Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Arturo Pérez-Reverte: The Painter of Battles

Katie Goldstein reviews Arturo Pérez-Reverte's The Painter of Battles.
Through a series of wartime memories, many including Olvido, Pérez-Reverte takes us to the burning oil fields of Kuwait, to the war-torn Balkans, to Lebanon, Somalia, Romania, Mozambique, Chad, and beyond. Meanwhile, he acquaints us with Faulques' mural, where ancient and modern war coexist, where everyone from Hector and Andromache to Bosch and Goya plays a role. Markovic, when not prodding Faulques with provocative questions, takes an interest in the painting, in Faulques' vision of war - the vision of an observer, not a participant.

Though Markovic at times seems nothing more than a pain in the painter's side, much like the one that visits the artist reliably every eight hours or so, his presence forces Faulques to face his demons. "Did you ever try to stop anything, señor Faulques?" Markovic asks. "Even once? A beating? A death?"

Both men have lived war, one from behind his camera lens, the other with an automatic weapon in his hands. "Is it chance that leaves an animal's tracks in the snow?" Markovic asks. "Was that what put me in front of your camera or did I walk toward it for subconscious reasons I can't explain?" The narrative development may sometimes move slowly or seem repetitive, but Pérez-Reverte is a skillful architect of the tension between the retired photographer and his former subject, of those who witness and take photographs and those who fight, kill, beat, and torture.

Throughout the course of The Painter of Battles, it becomes apparent that the painter and his former subject have more in common than initially appears. Both are ravaged by war, still living, years later, in its aftermath.
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