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Belletrista - A site promoting translated women authored literature from around the world


by Elia Barceló
Translated from the Spanish by David Frye
Reviewed by Darryl Morris

Imagine that you are a successful but lonely middle aged man, whose heart was broken years ago by the only woman you've ever loved. You are provided one opportunity to meet her again, without knowing if she still lives in the town where you last kissed her, or if she will welcome or reject you. Should you take that chance? If you were given the chance to reinvent your past, would you do it?

The story begins on a snowy December morning in New York, as a goldsmith attempts to write about his memories of youth in 1970s Spain, his past relationship with Celia, and his recent trip to his home town in Spain to attend the funeral of his beloved uncle. As he travels by train to Oneira to pay his last respects, memories of Villasanta, the village that he grew up in and where he met Celia, flood his mind and enliven his heart. He decides to disembark there in order to look for her and to revisit the past.

Alternating between the past and present, we learn that Celia was a close friend of the narrator's mother, and that she was more than twice his age when they first met in a café in town. The women worked as seamstresses in their youth, and Celia abandoned her boyfriend at the time for an older man, a handsome and wealthy stranger, who promised to marry her after a short and scandalous affair. Celia's dreams were dashed after the stranger left town on their wedding day, never to be seen again. She was shunned by the men in the village, and did not take any lovers until she met the narrator. A brief and torrid affair ensued, which Celia ended abruptly.

Meanwhile, in the present, the middle-aged narrator checks into a local hotel in his home village, which seems to be frozen in the distant past. He glances at a calendar at the front desk: it's September 1952, nearly 50 years in the past. Confused yet curious, he explores the town and visits the café where he first met Celia. While sitting at a table, a group of young people asks if they could exchange places with him. To his surprise, the group includes his mother, father—and Celia, with her boyfriend at the time.

The narrator's unreliable memories of the events of 1952, 1973 and 1999 are skillfully interwoven by the author, who somehow manages this delicate juggling act of moving back and forth between the time periods with multiple narrators and Celias without losing the reader's interest or prematurely disclosing the ending. Fantasy and reality are imperceptibly blurred into one another at times, but Barceló maintains the story's intrigue without permitting it to devolve into a confusing mess.

The Goldsmith's Secret is a short novella at 93 pages, yet it is a rich and delightful story of memory, and how it is influenced by love and one's desire to revisit and change the past.

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