Difficult Light by Tomás González, Translated by Andrea Rosenberg

Tomás González’s Difficult Light is a heart-wrenching portrait of grief and the ripples that extend from tragic moments in a life as one looks back on their existence in their withering, slowly decaying old age. It tells the story of David, a successful painter whose macular degeneration is making it more and more difficult for him to see. As he becomes more and more internalized with how he experiences the world, he has no choice but to reflect on his marriage, the choices of his family, and the memories of his work and his environment.

The reflections all seem to radiate from the untimely death of his son, stricken with painful immobility after a car accident two decades earlier that has pushed him to decide to take his own life. The family comes together and has to face their shortcomings as they care for him, and David’s narrative bounces between the past and the present, coming to terms with all of the ways in which the loss of his son and the relationship with his wife and living son has stirred and warped his work and his time. He has decided to write his memories down, filling laundry detergent boxes with his narrative as an assistant transcribes his meandering dictation.

This was an incredibly sad book, but it also contained some beautiful moments. With all the morbid tragedy that hums along for the entirety of the brisk 140 pages, there is also a great deal of humor and positive energy, almost an optimism contained within. This is easily due to the strength of González’s prose and the excellent English translation by Andrea Rosenberg. There are many quotable passages in these pages, from the sage to the wry to the sardonic. Most beautifully, the passages where the painter whose eyes are failing describes his work, the foam, the hyper-focus on the dark and light portions of the canvas… these were my favorite moments.

I knew nothing about the book or the author, and I trusted the great curation of Archipelago knowing that my experience with this book was going to be a great one. And it was in so few pages, with González and Rosenberg’s choice poetic beauty.

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