In del Árbol’s Breathing Through the Wound (Other, July.), Eduardo Quintana, a painter who lost family to a reckless driver, is commissioned to paint a portrait of a motorist responsible for another tragic death.
How did this novel originate?
In 2011, the passing of a friend left me puzzled, sad, and furious, without knowing who to blame for my loss. At the time, I was studying the work of painter Lucian Freud, and I began to wonder if through art we can understand the traumatic processes, calm the pain, and find answers in the suffering. Using these two elements, suffering and art, I built the character of Eduardo.
How does the concept of free will play out in your book?
I believe in free will. I think that all characters in this novel fight against fate, that tragic destiny that inspires Shakespeare’s plays. I don’t care too much about destiny, the future, but rather the here and now, the permanent fight to advance step by step. My characters don’t resign themselves to their fate, they are born fighters. It will have to be life that defeats them, they will never give up. I don’t share the idea that human cooperation is based on self-interest. In this novel, selfishness and altruism have an epic duel, like good and evil.
You’ve stated that you like confronting yourself with what you don’t understand. Can you expand on that?
There’s an interesting debate around fiction and nonfiction, and about whether a writer should write about what he knows or not. Well, what interests me is exploring what I don’t understand in all its complexity. And there’s nothing more complex and contradictory than the human being. We think one thing and say another; we feel in one direction, but we act in the opposite; we fear death, but we don’t know how to live. In Breathing Through the Wound, I have tried to understand the distance between law and justice, between the systems of laws and norms that we call civilization, and the inherent feeling of justice in the human being. In this gap between justice and law, a disturbing emotion usually appears: revenge as a compensatory instrument. I have tried to understand the nature of revenge, what is its origin, what is it for, how it works, can it work as a healer?
Could you explain the title?
In Spanish, it means “breathing through suffering.” It’s an expression that comes to mean that the wounds of the soul are never closed. We are like fish out of the water breathing through the gills as we drown.