In the late seventies and early eighties, Argentina was ruled by a military junta that came to power in a violent coup. The junta waged what was known as the Dirty War against guerillas and other leftists, leading to the “disappearance” and death of as many as 30,000 people, including pregnant women whose babies were often sent to live with members of the regime. While I knew that Argentina had experienced long bouts of political unrest, thanks to the likes of Evita
, I had never heard of the genocide until I read this book, which tells the story of a daughter of one of the military officers who took part in the junta.
Perla was born as the junta was coming to a close. While she knows that her father took part in activities that are deemed evil by others, she remains ignorant to many of the details and loyal to her family. As a young woman, she becomes romantically involved with a journalist who works to make public the atrocities committed by the junta, to identify the members who are immune to prosecution and to reunite mothers with their abducted children. Gabriel does not learn of Perla’s lineage until a year into their relationship and while it leads to tension, their romance last four more years until just before the start of the book.
After a falling out of sorts with Gabriel, Perla returns to her parents’ home to begin a new semester of graduate study in Buenos Aires. She is startled one night to discover a naked, wet man has broken into her home. He can barely move or speak, and has almost no memory of what has happened to him or how he came to be in her parents’ living room. Perla decides to care for the man, and over time begins to piece together his story and how it ties into her own.
There were times when this book frustrated me. In one of the earliest scenes, Perla discovers the wet man and inexplicably decides to leave him there while she goes to class
. The suspension of disbelief this required on my part was pretty steep, but I pressed on. I frequently had to stop to read Wikipedia articles just to understand exactly what Perla’s father had been involved with. Also, can all major publishers come together to agree that they will not publish a book that fails to properly use quotation marks to denote dialogue? That shit drives me up the wall, even when it's used strategically.
Still, I was drawn in by Perla’s story and the issues it explored, namely the notion of Perla’s guilt for atrocities committed by her father that she had no involvement in and very little knowledge of. There's a lot of emotional heft to the story and it's definitely well-written.