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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Brandes's Decision

Eduard Márquez

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To purchase Brandes's Decision

Title: Brandes's Decision
Author: Eduard Márquez
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 132 pages
Original in: Catalan
Availability: Brandes's Decision - US
Brandes's Decision - UK
Brandes's Decision - Canada
La decisione di Brandes - Italia
La decisió de Brandes - España (catalan)
La decisión de Brandes - España (Spanish)
  • Catalan title: La decisió de Brandes
  • Translated by Mara Faye Lethem

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Our Assessment:

B : engaging, but ranges too widely

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
El País . 16/12/2006 J.Ernesto Ayala-Dip

  From the Reviews:
  • "Al final parece que Eduard Márquez escribió una novela sobre el sufrimiento humano. Digo parece, pero no estoy muy seguro. Yo creo que el excelente autor de Cinco noches de febrero, esta vez no acierta a dominar su materia." - J.Ernesto Ayala-Dip, El País

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The decision of the title of Brandes's Decision is based on a similar one faced by painter Georges Braque (who also supplies the novel's epigraph) and with which the story opens: Hermann Göring took advantage of the uncertainties many faced during the Second World War to amass an incredible private art collection, and Walter Andreas Hofer was his front-man, seeking out prize pieces to add to the collection. In Braque's case, the Nazis had essentially confiscated most of his art collection and Hofer dangled the possibility of it being released back to the artist -- in exchange for a Lucas Cranach painting Braque owned; similarly, in this novel Brandes' own paintings have been confiscated by the authorities, and Hofer offers a straightforward exchange of all of Brandes' work for the family-Cranach.
       The similarity in cases is striking, but Márquez makes sure that Brandes isn't seen as a fictional version of Braque -- most obviously by having Braque figure incidentally in the novel: Brandes knew him ("I never felt as close to any other painter") and describes some encounters with the master -- and while he is writing this account (Brandes's Decision is narrated by the title-figure) he hears of Braque's death. Among his recollections of the master: how they talked about Cranach: "Mostly about Cranach. Because he had one too." It's an interesting way of mixing fact and fiction. Márquez (and/or Brandes) don't acknowledge that Braque faced this same decision, but it's plausible enough that Hofer tried variations on this gambit with other artists and collectors too.
       The novel begins with Hofer's proposition to Brandes -- with the generous-sounding twist on blackmail: "You decide", Hofer tells him, as if it were just like any other bargain and exchange. But the immediacy is soon lost, as Brandes reveals he is writing retrospectively -- long after the fact, in fact (Braque's death conveniently dates the writing to some two decades later). Brandes is dying, and the novel is a last reflection on his life -- centered around the fateful decision forced on him.
       Brandes' sixty-eight numbered paintings -- a lifetime's work -- had been confiscated from his Jewish art dealer, and when he feels the need to exert a little more pressure Hofer clears out Brandes' studio, too, but he offers it all back, for just the one Cranach. Brandes wonders why Hofer doesn't just take the Cranach too, but the Germans still insist on a certain propriety -- even if it has become rather warped under the Nazis (confiscation from Jews is okay; simply taking paintings from those who haven't yet been blacklisted, not so much):

Hofer turned, his face aflame. "Do you take us for simple thieves ? I'm offering you a deal: the paintings from the gallery and now all this junk in exchange for the Cranach."
       Hofer's cruel refrain of You decide is a nice twist on words and meaning, Brandes ostensibly left entirely free to choose -- yet only because he has been put in that position by acts that are beyond the pale.
       Brandes repeatedly notes that all his life others have found that he makes too much of things:
Maybe it's that, once again, my father was right. I've always tended to imagine everything more convoluted than it really is. "You make a mountain out of every molehill. Why not cross that bridge when you come to it ?" he would say when I got worked up too soon about things.
       Or, as one of the women in his told him: "You waste too much time on problems that can't be solved." And, of course, he wondered at the time whether that played a role in how he approached making his decision.
       His lost paintings represent something significant. They are a record of his life, in a way. But, of course, the invaluable Cranach is something special, too (there's a personal connection and meaning to it too) -- and the bargain the Nazis want to strike one that is fundamentally wrong.
       Over the course of the novel, Márquez returns repeatedly to Brandes being pushed into a corner by Hofer, and how he reacts to this impossible situation (initially, by putting off any decision). Of course, his final course of action is only revealed at the book's conclusion; it is quite satisfyingly handled.
       If Brandes's Decision does focus on and follow this particular decision (in the making) so closely, the novel nevertheless ranges far and wide beyond it. Brandes' recounts much from his life, in particular his losses -- notably his mother, who died giving birth to him, but also other figures who were close to him. (In this regard it also makes perfect sense to set the writing of the novel when Márquez does, allowing Brandes to suffer Braque's death as well.) He describes his struggles to become a painter and find his way, as well as his traumatic war experiences. He also devotes considerable space to other figures: his father, or the loves of his life, including Alma, who experienced the horrors of the Ravensbrück concentration camp.
       All of this is meant to give a fuller picture of the man who is writing what amounts to his testament -- but Márquez doesn't seem to quite have a handle on it, ranging rather too freely and loosely, and across a great deal of time (jumping back and forth across it, no less) in a very short space. The fit with the decision-dilemma that Márquez wants to be so central doesn't quite work; in particular, the way he pulls back from the immediacy of the decision, not only writing from decades later, but mixing in events from before and after, lessen the possible impact some.
       Brandes's Decision packs a decent punch, especially regarding the basic dilemma Brandes faced but also in some of the personal details, and at this length it is a reasonably satisfying read -- but it feels like it could have been better, either pared back to a tighter essence, or expanded to more fully explore all the connections and events.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 June 2016

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Brandes's Decision: Reviews: Eduard Márquez: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Eduard Márquez Taña was born in 1960.

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