The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal, trans. by Sam Taylor

The story of a heart transplant, from life to death to final outcome, is viewed through the varied perspectives of some of the people involved.

heart

Maylis de Kerangal’s The Heart, translated from the French by Sam Taylor, spans just 24 hours but covers some of the most profound material imaginable. Simon and his two friends leave the beach after a pre-dawn surfing session and crash off the road. In the hours that follow, Simon’s parents are asked to make decisions about the removal of his organs. A woman with three sons waits for the heart transplant that will, hopefully, prolong her life. De Kerangal follows these and other players–doctors, nurses, family and friends–as the drama unfolds: of Simon’s heart, life and death and definitions, the meaning of generosity and what we love.

The Heart delves deeply into its subjects: the transplant operations are described in precise detail. The anguish of parents losing a child is explored at some length in its various incarnations–aggression, confusion–and compared to that of shipwreck survivors, or of a man who has just been in a fight with “some guy who was asking for it.” Characters are complex–the nurse who met with a lover last night, “sober and ravishing”; the soccer-obsessed surgeon with the violent girlfriend; the man from the Coordinating Committee for Organ and Tissue Removal, whose job it is to convince the parents to approve the transplant and who is passionate about music and his Algerian goldfinch. Through these and other points of view, an extraordinary and shocking story is revealed. Taylor’s expressive translation renders a sensitive, stark and entirely engrossing novel.


This review originally ran in the January 19, 2016 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish news.


Rating: 7 minutes.

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