Difficult Light


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Book Description

Grappling with his son’s death, the painter David explores his grief through art and writing, etching out the rippled landscape of his loss.

Over twenty years after his son’s death, nearly blind and unable to paint, David turns to writing to examine the deep shades of his loss. Despite his acute pain, or perhaps because of it, David observes beauty in the ordinary: in the resemblance of a woman to Egyptian portraits, in the horseshoe crabs that wash up on Coney Island, in the foam gathering behind a ferry propeller; in these moments, González reveals the world through a painter’s eyes. From one of Colombia’s greatest contemporary novelists, Difficult Light is a daring meditation on grief, written in candid, arresting prose.

Copyright information for Difficult Light’s cover photograph:
Saul Leiter, Perry Street Cat, c. 1949
© Saul Leiter Foundation, courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery
[A] dream-like meditation on family, death, love, painting, and words. . . . a supple, evocative tapestry.
Ellen Elias-Bursać, The Arts Fuse

A very poetic reverie . . . This is in some ways a reflection on aging . . . and in others simply a picturesque and vivid remembrance of the moments that mattered in one person’s life. At the bottom of it all is the narrator’s unending grief over his son, Jacobo, paralyzed when a junkie driving a pickup truck struck the taxi he was riding in at the time . . . The book’s narrative style is both modest and subdued, no doubt aided by Rosenberg, who previously translated the author’s last work, The Storm (2018).
Kirkus Reviews

Difficult Light is a story of living while waiting for inevitable loss to occur . . . Rosenberg’s translation is . . . notable for the lucid, compassionate tone it strikes in capturing the ordinary moments and conversations that permeate life, whether at its height or at its end.
National Translation Award committee

[Tomás González] writes with authority about transient relationships with cities and people, pairing joys with inevitable losses . . . Difficult Light presents the power of creativity over isolation and mortality. It reminds the reader that when the outside world becomes inaccessible, the interior realm still holds traces of all that we’ve lost.
John Kazanjian, The Rain Taxi Review

A quiet and modest novel that struck me with its lovely prose and profound insights. . . Gonzalez focuses on the glimpses of beauty, the shards of light found in the everyday. A thoughtful meditation on art, family and loss; this slim novel reads like an afternoon reverie, hazy, supple, tinged with sadness and joy.
Mark Haber, LitHub

Self-delusion, hallucinations, anger, volatility chafe against the soothing waters and the stars above, and González, one of South America's most acclaimed and pitch-perfect novelists, plunges you into the brutality of man and nature alike.

Kerri Arsenault

González’s last two novels, Difficult Light and The Storm were both hailed as quiet masterpieces at the time of their publication in Colombia . . . Through all his work you find the peaceful writing that admirably traces the ugliness of the world; the confidence of the narrative voice, seemingly conventional while eschewing the straitjackets of realism . . . He has a mysterious ability to uplift the commonplace and turn it into unforgettable images through careful observation and sensuous detail.

Juan Gabriel Vásquez, The Guardian

There’s hard light indeed for 78-year-old artist David, who’s recently widowed, unable to paint owing to failing eyesight, and at home in Colombia, using a magnifying glass and blackberry-sized letters to record grievous events that unfolded when he and his family lived in 1980s Manhattan...González unfolds the story in luminous, reverberant language all the more heart-wrenching for eschewing graphic detail; David’s painterly sensitivity is enough.
Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal, Starred Review

In González’s genial, reflective tale, a recently widowed Colombian painter composes a narrative of his family’s life in the U.S. and the death of their oldest son . . . laced with moments of beauty and domestic peace . . . González achieves a brilliant triangulation of a man’s attempts at self-expression through two artistic mediums.
Publishers Weekly

González invokes both Hemingway and Faulkner in his treatment of tortured family dynamics and laces the three - way banter in the boat with a fascinating, near - toxic atmosphere of machismo.

Publishers Weekly

In Andrea Rosenberg’s translation, the author’s stylistic traits – short and pointed phrases, poetic descriptions and poetic monologues – shine and linger in the reader’s ear . . . The Storm arrives as a welcome addition to the international recognition of one Colombia’s most prolific and poetic writers.

Nicolás Lano, Asymptote Journal

Difficult Light by Tomás González is about an old painter rapidly turning blind, mediating on one of the most impactful events in his life, the death of his oldest son Jacobo...counting down the minutes to the scheduled death of this beloved son, which could be called off at any moment, if the son wished to do so, is part of the strange thrill of the book. As the implications for the looming deadline become more clear, the countdown adds a slightly perverted sense of suspense.

Franzisca Lamprecht, Full Stop

Tomás González has once again given voice to a sorrowful sermon. Rending and tender, Difficult Light is a novel of familial sacrifice and agonizing acceptance, an exercise in retracing old wounds amid the gathering abundance of time. An affecting altarpiece, through and through.

See our reading group guide for discussion questions!

Tomás González’s interview with Juan Gabriel Vásquez in Brick.