David Trueba translated from the Spanish by Mara Faye Lethem

Learning to Lose


Publication Date: Jun 22, 2010

592 pp

Trade Paperback

List Price US $16.95
ISBN: 9781590513224

Ebook

List Price US $16.95
ISBN: 9781590513880


It is Sylvia’s sixteenth birthday, and her life as an adult is about to begin—not with the party she had been planning, but with a car accident and a broken leg. Behind the wheel is a talented young soccer player, just arrived from Buenos Aires and set for stardom on and off the field. As their destinies collide and a young romance is set in motion, across town, Sylvia’s father and grandfather are finding their own lives suddenly derailed by a violent murder and a secret affair with a prostitute.

Set against the maze of Madrid’s congested and contested streets, Learning to Lose follows these four individuals as they swerve off course in unexpected directions. Each of them is dodging guilt and the fear of failure, but their shared search for happiness, love, purity, redemption, and, above all, a way to survive, forms a taut narrative web that binds the characters together.

From one of Spain’s most celebrated contemporary writers, Learning to Lose is a lucid and gripping view into the complexities of lives overturned and into the capriciousness of modern life, with its intoxicating highs and devastating lows.



Excerpt from Learning to Lose

Aurora broke her hip in a completely unspectacular way. Getting out of the bathtub, she lifted her leg over the edge and suddenly heard a small crunch. She felt a slight shiver and her legs turned rubbery. She fell slowly, with time to brush the tips of her fingers along the wall tiles and prepare for the impact. Her elbow hit the fixtures causing a cold pain and a second later she was lying down, naked and overcome, on the still-damp bottom of the bathtub. Papá, she wanted to shout, but her voice came out weak. She tried to raise her voice, but the best she could do was emit a repetitive, well spaced out lament.
Papá…Papá…Papá.
The murmur reaches the little back room, where Leandro is reading the newspaper. His first reaction is to think that his wife is calling him for another
one of her ridiculous requests, for him to get down a jar of spices that’s on too high a shelf, to ask him something silly. So he answers with an apathetic what?
that gets no reply. He leisurely closes the newspaper and stands up. Later he will be ashamed of the irritation he feels at having to stop reading. It’s always the
same, he sits down to read and she talks to him over the radio or the ringing telephone. Or the doorbell sounds and she asks, can you get it? when he already has the intercom receiver in his hand. He goes down the hallway until he identifies where the monotonous call is coming from. There is no urgency in Aurora’s voice. Perhaps fatalism. When he opens the bathroom door and finds his fallen wife he thinks that she’s sick, dizzy. He looks for blood, vomit, but all he sees is the white of the bathtub and her naked skin like a glaze.


“…Trueba scores with his story about the need people have to connect to others, whether through sports, love or money.” —Cleveland Plain Dealer

“One part Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, one part Paul Haggis’ Crash, the rest is all David Trueba, modern day Madrid, and a narrative that pulsates with longing, lust and simmering rage. Don’t dare pick it up if you have plans for the weekend, or for the rest of the day for that matter. It’s that good. I was casting the adaptation in my mind as I tore through it. Vivid, real and raw, the novel is at once unsparing and entirely humane. Simply masterful.” —Joe McGinniss, Jr., author of The Delivery Man

Learning to Lose is complex, powerful, surprising and most of all smart. David Trueba is the real thing. I had a lot of work on my desk and it is still on my desk. I have however read Mr. Trueba’s novel. Enough said.” —Percival Everett, author of I Am Not Sidney Poitier


1. Which thread of the story captivated you most? Whom do you consider the main character of this novel? In a book with so many strong and complex personalities, why do you think the author chose to open and end the book with Sylvia?

2. What first draws Leandro to the chalet? What keeps him coming back? Discuss his fascination with Osembe, even after she assaults him.

3. Does trust exist between any of the novel’s characters?

4. What is life like for Ariel as a celebrity in a foreign land? How does the constant media attention influence his life? How is he able to have such a close relationship with Husky, who is a reporter?

5. How commanding is sex in each of the lovers’ relationships?

6. What kind of man and father is Lorenzo? What is his true motive for murdering Paco? What draws Lorenzo to repeatedly visit Don Jaime, the man whose apartment he cleaned out?

7. Do you think Lorenzo should have confessed his crime? Why or why not?

8. Discuss the various friendships in Learning to Lose (Sylvia/Mai, Leandro/Joaquin, Ariel/Husky, Lorenzo/Wilson). How is jealousy intertwined into them? Do any of the friends have ulterior motives?

9. Why does Aurora want to keep her illness a secret from her family? Discuss the bond between Aurora and her granddaughter.

10. Discuss the various ways that chance plays out in the novel.

11. Do you think any of the characters are capable of feeling at ease with their lives?

12. Trueba writes that soccer “is the only line of work where you can do everything wrong in a game and win, and you can do everything right and lose.” Discuss the title Learning to Lose with this in mind. Does “learning to lose” apply to one character more than the others?

13. Learning to Lose is almost completely devoid of quotation marks. When they do occur, they never appear around dialogue. Why do you think the author chose this unconventional style choice? How did it affect your reading?