About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Broca's Aphasia in The Water Rituals

The Water Rituals by Eva García Sáenz translated by Nick Caistor, is about ritual murder. In White City, the first in trilogy, Unai López de Ayala was shot in the head. He is still recovering. One of the consequences was Broca’s aphasia. His mind is working well but he cannot speak words. 

The National Aphasia website describes Broca’s aphasia:

Broca’s aphasia results from injury to speech and language brain areas such as the left hemphispere inferior frontal gyrus, among others. Such damage is often a result of stroke but may also occur due to brain trauma. Like in other types of aphasia, intellectual and cognitive capabilities not related to speech and language may be fully preserved.

Broca’s aphasia is named after the French scientist, Paul Broca, who first related a set of deficits associated with this type of aphasia to localized brain damage. He did this in 1861, after caring for a patient who could only say the word “tan”.

It was striking to read how Unai has grown accustomed to writing upon his phone and showing the screen to provide his side of conversations. The messages are inevitably stilted and generic. While personality occasionally breaks through what he enters needs to be quick, clear and concise.

I thought of Kevin Brace in Old City Hall, the first novel by Canadian lawyer Robert Rotenburg. Brace was Canada’s leading national morning radio show host. Charged with murdering his wife he will only communicate with his lawyer in writing.

Brace’s communication is far more awkward than Unai entering words on a cellphone and using WhatsApp. Rotenburg skilfully concealed the reason for the written communications until the end of the book. It was an “oh my'' moment as I felt I should have figured out there was a reason for not talking to your lawyer beyond quirky stubbornness. 

I have had clients and other lawyers who want to only communicate by text and/or email. I resist limiting communication to writing in some format. Even if it is by telephone there is more nuance in oral communications than written words. For important meetings I want them in person to get the full benefit of seeing expressions and body language in addition to the words delivered.

Unai’s speech therapy was fascinating. Learning to speak again involved exercises and repetitions that needed to be done before his face lost the ability to form and say words. He had delayed going for therapy.

He spends up to 5 hours a day “doing the exercises in front of the mirror practicing with the apps Doctor Korres had recommended”.

His grandfather, impatient with his lack of progress towards speaking again, seeks to force him to move ahead by tossing his cellphone into a small pond.

Unai starts by speaking single syllable words. More can be expressed with a single word that I would have expected.

Later he progresses to planned short sentences.

He carefully learns common sentences he can use in conversations.

Later his instructor has him singing.

At times of great emotions he finds he can speak more readily than when he is calm.

It was fascinating to read how Unai communicated when he could not speak and how his speech improved through the book.


Sáenz, Eva Garcia and translated by Nick Caistor - (2022) - The Silence of the White City; (2023) - The Water Rituals


  1. You're bringing up a topic that really interests me, Bill. I did my doctoral studies on second language learning, and one of the basic courses we took was on language development and cases like Broca's aphasia, where language is interrupted. It is really fascinating how the brain makes sense of language and how language works in individuals. I won't clutter up your comments section, but whole dissertations have been done on some of these issues (mine was not). How interesting that this all comes up in this novel.

    It's interesting you'd bring up Kevin Brace, too. I agree that Rotenberg did a skillful job with that aspect of the story. I can well imagine how a lawyer really wouldn't want to be confined just to written communication. There are so many nuances that are missed without face-to-face, or at the very least, verbal (telephone) communication.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the very interesting comment. I see the potential for you to do a post on the brain and language. I always appreciate hearing how real life experiences interact with crime fiction reading. On nuance I have found it is also deceased on Zoom. Somehow the camera does not capture nuance well.

  2. I lost speech following a stroke 15 years ago. With patience, no therapy, I have got most of it back. The Water Rituals sounds fantastic. Chris Wallace

    1. Chris: Thanks for the comment. I am glad therapy helped. I can imagine there was a high level of frustration in being able to formulate thoughts and then not able to speak them. I hope you get a chance to read The Water Rituals.