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Berta Isla  By  cover art

Berta Isla

By: Javier Marías,Margaret Jull Costa - translator
Narrated by: Frankie Corzo,Bruce Mann
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Publisher's Summary

From the award-winning, internationally best-selling Spanish writer, author of The Infatuations, comes a gripping new novel of intrigue and missed chances - at once a spy story and a profound examination of a marriage founded on secrets and lies. 

When Berta Isla was a schoolgirl, she decided she would marry Tomás Nevinson - the dashing half-Spanish, half-English boy in her class with an extraordinary gift for languages. But when Tomás returns to Madrid from his studies at Oxford, he is a changed man. Unbeknownst to her, he has been approached by an agent from the British intelligence services, and he has unwittingly set in motion events that will derail forever the life they had planned. 

With peerless insight into the most shadowed corners of the human soul, Marías plunges the listener into the growing chasm between Berta and Tomás and the decisions that irreversibly change the course of the couple's fate. Berta Isla is a novel of love and truth, fear and secrecy, buried identities, and the destinies we bring upon ourselves.

©2019 Javier Marías (P)2019 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Marías transforms a spy thriller into an eloquent depiction of those left behind at home in this rich novel....  The espionage premise is initially enticing, but the real draw is the depth of Marías’s characterization. This weighty novel rewards readers with the patience for its deliberate dissection of a marriage.” (Publisher’s Weekly)

“A brooding tale of lives darkened by separation and deception...As usual, Marías propels his philosophical debates with the urgency of a thriller, including a bravura plot twist...Skilled and provocative, as always.” (Kirkus Reviews)

 “A novel by Javier Marías, as his millions of readers know, is never what it purports to be. Spain’s most eminent novelist, Nobel laureate in waiting, translated into more than 40 languages, Marías likes to play with existential ideas. [His] stories are always interwoven with deliberations on truth, morality, deceit and the impossibility of knowing one another, with side trips through literature and history . . . Berta Isla has many of the master’s signature preoccupations.... The elegant translation is alive to every nuance...Berta, the desolate wife, is the heart of the story; her first-person narrative eloquently occupies the bulk of the novel.... A complex, emotionally torn character, she evolves and matures, and her intimate story carries the book.” (Lee Langley, The Spectator)

What listeners say about Berta Isla

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Disappointing Marias

Other than learning about the fascistic recruiting of undercover agents, this book offers little insight into the characters via their 1st person accounts. Yes! one tragic historical incident can destroy entire lives -- a theme of Marias better told in Thus Bad Begins.

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Good plot, weak psychology

it's an interesting plot, but the characters are one-dimensional. Berta tells most of the story, but it's clearly a man's interpretation of her psychology, and it's not convincing. The philosophical ruminations are only moderately interesting.

1 person found this helpful

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I am still thinking about Berta Isla...

A look at the espionage life from the point of view of the family left at home, ignorant of the secret agent’s secret. Berta Isla is the girlfriend and then wife, of a man who is destined to enter life with the British Secret service. We see the couple while still young, as students, with their whole lives ahead of them. We catch glimpses of each of them as their separate, and often disparate, lives unfold. And we see them again later on — when the secret life is over, while never actually dying. A haunting story, well written, superbly performed.