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Over twenty years after his son's death, nearly blind and unable to paint, David turns to writing to examine the deep shades of his loss. Despite his acute pain, or perhaps because of it, David observes beauty in the ordinary: in the resemblance of a woman to Egyptian portraits, in the horseshoe crabs that wash up on Coney Island, in the foam gathering behind a ferry propeller; in these moments, González reveals the world through a painter's eyes. From one of Colombia's greatest contemporary novelists, Difficult Light is a formally daring meditation on grief, written in candid, arresting prose.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
That night I spent a lot of time awake. Beside me, Sara wasn’t sleeping either. I looked at
her brown shoulders, her back, still slender at fifty-nine, and found solace in her beauty. From
time to time we held hands. In the apartment nobody was sleeping, nobody was talking.
Occasionally someone coughed or went to pee and then went back to bed. Our friends Debrah
and James had come to keep us company and had settled down on a mattress in the living room.
Venus, Jacobo’s girlfriend, had gone to his room to lie down. My sons Jacobo and Pablo had left
two days earlier in a rented van, heading for Chicago. From there, they’d taken a plane to
Portland. At one point I thought I heard the faint sound of Arturo, my youngest son, strumming
his guitar in his room. In the street I could hear the nighttime shouts of the Lower East Side, the
familiar tinkle of breaking bottles. At about three in the morning, two or three Hells Angels
thundered by on their motorcycles from their clubhouse two blocks away. I slept almost four
hours straight, dreamlessly, until I was awakened at seven by the knot of grief in my belly at the
death of my son Jacobo, which we’d scheduled for seven that night, Portland time, ten o’clock in
What People are Saying About This
Self-delusion, hallucinations, anger, volatility chafe against the soothing waters and the stars above, and González, one of South America's most acclaimed and pitch-perfect novelists, plunges you into the brutality of man and nature alike.
— Kerri Arsenault
Reading Group Guide
1. In the novel, different timelines are braided together. Discuss how time functions in the novel. What effect does the way time unfolds have on the reading experience, and our understanding of what’s happening?
2. Sara and David have very different relationships with their children. Discuss the role of what’s heard and unheard in those relationships and in the way David narrates them.
3. At several points in the novel, the narrator seems to intertwine sensations experienced via different senses: he says “It’s so loud, you can’t even write” and refers to “the light of sounds.” Why might that be? How do descriptions of sensations operate in this text?
4. Difficult Light takes place in both New York and La Mesa, and sometimes certain words are explicitly described as having been said in English or Spanish. What bearing do the characters’ multilingual lives have on the novel? In what ways are our experiences as readers mediated by the fact that this text is a translation from Spanish?
5. What is the relationship between the pages David is writing and the novel that we are reading?
6. The novel’s title is Difficult Light. At one point while painting, David describes a “light that contains shadows, that contains death, and is also contained within them.” How are all the concepts he mentions connected? What does their juxtaposition here suggest about what they mean in the novel? What is the role of notions of light and dark in the text?
7. What is the symbolic weight of David’s painting of the ferry?
8. “Here I am forced by language, which is inherently clunky, to describe as two separate things something that in its simplest, purest form is only one . . .” Broadly speaking, what does the novel have to say about the possibilities and limits of language?
9. What does the relationship between the human world and the animal world in this novel reveal to us about the characters and the novel’s concerns?
10. One word that recurs throughout the text, starting with the epigraphs, is “world.” How do you think the narrator would define “world”? What is contained (or not) in the word?