Imagining Argentina was written in 1987 by Lawrence Thornton. The novel takes place during the 1970s-80s in Argentina, during the time known as The Dirty War. I'd heard bits and pieces about this time in Argentinian history but this was my first real exposure to it.
I don't usually do plot summaries in my reviews but I think it's needed here.
Our narrator is Martin, a 70 yr old friend of main character Carlos. Carlos is works in a children's theater. His wife, Cecelia, write for a local newspaper. When the novel opens, the generals who run the country have been abducting people on spurious charges; most are never heard from again. When a group of teenagers is abducted from their school bus, Cecelia writes an outraged article about it. This leads to her abduction. Shortly thereafter, Carlos begins "seeing" the disappeareds (that is the term used for the abducted). Once he hears the details of a person's abduction he can continue the story from there, letting the family know exactly what has happened to their disappeared - down to the very last detail. However he can't seem to use his gift to find Cecelia.
I was completely drawn into this book; the writing itself, the characters, the history, the awful truth of what was done to these people - all of it was fascinating. I couldn't put it down. Here are some of the images/ideas that really struck me:
- Carlos explains why he loves walking in the rain - he says that the small cone of dry space under his umbrella is HIS space, controlled only by him - the generals who are controlling the rest of the city have no influence in that small space - he feels independent there, and imagines thousands of these little cones across the city coming together until one day they burst and freedom spreads everywhere
"Unless the generals chose to assign a cop to everyone walking in the wet streets of Buenos Aires they could not contain this simple but eloquent reminder of freedom." (p102)
- The importance of names in one's memory really touched me. When speaking of the disappeareds, Carlos says:
"Names tell us about life and the memory of that life. But in Argentina names are not like they are elsewhere. Here, now, they are as easily erased as markings on tissue paper. Now the page of Argentina is clean of names that belong there, that have a right to be there." (p121)
One of the quotes on the back cover describes this book as "a harrowing, brilliant novel". An online review at Amazon says it "should be required reading for anyone who calls him or herself a responsible citizen". I agree with both of these statements wholeheartedly; this is a book that will stay with me for a very long time.
I read somewhere that this is the first in a trilogy about The Dirty War. From what I can tell, the 2nd book does not follow the same characters; the time period is the same, but the story seems unrelated to this book.
Have you read this book, or any of the others in the trilogy? What did you think about them? If you've reviewed them, please comment with your link and I'll add it here.