At a time when the sixteen-year-old desperately needed a father figure, Hernan García stepped into that role for Patrick Lazarenko. The small-time Montreal grocer provided structure and honor in Patrick’s life, welcoming him into a family whose warmth and devotion stood in powerful contrast to Patrick’s blood kin. Small wonder that when Hernan allowed Patrick to know the family secret – that he had been a physician in Honduras before coming to Canada – the boy elected to follow in his new mentor’s footsteps. How could he not, when García so clearly hungered to practice his healing arts? Patrick’s grades improved; he entered college, then medical school; and the road was complete – except that Patrick never practiced.
In the twenty years since the night he met the Garcías, Patrick Lazarenko, MD, has become an entrepreneur; his bank accounts fattened by arcane neurological studies for one of the world’s most rapacious retailers. But the years have not been equally kind to the man he considers his mentor: today, Hernan García stands before a war crimes tribunal of the World Court, charged with abetting torture in his native Honduras. Such a crime is made all the more heinous in the face of his training, his profession.
When Patrick yields to the urge to attend the trial in The Hague, perhaps it is to see if he can help his old friend; perhaps it is in hope of a reunion with Celia García, Hernan's daughter and his one-time lover. And it might also be to look once more upon the face of the man he thought of as a surrogate father, to seek some sign he had missed in all the years before. For Patrick must ask himself the question that haunts him: can one love only parts of another, or must he love the whole?
Author Liam Durcan, like his protagonist a Canadian neurologist, elects to tackle a quite weighty topic in his first novel. Garcia's Heart approaches questions both topical and timeless, even as the recent news photos of Abu Ghraib bring to mind atrocities once committed in the name of Democracy in El Salvador and Honduras. As a friend and one-time protégé of the accused, Patrick finds himself mired in morally ambiguity, desperately seeking to rationalize the infamous actions of his old friend. It helps not a bit that Patrick is beset by uproar in his professional life, by the stress of seeing Celia again after so many years, and by seemingly contradictory requests from Hernan’s defense counsel and the prosecutors – or the presence of the investigative reporter who has brought those long-ago crimes to light. The repugnance of García’s alleged actions would be clear to a stranger – but how should a friend react? Can Patrick find a way to absolve Hernan of sufficient guilt to retain some shred of respect? Or must he take the high road, condemning the man who has meant so much to him?
Durcan’s plotting carefully balances present and past, employing intermittent flashbacks to Patrick’s old relationships with the García family to juxtapose their old verve and vitality against the image of the gray-faced old man who now sits locked in the courtroom’s bulletproof cage. The language shows flashes of brilliance, particularly in his settings; such as this description of a simple law office:
“[The] desk was well-organized, no atrocity so unwieldy that it couldn’t be contained in a file folder. Patrick noticed a couple of bound law journals sitting in various places around the room. He was used to the American style of having rows of them stacked high on bookshelves, forming an imposing gold leaf and Moroccan leather wall-of-law. Impossible to breach, expensive to scale.”
And yet something seems missing: Durcan’s protagonist seems flat of affect, oddly stunned-seeming in light of the stimuli whirling about him. His reactions to the crimes with which García is charged are muted. His hoped-for reunion with Celia is subdued. His answers to requests made by lawyers and reporters are measured. Even his one-night stand with a Dutch tour guide is passionless. Patrick, apparently, is at heart a man as gray as the courtroom countenance of his old friend. With a protagonist whose emotions are so tightly reined, Durcan’s narrative then somehow fails to stir emotion in the reader itself. Given the powerful emotions incited in all by Hernan García’s crimes and the one-time depth of Patrick’s feelings for the García family, his continual air of dispassion is oddly disturbing and, sadly, diminishes the potential impact of Durcan’s work.