Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Book Review/Summer Reading: "The Painter of Battles"

by Eric Green

PTSD Attacks Acclaimed War Photographer

The Painter of Battles
Arturo Perez-Reverte
A Novel
(Random House)
Translated from the Spanish by
Margaret Sayers Peden

Did you ever wonder how war correspondents, in this case photographers, who travel to the hot spots of the world, deal with the horrifying deaths and dismembering of human life. Well internationally renowned novelist Arturo Perez-Reverte did, actually, he personally is a testament to that world. He was a war correspondent in Angola, Bosnia, Croatia, EL Salvador, Lebanon, Libya, Nicaragua, Romania, the Persian Gulf and the Sudan. So, he saw it all before he retired. According to his bio, he wasn't a photographer as he created in his lead character in his new novel, Andres' Faulques.

Faulques' life unravels page by page. We learn about the love of his life, Olvido Ferrara, a former fashion model turned war photographer. Intertwined in his life, along with Olvido, is a surprise visitor who descends on his circular home/art studio/war mural. He is Ivo Markovic, a Croatian soldier who threatens Faulques' world due to his photography of war scenes.

Faulques has left the life of war photographer for the life of a muralist. A muralist who is creating the ultimate painting of the consequences of war.

Perez-Reverte raises the moral and, political issue of war photography as a possible incentive for more and sometimes highly excessive brutality. His character is portrayed as someone without any real feelings for the subjects of his photos; on the contrary, his photos are sent to the most prestigious of photo magazines, often garnering him awards.

Perez-Reverte is known for becoming obsessive in his descriptions. And, here, he doesn't disappoint. He has Faulques using all kinds of painting combinations on a wall that is hard to apply paint. Muralists and, in fact, all painters should like these parts of the novel.

The writer also takes us back to historic war paintings by 15-century painter, Paolo Uccello and more contemporary paintings by Goya. He is intrigued by Goya's "Duel with Cudgels." The Uccello painting that draws his attention is, "Battle of San Romano."

I would say the only unsettling aspect of the novel is the writer's allegiances in each of the war zones he encounters. This is explained away, maybe, due to his needing to sell his photos to mainstream magazines. Maybe it is ironic that his siding completely with the Croatian side of the Yugoslavian horror is atoned for by Mr. Markovic's importance in the novel.

I am now off to read other books by Perez-Reverte. Don't miss this one.

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