Tag Archives: arturo perez-reverte

The Painter of Battles by Arturo Perez-Reverte

5 Sep

I have enjoyed many of Perez-Reverte’s books over the years.  Each offered an unique story, with interesting characters, and a mystery of sorts.  A few have been made into films over the years, though the films were never as rich, and intriguing, as the original novels.  Written in Spanish, I often wondered what, if anything, was lost in translation, and just how much richer, and fuller, the stories might have been in their original form.

The Painter of Battles is a fascinating story, though perhaps not his best novel.  I wondered if there was something lost in translation, and was left in the end with a feeling of a satisfying journey, though not the best one I have ever taken.

The Painter is about a war photographer, Andres Faulques, who has retired from his profession, and is painting a mural on the inside wall of an abandoned tower in an isolated part of Spain, on the ocean coast.  The painting is part of his healing process, as he depicts in the painting various images of war, from across the ages.  The real start of the story is the arrival at the tower of Ivo Markovic, a former Croatian soldier, who had been captured in one of Fauleques’ photographs during the Serbian-Croatian war; the photograph went on to become very famous – published in several magazines – and won awards.  It also had a profound effect on the life of the Croatian soldier: while a prisoner of the Serbian army, he was recognized and tortured; his family was singled out and killed; everything he valued was lost because of the photograph.

The ex-soldier had spent years following Faulques’ career, and in tracking him down.  And in finally meeting Faulques at his tower, he announces he is there to kill him.  Faulques takes the news rather calmly.  Markovic does not intend to kill him immediately, but wants to get to know him better, and has things to discuss.  He is also fascinated by the painted mural being created by Faulques.  Thus begins a series of meetings, and conversations, as Faulques continues to paint, and the two explore their respective perceptions of the world.

In their conversations, Faulques remembers experiences in his life, as a war photographer, and in particular his relationship with Olvido, a woman whom he loved, who for a few years went with him into the war-torn countries to take photographs, who shared his passion of paintings, and who died in Serbia, not long after Markovic’s picture was taken. Faulques relives a great deal of his past, through his conversations with Markovic, and his memories of his time with Olvido.  And in these memories, and conversations, his philosophy of life and the world is unwound and articulated.

Indeed, the book is a really a discussion on life philosophy and perceptions of the world.  The story interweaves this philosophy with Faulques’ experience in taking his photographs, with his understanding of famous painters and their works, of his time spent with Olvido, of the details of the mural he is painting, and of parts of Markovic’s life.  Perez-Reverte provides a fascinating journey examining art, war, life, and morality, and challenges our beliefs of the “truth” in photographs and our relative perceptions of the world we live in.

Running underneath this exploration, and the story, is the tension of Markovic’s intention to kill Faulques.  This final confrontation is the conclusion of the story – I would not describe it as a climax, as it is portrayed as the end meeting point of two souls destined to meet, and interact, because fate has thrown them together.

The book was generally an easy read, though the story takes detours into deeper subjects, and will at times, clunk along as Faulques explains why he thinks and feels the way he does, or the relevance of one of his experiences to a painting.  While this book will not be to everyone’s liking, I did enjoy it, overall, despite feeling, upon finishing, that it could have been so much more.  Yet it was an enjoyable read, the odd bumps along the way were not overly diverting, and it is worthwhile addition to my library.