In a mountainous village in Spain, a man in the prime of his life has labored fifteen years constructing a museum of miniatures that no one has yet seen. Just before completing his project, the artist Gregorio has an accident and both his hands are terribly crushed by a piece of marble. There is little hope that he will ever regain complete use of his hands.

Gregorio is treated by the town's elderly physician, Dr. Xavia. The doctor narrates the story and also dreams about the contents of the mysterious museum. One day Dr. Xavia finds that the door to the museum is unlocked and has been open all along for anyone wanting to enter it. The doctor discovers that the three story building housing the museum contains a complete and perfect recreation of the village that he finds both familiar and strange.


It seems fitting that the narrator of this story is an elderly physician--a man who is in the business of caring for people and has likely seen nearly everything that life has to offer in the course of his long career. Yet even the experienced doctor is unprepared for the spectacular depiction of ordinary life on display in Gregorio's museum of miniatures.

Ironically, the artist's miniatures magnify all the mundane elements of life in a way that is meaningful and powerful. He has achieved what every artist strives for--the illumination of truth. Why did Gregorio build this museum? Was it to preserve or honor or understand his village? The narrator decides that Gregorio created his miniature world simply because he was inspired by its inhabitants and in doing so, he has beatified them.

The story revisits timeless themes including sacrifice, worth, truth, and the meaning of art. It asks why some people are so blind to the truth while others are unjustly punished. The doctor deduces "Life is unfortunate" (59). He also understands his purpose in life: "May I be of use, is all I ask" (38).

Both the physician and his patient seem to agree that it is our hands that make us truly functional. They allow us to give and to receive, to create, to communicate, and to touch the lives of others. For artists and physicians alike, the hands are an extension of the mind, the heart, and the soul.

Primary Source

The House on Belle Isle and Other Stories


Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Place Published

Chapel Hill, N.C.



Page Count