Monday, February 25, 2008

Arturo Pérez-Reverte: The Painter of Battles

Steve Bennett reviews Arturo Pérez-Reverte's The Painter of Battles.
Spanish writer Arturo Pérez-Reverte's novels have been translated into 29 languages in 50 countries. A longtime war correspondent, recently elected a member of the Spanish Royal Academy, he now concentrates on fiction: "The Queen of the South," whose title character is a resourceful Mexican woman caught in the world-wide web of drug trafficking, was on many best book lists of 2005, while his Capt. Alarista series, following the adventures of a 17th-century Spanish soldier of fortune, has been a swashbuckling success, with more than 4 million copies in print.

His latest novel, "The Painter of Battles," is a book-length parable of right vs. wrong, a meditation on the morality of man. Pérez-Reverte is nothing if not ambitious.

Translated from the Spanish by the master, Margaret Sayers Peden, who has brought the work of Isabel Allende, Laura Esquivel, Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, Pablo Neruda and Octavio Paz to the English-speaking world, "The Painter of Battles" is an intoxicating mix blending philosophy, art history and treatises on the nature of love, the elusiveness of justice, man's inhumanity to man, human cruelty, the utility of war and the necessity of revenge. Pérez-Reverte is undoubtedly a very smart man and very deep thinker.

Trouble is, this cocktail is light on the essential ingredient: story.

Which, basically, is this: Andrés Faulques is an award-winning war photographer who has covered conflicts from Lebanon to Latin America for more than 25 years. He is tired, he is weary. So he retires to a life of solitude in an old tower on the Spanish coast.
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