Saturday, March 30, 2019

Review: Face

Face Face by Cecile Pineda
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My Classic Read for March 2019 is Cecile Pineda's Face, a book about identity.

First published in 1985, Cecile Pineda's slim and stunning novel Face was highly acclaimed and has a longevity that places it as a modern classic, an American Academy of Arts and Letters prize winner, and a finalist for the prestigious Neustadt Prize in 2013. Nobel Laureate J. M. Coetzee has called it one of the most haunting books he's ever read. Based on the true story of a man who was disfigured in an accident, we follow the fictional life of Helio Cara (a name that ironically could be taken to mean "sun or day love") a man living in a favela in Rio de Janeiro. Helio rushes, or tries to, to his dying mother's bedside but falls off a hillside (a metaphorical cliff). Surviving his accident, he is rendered faceless in that he is so disfigured that everyone rejects him and his identity, home, livelihood and all his friends, are lost to him. His situation is so dire he cannot go out and cannot bear to be seen. The light of day brings only sorrow, cruelty and rejection. Over time, Helio rebuilds himself, literally rebuilding his face, with needle and thread, and novocaine for pain.

Face remains a landmark in Latin American fiction, with Pineda being one of the first US-based Latina writers to land a contract with a major US publishing house. It is also a stunning novel about what makes us who we are, about how others see us, and how we see ourselves. What defines us? Is it what we do, the choices we make, or the face we show the world? A fascinating novel, as fresh today as it was more than thirty years ago, I cannot recommend this jewel of Hispanic literature highly enough.


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