a person can be after showing his passport and declaring an interest in such proceedings. He cleared security—a series of metal detectors and several stern questions as he emptied his pockets and took off his belt; an elaborate exercise, but nothing more strenuous than boarding an overseas flight—and after presenting his passport and the blue ticket again, he was finally free to climb the stairs to the visitors' gallery.

Patrick eyed the small radio receivers used for simultaneous translation of court proceedings that sat in a rack just outside the entrance to the gallery. He picked one up and, for the first time since leaving Boston twenty hours before, felt an uneasiness that until that moment had been suppressed by the details of travel. He paused and then went in.

Patrick braced himself to see his friend sitting there, unspeaking, dressed in that plain blue shirt that the world had seen him wear in the television coverage, but to his relief the booth where the accusedwould be seated was empty. There were sixty or so spectators in the gallery, and he found a place, dividing the big plush pout of the folded auditorium seat. He put on the earphones and waited to hear that detached form of language known as translator-talk, a cousin dialect to Dutch taximan-speak, but there was only a faint staticky hissing. Below the gallery, a man who looked to be in his fifties was on the witness stand, motionless and silent. Beside the witness, three justices dressed in black robes were reviewing documents. Patrick had memorized their names and was trying to match them with the faces he saw. The prosecution and defence teams were also intently flipping through large black binders. No one was saying anything and it looked to Patrick like a study group of honour students. He recognized one of Hernan's appointed lawyers, Marcello di Costini, staring down through a pair of dauntingly stylish glasses at the pages before him. Patrick had come across the lawyer's photo on the tribunal's Web site, where he'd spent hours reviewing Hernan's case information sheet, but it didn't do the man justice. Even in a moment like this, as the lawyer joined his colleague in a search through another binder, Patrick could see that di Costini was one of those for whom charisma was just another dominant trait, like his height, or his wit, or his wind-blown hair that had likely been styled by a ride through the countryside in an Alfa Romeo convertible. He would have been jealous if not for the fact that he had spoken several times to di Costini and found him interesting and good-humoured in the face of his client's recent turn in behaviour. Hernan García de la Cruz, after entering a plea of not guilty, was refusing to speak to anyone, including Marcello.

Hernan's silence—a stance interpreted in various media outlets as either principled, canny, or arrogant—had become the big, inexplicable development of the proceedings. After the initial incredulity and tactical regrouping, Marcello seemed to have taken his client's vow of silence in stride: "He is the first client I am certain will not perjure himself," he had said to Patrick about a month before, during one of their first telephone conversations.

This was not to say that Hernan had disengaged from the trial. On most days that the tribunal was in session, the television camera showedhim seated in the defendant's bulletproof glass kiosk, scribbling the occasional note that he allowed no one, not his family, not the judges, not di Costini, to see. To Patrick, watching from the safety of an overdesigned living room in Boston, Hernan's recent appearances on the evening news revealed a man who had undergone a radical physical change—a deterioration accompanied his silence, causing alarm and adding urgency to Patrick's thoughts of going to Den Haag. The man had aged. When he was shown being moved into and out of the courtroom, Hernan walked like a man crossing an icy road. The features of his face were traced deeper, as if by concession to the demands of public villainy, making every expression more severe.

The lawyers sat at tables arranged into a triangle. They continued to speak quietly among themselves, until one of the justices found the transcript of previous testimony they had all been looking for. Each of the participants kicked into sudden motion, as if the line of text was a power cord restoring current.

A lawyer for the prosecution approached the witness—number C-129 according to the updated docket—and asked him in English how long the electrical shocks had been applied to his feet. There was a pause as the man, weathered skin drawn over broad Indian facial features, listened to the translation. He spoke, another brief silence followed, and then an English translation skipped along after his Spanish reply. "I don't know how long it took, but it was more than fifty times. I lost consciousness a few times."

The witness sat impassively as he was asked to recount his experiences of internment and interrogation just outside the town of Lepaterique during the months of January and February 1982. He described the details of the cruelty he endured in the same way that Patrick had often heard the details of a traffic accident related. A clinical description: what happened, when, and how. Throughout, the witness referred to "the doctor" and when asked for a clarification, García's full name was pronounced. The details. Facts without any reaction. Patrick was used to this, the facts shouldn't have affected him—his job demanded a fairly strict detachment—but the lack of anger in witness C-129's voice, the absence of tears on those cheeks, only amplified the effect of his testimony. Patrick hadn't expectedthat he could just sit down and start hearing details like this. He'd thought it would be different, more dramatic; maybe it was the diet of television where adults felt free to cry on camera if they'd so much as been denied an upgrade on a flight to the Caribbean. More likely, Patrick thought, he needed some indiscriminate outpouring of emotion to undermine the witness's testimony, to make it attributable to the embellishments of some campesino with a grudge and a faulty memory. There were no windows in the tribunal chamber or in the gallery—a security decision, he thought—and this added to the room feeling sealed and increasingly airless. He became aware of the faintly ridiculous sound of himself panting and made the effort to breathe more deeply, only to revert minutes later to shallow, almost gulping breaths. It was a mistake to come here.

Patrick removed his earphones and looked around the courtroom in dismay. He'd spent five years hoping it wouldn't come to this, as though the accusations against Hernan were some sort of illness with a prognosis vague enough to offer hope. But as time passed, the possibilities narrowed until the trial became real and then inevitable. The day had arrived and the arraignment had been set and this place was the only logical conclusion for Hernan García's story.

And yet there were moments when he still felt inclined to root for him, the Angel of Lepaterique, a man with a history that had led to the death of his wife and had come to haunt his children. Patrick had not seen Hernan in more than ten years, and since then only on television surrounded by police or immigration officials or captioned by some news channel feed as a war criminal. A real war criminal. In a media cycle gorged with every form of criminality, Patrick could understand how a war crimes trial could seem reassuring, almost nostalgic. Balkan field marshals and Hutu warlords had been publicly tried in the very building in which he sat, the details of their genocidal acts transcribed and deliberated over and a judgment rendered. In the emporium of modern atrocity—airplanes piercing the perfect glass skin of American buildings, the videotaped farewell speech of the most recent suicide bomber—images of war criminals had become a relief, a rare example of evil being called to account for itself and where good was considered to have triumphed.

And now, in the face of incontrovertible evidence, Patrick was reduced to hoping tortured Hondurans would reveal themselves as less-than-credible witnesses. But the facts of the case were clear. Indians from the mountainous northern regions, university professors, activists from Tegucigalpa, all survivors of the civil war, were lined up and waiting to testify. Other figures from deep inside the regime were also due to appear, many with personal histories in the internecine wars of Honduras so shadowy that it was unclear who should be shown the witness stand and who deserved the defendant's chair. But García was the star. In the last five years the world had come to know the story of Hernan García's life, a life Patrick had not been aware of, one so incongruous with the decent and generous man Patrick had known, the man who had made him want to become a doctor.

Going to the tribunal had been based on more than just personal considerations; as the founder and chief scientific officer of Neuronaut, a biotech company that offered "the cognitive approach to marketing," Patrick Lazerenko had faced considerable opposition when he announced that, with little notice, he was going to need three weeks away. In another country. At a war crimes trial. When he told the other four people on the board (the official term for the three MBAs who had started Neuronaut with him and the CEO they had poached from another company), their first reaction was a deep, broadloom silence, the type of silence that his recent entrepreneurial experience had taught him to associate with the imminent decision to contact a lawyer. Then there was shouting. The case for making him stay was presented to Patrick by Marc-André, the only one of his colleagues who could contain himself long enough to speak in complete sentences. Yes, Patrick assured them, he was a team player and yes, he was aware of the tenuous nature of the Globomart deal and the issues involved in the latest campaign. Globomart Inc. was their biggest client, their breakthrough client, and now, according to all involved, their oxygen and water. Globomart, Marc-André said, knowing exactly which card to play, wouldn't want Patrick to go.

Famously founded by the Olafson brothers of Medina, Minnesota, Globomart took pains and spent a great deal of money to cultivate a corporate image of success based on hard work and moral probity.The image make-over—the pains and money, the strategically stealthy philanthropy (somehow always discovered in the act)—was necessary because Globomart had a reputation for being "results oriented" in its business approach, which was the diplomatic way of saying it treated its competitors as Genghis Khan treated his enemies. Globomart, simply put, was the biggest retailer in the world and the company acted like it, bare-knuckling across the American business landscape.

It was logical that Globomart, paying Neuronaut large sums of money to analyze its most recent advertising campaign, would fully expect the Chief Scientific Officer to be on-site, ready to troubleshoot. Marc-André reminded them all that for Patrick to simply be out of the office was troublesome. For the only person who knew the science to be away in another country, indefinitely, was a slap in their billionaire Lutheran faces. Marc-André had turned to the other people in the room: "And we haven't even brought up why he needs to go. Who wants to be the one to explain to the Olafsons that he's going to a war crimes trial? Public relations-wise, this is a worst-case scenario. Welcome to Chernobyl."

At this point the other two founding board members, Jessica Stallins and Steve Zaks—or "Steve Zaks from Baltimore," as he inexplicably liked to call himself—both began frantically pacing around the main meeting room as if they had been suddenly transported to the listing promenade deck of the SS Titanic. Jeremy Bancroft, who had been parachuted in as CEO just five months before, sat motionless and listened. At one point, when the discussions got heated, he took a long, almost thirsty look out the window in the direction of the Charles River.

Marc-André continued pressing Patrick—if he thought the Olafsons didn't appreciate him disappearing at this critical phase, he should try imagining how the shareholders would react. Just mentioning the shareholders—evoking images from their inaugural meeting one year ago where they had stormed the ballroom, commandeered microphones, and forced him to answer endless questions—made Patrick wince. Marc-André reminded him that the shareholders loved nothing more than to punish flighty moves like this, and their desertion couldbe sudden and would cause the very ground beneath them to crumble. Marc-André finished his summation, sat down beside Patrick, and, knowing his colleague would understand French, whispered in his most irritating Parisian accent: "Tu restes, cowboy."

Then something quite unusual happened. Bancroft said that he, for one, supported Patrick making the trip, and the room rolled into another silence. Even though he was the CEO and had been incredibly quick to absorb the technological details behind Neuronaut, Bancroft was still the outsider and had not yet imposed himself in that CEO-way on "internal" issues like this. It was like watching a stepfather's first foray into an old and foreign family squabble. The stepchildren were all a bit stunned.

"It isn't Patrick, but his ideas, that are indispensable," Bancroft said, and Patrick remembered thinking that he would have preferred a simple, autocratic edict rather than the business school clichés. "We can't afford to be so dependent on the physical presence of one person, can we? It would be valuable to prove that to Globomart. Besides, Patrick has brought somebody on board specifically to handle data situations like this when he's inaccessible."

"Sanjay?" Jessica said, alarm and disbelief fusing in her voice. Sanjay Gopal was a post-doc from his old lab, hired two months before on Patrick's recommendation. On paper, Sanjay was perfect: brains and drive and a monthly student loan statement heavy with the weight of mounting interest. He was also, despite his designation as protegé, miserable in the office where his recent arrival and prepubescent appearance combined with the insecurity of the business-types to bleed credibility from him. Sanjay had offered his resignation three times in the last month; with a bit of supportive psychotherapy and an implied challenge to his intelligence—motivational tactics Patrick had mastered as a thesis supervisor—he agreed to stay.

Jessica looked around for support but all eyes were on Bancroft as he held up his right hand and leaned forward ever so slightly, a CEO-GRADE gesture that was authoritative and commiserating at the same time. It was nothing and yet it was perfect, a boardroom martial arts move that disarmed his colleagues and made Patrick understand why they were paying him.

"We need to prove to our clients, to our shareholders, that we're more than a boutique operation. We can't be dependent on one person. Patrick trusts Sanjay. I think we should all trust Sanjay."

Jessica groaned and Marc-André put his head in his hands. Bancroft turned to Patrick, obviously looking for a peacemaking gesture, some quick concession offered from the victorious party. Patrick promised he'd be available, e-mail, phone, whatever, no limitations. This was, after all, the way the world usually did business, he reminded everyone. Jessica, apparently still wordless, snorted. The other two seethed. But Bancroft agreed with him. Bancroft knew it was Patrick's expertise that drove the company, just as he understood it was Patrick who had taken the biggest risks—quitting his university job and going to court to win the right to take his research results into the private sector. He knew who had made all of them wealthy in the last year.

Nobody said a word when Patrick tried to give his assurances. He'd thought Bancroft would be the swing vote, but, looking at the people around the table, he realized he'd been wrong. Bancroft was the only vote, and he had voted for Patrick. Sanjay was his voice in his absence. He'd be leaving on Monday.

Explaining the situation to Heather—the woman he'd been seeing for the last year—was tougher. He would have preferred to say nothing, to let her assume it was nothing more than a business trip that became unexpectedly prolonged, but she had seen an information package about the tribunal lying around the condo and she had begun to comment on the books he read, books about—as she put it—"people who do terrible things." He started off by admitting that he knew Hernan García personally, which, to his surprise, she was relieved to hear. (Apparently, it made those books and his interest in the details of the trial less creepy.) And if she'd been quietly miffed that he hadn't confided in her, her anger found its fullest voice when he told her he had a ticket for Den Haag and needed to pack his bags. Several hours of interrogation ensued, always narrowing down to the same question: "Why are you going?" The most convenient response, the one he settled on, was actually the truth. Hernan's lawyer had asked him to come. She left without saying goodbye.

During that first telephone conversation, di Costini hadn't volunteered how he had found out what Patrick did for a living or how he got his number, and Patrick never asked, assuming the decision to call had been one of Hernan's last requests before he chose to stop speaking. Only later did di Costini let it slip that it had been Celia, Hernan's daughter, who asked him to approach Patrick. This complicated matters for Patrick, making him think that this was a more personal appeal from the Garcías. But as the calls from di Costini continued, increasing in frequency, it became apparent to Patrick why he was being contacted.

At first the questions were vague ("Could Hernan have a brain problem?") before becoming progressively, frighteningly, sophisticated ("But if brain activity is largely determined, and determined by physical attributes of brain structure, then where is his decision-making capacity? Where is his intent?"). He was impressed by the lawyer's interest in neuroscience and flattered by his suggestion that Patrick come to Den Haag to continue the discussion in person. It hadn't occurred to Patrick that anyone would take a biological approach to Hernan's defence. Marcello was asking questions Patrick had begun to ask himself, questions that intrigued him and made him uneasy at the same time. Of course, the facts of the case remained.

Hoping to find some brain malformation that could potentially explain aberrant moral reasoning, Marcello even had Hernan undergo an MRI ("Ridiculously normal, can you believe it?" Marcello hissed). Patrick had never mentioned any of this to Heather. If she were around when Marcello called, Patrick would cover the phone and mouth the word "Business" before finding a door to close.

Initially he had declined di Costini's invitation to meet in Den Haag, deciding it was better to keep his distance from the Garcías and their problems. But he made the mistake of watching the news. It started with a glimpse of Hernan during an international update, and in no time he was searching through the newspapers, until finally he was running through the posted transcripts of the trial on the tribunal's Web site, all the time telling himself he was only keeping informed, overestimating his detachment even as it waned and then vanished altogether. After the first two weeks of proceedings, watching the evidence mount,he realized this might be the last time he would be able to see Hernan. He decided to take di Costini up on his offer.

Patrick stared up at the ceiling of the auditorium, from which one of those huge UN-certified mobiles hung. Mysterious symbols (geometric shapes, representations of people, a cow with what looked to be a lightning bolt shot through it) floated through space above the oblivious participants. He scanned the ceiling and counted fire sprinklers that were like little toadstools pocking the great smooth face of the ceiling at regular intervals, another marking of grand institutional design. He imagined the spray from the sprinklers soaking the blue industrial carpet until it buckled into a wave pattern, the water peeling paint and warping wood and popping out the mahogany inlays. The mobile would whirr about as the deluge continued, slowing as it dripped before settling into a frozen, rusted grimace. But now, it only sat there. A nebula system slowly precessing in silence.

One of di Costini's colleagues stood and addressed the justices. The first thing Patrick noticed, aside from her unnaturally good posture, was how young she looked. Early thirties, maybe still in her twenties. He watched her trying to argue a procedural point, interrupted by a flurry of words—di Costini stood, as did another lawyer who had been seated at the other table—the argument ending with the chief justice of the tribunal rebuking the young lawyer and di Costini. She sat, and Patrick continued to watch her in her chair until his attention drifted back to di Costini. This was a place of contentiousness, Patrick was reminded, a place where every word had repercussions. To an outsider, the tribunal was daunting. A body of knowledge and a system of rules, all foreign to him at first. But he'd told himself before he came to Den Haag that the trial was like anything, that it could be reduced to facts and principles. Anything could be broken down and understood, its threat defused. He had become a student of the tribunal, learning that, in contrast to all the disputed histories that can arise in the aftermath of a civil war, the birth of the tribunal itself had been surprisingly smooth and uncontested. The International Tribunal for Crimes in Honduras had been established by the United Nations along the lines of the ad hoc tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Various attempts at reconciling atrocitiescommitted in the civil war in Honduras had failed, and the government, continually stung by the international community's hectoring and increasingly slow-to-arrive economic development cheques, threw up its hands. All it took was the added carrot of upcoming G8 talks on debt forgiveness, and the president of Honduras almost sprained a wrist in the rush to sign the agreement granting authority to the UN. Once it became somebody else's problem, the pace of activity picked up dramatically. There were arrests in Tegucigalpa and Florida and, finally, in Canada. Deportations were fast-tracked and the planes touched down long enough on the tarmac at Tegucigalpa for a ceremonial refuelling and repatriation before taking off for Den Haag. It didn't stop there, of course. The archives of the secret police were opened and there were names named. More arrests followed, and some scores were settled along less explicit jurisdictional lines. The period of relative calm in the 1990s was replaced by the familiar sound of gunshots heard throughout the night from anywhere in Tegucigalpa. Hernan García wasn't implicated in these first wild weeks of reckoning. By the time they thought to look for him, he had already been gone fifteen years.

Marcello di Costini now rose and approached the bench where he conferred with the three tribunal judges. Four heads leaned in toward something being said. There was some sort of agreement that the prosecution team appeared to have no objection to. It was easier to bear without the earphones, without the words deadening all the possibilities.

Patrick was glad that Hernan García was absent. He had wanted to see the chambers without having him there; ideally, he would have liked the gallery empty, to be able to sit and in some way demystify the place and its strange customs before having to face Hernan here in his new role as a criminal. He wanted to separate the place from the man, and in that way limit all the accusations to that little glass booth, that aquarium where a new species of Hernan García could be contained. But listening to the testimony, that plainsong of physical horror and depravity, made him despair that nothing was capable of detoxifying this place. He put the earphones back on.

Patrick scoured the gallery for a face that he could recognize, notholding out too much hope that he'd immediately find any of the Garcías. That's when he saw Elyse Brenman sitting on the far bank of seats. When Patrick had first met Elyse, she was still a reporter for a Montreal newspaper, knocking on his door to interview him for one of a series of articles she was writing about the fresh allegations made against local corner store owner Hernan García. The articles became a book called The Angel of Lepaterique, and the book became a best-seller and now Elyse didn't work for the newspaper any more. He hadn't thought she'd be here, and it was only after spotting her that it seemed logical: the story hadn't yet come to a conclusion. She wore jeans and a cloth jacket, and with the knapsack at her feet she could have passed for a student in a lecture hall, taking notes and lifting her gaze occasionally in the direction of the tribunal judges. He lowered his head and began fiddling with the earphone cord, trying to roll it up, bringing his attention back to the proceedings.

Witness C-129 finished his testimony and was escorted from the stand. The door used for trial participants closed behind him. Patrick had read that the defendants were caged in an ultra-secure holding cell under the building but he knew nothing about the witnesses. Would C-129 be dispatched back home now? Just a quick Den Haag cameo, get it all off your chest and then a cab back to the airport? It was a bit cold. He hoped that they at least had a room for witnesses somewhere in the tribunal building—for some reason an anteroom resembling a business-class lounge in an airport came to mind—where they could put their feet up and get a handshake from a local dignitary or maybe have a drink while they sat through the mandatory debriefing from a UN-approved psychiatrist.

The chief justice declared a recess until the next morning. Patrick waited for the clap of a gavel, but that was an American thing. This was definitely not an American thing. The lawyers just got up and placed their large binders into larger briefcases. The crowd rose and some stretched in silence, as though they had just sat through a disappointing movie or a game where the home team lost, not unexpectedly, by a couple of goals. Maybe they had all come to see Hernan. It was an odd crowd: mostly people on their own who studied each other as they put on their coats. Some exchanged a word or two ofgreeting, and he began to think that there was such a thing as "regulars" here, lonelies who had set up shop on the banks of this foul river. He moved quickly to be the first at the door, not wanting to come across Elyse Brenman as he ducked through the crowd.

Outside, Patrick decided against waiting for a cab and risking ambush by Elyse, opting instead for a brisk walk. It was not yet four o'clock and already getting dark, darker than it would have been in Boston for that time of day in mid-November. Other than that, Den Haag could have been Boston's sister city. The air was a big bowl, sharp with sea smells, and a fog had installed itself, squatting most thickly in empty areas of the public parks. Placemat-sized wads of leaves clotted the sidewalks. All that was missing was a Red Sox fan staggering through the mist, muttering about something epic and trying to find the train to Newton. He pulled his jacket up to his chin and headed back up Johan de Wittlaan, looking for the Hotel Metropole's corporate symbol floating in the fog. No luck.

Eventually, the Metropole appeared out of the darkness across the boulevard, its lobby of marble and glass glowing like a festive Las Vegas crypt. As he passed through the lobby, a tall man waved him down from behind the front desk. Up close, Patrick saw the man wore a name tag that said "Edwin." Edwin was not a happy man. Tragically prominent ears sat on either side of his head like satellite dishes, picking up bad vibes from the entire Metropole constellation. Apparently Patrick was the cause of that day's crisis. Edwin told him that the front desk had received numerous calls for him, incessant calls, some quite provocative and rude. He was requested to turn on his cell phone and check his e-mail. "Immediately, please," Edwin said, lowering his gaze to emphasize the obvious seriousness of his request. And with that, Patrick was dismissed. While he hadn't been hungry before, speaking with Edwin stirred an appetite in him, and instead of rushing off to comply with Edwin's wishes, he turned and let the concierge watch as he walked over to the Metropole's deserted restaurant, where he proceeded to eat an early dinner with deliberate, almost malicious leisure. But he began to feel ashamed of himself before the meal was over. This was the extent of his defiance, he scolded himself, churlishness. Passive-aggressive dining, all to spite his colleaguesand put an officious concierge in his place. It was a short journey from the restaurant to the bar. It wasn't stalling, he told himself as he ordered a scotch, the bar was simply a transition phase, a recuperative moment. But Patrick couldn't help dreading the thought of all those messages lining up in his inbox, each communication dense with the thinly veiled wrath of his partners, still upset that he'd chosen to disappear just when the Globomart project was launching, cursing his technical indispensability, and not believing for a moment that Sanjay was up to the task.

After a second scotch, the feelings of nostalgia for Boston and everyone at Neuronaut began creeping onto the surrounding barstools to keep him company. They were the closest he had to friends. He remembered how Bancroft had called him into his offce, weeks before he'd publicly endorsed Patrick's decision to leave. Bancroft had sat him down to tell him that he'd heard about "his troubles" and what was going on in The Hague and said he would help in any way he could if Patrick needed anything. He was friendly and vague, with a tone somewhere between a guidance counsellor and a distracted older brother. Patrick asked Bancroft how he'd found out—for all his scotch-induced reveries of the people at Neuronaut, he'd never actually confided in anyone there—and Bancroft told him he'd read The Angel of Lepaterique that summer, that he knew about Hernan and all the Garcías and Patrick himself.

"A damn shame," Bancroft said, and Patrick nodded, unsure of what his boss found most shameful.

The bartender stationed himself at the other end of the bar, diverting his attention from the glasses he wiped only to register the business people as they came and went. The other patrons gathered in clusters that broke up and re-formed as the evening passed. Patrick listened to conversations and was able to pick up the rough rhythm of joke telling, a prosody that was unmistakable, even in Dutch or German. It occurred to him as he eavesdropped on another Hans regale another Jurgen that he was not yet part of this type of life, this nightly fellowship gathering in hub cities across the corporate world. He always thought it was chummy and a little slurred and pleasantly benign and that he'd enjoy it. He was far more familiar with academicsin situations like this, loosed in a bar in a foreign town between plenary sessions of some world congress, without their spouses or departmental colleagues or post-docs to rein them in; after about an hour the scene would deteriorate into low-level roundtable sniping, a schadenfreude skit where the only common spirit would be glee over someone's lost grant or retracted paper. The temporary descent of otherwise intelligent, decent people. He had been a part of it and now the thought of them—under-socialized and overwrought, unfettered and myopic; academics on the loose—appalled him. Patrick had imagined business would be different—maybe only more honestly, openly crude—but now he wasn't so sure.

He waved a goodnight at the barman and got up to feel the full, gravitational effects of the alcohol. An empty elevator led to an empty hallway, conduits to a room he didn't recognize when he turned on the light. He opened his computer to feel the brunt of Edwin's wrath. He. Had. Messages. Too many to count. His partners in Boston accounted for the bulk of them, of course, testing his promise of accessibility, correctly predicting he'd do a "Helen Keller" and turn off all his wireless devices—he could just imagine how it would be if he hadn't: text messages continually scrolling across the display like a hysterical stock ticker. No, it was saner to maintain radio silence; let his messages land and deal with them all at the end of the day. But, as if to punish him for his lack of response, each of his partners had sent him multiple e-mails. This was their plan, he realized, a strategy of constant digital harassment. It probably wasn't even a plan but three identical plans, each hatched around the same time, responding to the same stresses. Even though the other founding board members of Neuronaut all came from different backgrounds, Patrick had noted that there was something about their business school education that caused them to come out with identical responses to any problem. And not a collective response either. These three budding masters of the universe were definitely not "one plan-one mind" or "all on the same page" or whatever cliché they used this week; you could put these three in separate soundproof rooms for six months and they would still emerge ending each other's sentences with a frightening certainty. It was as though any differences in intelligence or culture orgender—Marc-André was ostensibly French and Jessica was at least genetically a female—had been shimmed away by their MBA training, giving the impression that they'd instead graduated from a military academy or a theological college. He liked to think that Bancroft could see this too, and Patrick imagined Bancroft—whose pedigree in business was simply that of a man who made money wherever he went—as more of a throwback, a gentleman privateer in the midst of an army of corporate automatons.

He scrolled down past the messages:


And so on. Twenty-one messages, most concerning the uproar that the marketing arm of Globomart was making about the studies not being as conclusive as in the previous campaign. They were demanding to know why. "Tell them that we're still evaluating the data," Patrick typed. "Talk to Sanjay." Simple. The second question was "The Olafson brothers want to know—what are Talairach coordinates again?" and it took him a minute to come up with an answer that was accurate and Globomart-appropriate, respectful enough for Lyle and Henrik, but not too patronizing. "It's a 3-D map for the brain, lets you know where you are in the brain with reference to certain landmarks. Like a GPS for the brain. Tell them that. You should be asking Sanjay," he wrote again. Sanjay's message was, of course, that no one was talking to him.

His colleagues had been, from the start, in a state of constant perplexity about the science, and he didn't know whether this offended him—they should know something about the basic premise of what they did and if they didn't it reflected poorly on him as a teacher—or gave him that sense of power that allowed him to do things like disappear just as their biggest project was entering a critical juncture.

Bancroft's message was refreshingly different. Human, actually. He sent his best wishes and hoped that things would go well and mentioned that the Gemeentemuseum had a Kandinsky exhibit that he should check out if he could, but that he should still answer his e-mails at least once or twice a day. Point made. Thanks, he replied. He looked through the other messages, hoping for one from Heather. Anything. He'd settle for an accusation or even one of those cryptic quasi-girlfriend haiku pronouncements. But nothing. The screen blinked through a familiar sequence as the computer shut down.

He'd been too tired to unpack completely the night before, so he spent the next ten minutes transferring his clothes to a sleek chest of drawers, pleased to accomplish something tangible before the day ended. On his bedside table he placed the two books he'd brought along—The Angel of Lepaterique, Elyse Brenman's primer for what was about to come under discussion, and Moby-Dick, a book of Marta's that Hernan had sent to him after her death, the only memento he had of the Garcías. In the last few weeks, aside from what he needed to read for work, he'd read little else. Packing the books was a reflexive act, but seeing them now, companion guides to the Garcías' decline, made him wish he were the type of person who preferred the comforts of a fat airport novel.

He washed, and swallowed a Valium and a capsule of his antidepressant's generic equivalent (the benefits package at Neuronaut hadn't yet caught up with its stock price) and then went to bed, where he tossed for another hour, the sheets roped like a python holding him some distance short of sleep. Finally, five time zones away from a normal night's rest, he turned on the television. The news was an endless loop of coverage of a funeral service for a Dutch politician gunned down the week before in Amsterdam by some North African on a jihad with hints of ties to a larger organization.This he had heard about, even in Boston. News like this from Europe made the radar now; no matter what your opinion was, there was something in the story to bolster any bias. The funeral was followed by footage of uniformed men breaking down doors with a truncheon, and police cars—making that uniquely European whee-oh, whee-oh siren sound—careening through darkened streets. Then the square-jawed Dutch anchorman appeared and even though Patrick couldn't pick up a word of it, it wasn't difficult to derive the rest: arrests have been made, clash of cultures, fundamentalism versus a modern sensibility, tolerance sorely tested, etc. It all trailed into an ellipsis that ended most sentences now. He changed the channel, hoping that the taped replay of a soccer game between two Dutch club teams chasing the ball around would usher him off to sleep, but the action on the pitch was strangely compelling and even the television commercials had that odd quality he'd noticed in other cultures of being kitschy and riveting at the same time. He turned out the lights after PSV Eindhoven finished off Groningen and in the dark felt only worry gathering around him like a greatcoat of Den Haag fog, a weariness that he knew would not be eased by sleep.

GARCÍA'S HEART. Copyright © 2007 by Liam Durcan. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

Meet the Author

Liam Durcan’s first book, the story collection A Short Journey by Car, was chosen by Canada’s Globe & Mail as one of the Top 100 Books of 2004. His fiction has been published in The Fiddlehead, Zoetrope, The Antigonish Review, and Maisoneuve. García’s Heart is his first novel. Durcan is a neurologist at the Montreal Neurological Hospital and an assistant professor at McGill University. He lives in Montreal with his family.

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Garcia's Heart 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Fantastic - More information about the U.S., the CIA, and its oversees meddling in other countries' affairs. The book focuses on Honduras, the Nicaraguan Sandanistas, and the trial of a M.D. for military torture. Very well defined characters, very well researched, very well written. I cannot recommend this highly enough.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Montreal teenage Patrick Lazerenko was just another aimless street punk until he was caught vandalizing the Bodega owned by immigrant, Hernan García. However, Patrick got off soft as he is allowed to work off the damage he caused. He becomes part of the Garcia family and considers Hernan as a father figure. In fact it is Hernan's illegal practice helping Central American immigrants with health issues that inspires Patrick to attend medical school and become a doctor.---------------- Decades later, Hernan is exposed as the Angel of Lepaterique, who was part of a CIA sponsored group that tortured Hondurans during the Reagan era. Hernan is brought to The Hague to stand trial as a war criminal accused of abetting detainee torture. Unable to ignore his mentor in trouble and needing to know the truth, Patrick travels to Europe unable to reconcile the man who saved him and gave so much to immigrants in Montreal with the person who could be part of a grouptorturing dissidents.----------------- Patrick holds together this superb contemporary character study as readers observe his myriad of emotions as his hero whom he placed on a pedestal crumbles to the ground. On the one hand he wants Hernan to be exonerated, but also begins to believe his mentor did the nasty deeds. Complicating his feelings towards his father figure is seeing his former lover Hernan¿s daughter Celia with in your face references that imply war crime trials for those in charge and participating at Abu Ghraib and Guantomino is appropriate.-------- Harriet Klausner