As requested in our last round of voting – I’m delighted to offer you a selection of novels from Argentina. So if you were ever planning to dust off your tango shoes and explore this land of mountains, lakes, steamy forests and even steamier dance clubs, then now’s the time.
While tango does of course features in a number of novels on our list, by far the most common topic for books set in Argentina appears to be the Dirty War. This period of state repression in the late 70s and early 80s when tens of thousands of dissenters were kidnapped, tortured, killed or ‘disappeared’ has left deep scars in Argentina. There have even been allegations that Pope Francis collaborated with the regime at the time – something he has strongly denied.
In Carolina de Robertis’s recently published Perla, a young woman is forced to confront the past and the role of her father in the Dirty War after a mysterious visitor turns up at her door. What she discovers takes us to the heart of the atrocities of the time.
The novel has attracted glowing reviews from critics and readers alike. Here is a selection of five-star reviews from Amazon.
“In my opinion, and I have read many novels about Argentina’s Dirty War, Perla is the masterpiece.”
“I often went back and read lines twice or three times, marvelling at their beauty. And when I reached the end, I broke down in sobs, not because of a manufactured sad ending but because the story was so very powerful.”
“ ‘Perla’ is one of the finest novels I’ve read in years; the beauty, the growth and the internal questions that it asks of it’s readers are both beautiful and life changing.”
Nathan Englander captured the grief of families throughout Argentina with his novel The Ministry of Special Cases. In this story, Kaddish and Lillian Poznan find themselves among the thousands of parents desperately trying to find information on their children after their rebellious teenage son ‘disappears’ in 1976. Here are some of the generous reviews for this heart-breaking novel…
“If you choose books for their clever and detailed plots, Ministry will disappoint you. But if you revel in complex characters and writing that transports you to a particular time and place, then Ministry will suck you in and keep you mesmerized.”
“This universal story of identity and community takes my breath away.”
“This is one of the most beautiful, lyrical and heart-breaking books I have read this year. It is also one of the most philosophically challenging. Englander’s language is transcendent and his ear for a specific South American Jewish manner of speech is pitch perfect. You will not be disappointed.”
It is almost impossible to imagine what this time must have been like for Argentinians, especially as there is still so little closure for the families involved. Up to 30,000 people disappeared and since then, only 600 have been found and identified. Recently the BBC published this article on its website in which it talks of new evidence on where bodies may have been disposed of at the time.
Don’t cry for me Argentina…
If, like me, you grew up belting out the soundtrack to the musical Evita in your bathroom, your interest in Argentina may be piqued by two novels from Tomas Eloy Martinez based on former president Juan Domingo Perón and his wife Eva.
Santa Evita is a fascinating story which explores the obsession Argentinians had with Eva by following the path of her embalmed body after she died of cancer at the age of 33. While this story is a mix of fact and fiction, it is true that her corpse disappeared a few years after her death, turning up in Milan 16 years later. It was then flown to Spain where the exiled Juan and his new wife Isabel apparently kept it in a bedroom and sometimes even on their dining room table. In 1976 Eva was eventually laid to rest in her family’s tomb in Buenos Aires. You can just imagine what a novelist can get up to with that basis for a story! Here are some of the five star reviews…
“This book was so powerful. It drew me in, kept me glued, and haunted me for WEEKS after I put it down.”
“If the facts about her life aren’t enough to get you hooked on this book, the circumstances surrounding the fate of her embalmed corpse are more then enough to draw you into the story. Be careful, though, because even after you put the book down, you still will feel Evita’s magnetism pulling at you.”
“The story of her wandering cadaver is haunting, tragic and at times quite hilarious, and always mind-blowing.”
Perhaps less intriguing, but still able to give us a glimpse of Argentina’s slide into the violence of the 1970s, Martinez’s The Perón Novel provides a portrait of Eva’s husband Juan following his return from exile in 1973.
Seduced by Buenos Aires…
Returning to modern times; if novels are anything to go by, it seems a ticket to Buenos Aires is what’s in order if you are a woman looking to flee your ordinary life to find a bit of excitement.
Image by Carlos Luque via Wikimedia Commons
Take The Foreigners by Maxine Swann, in which two women – American and Austrian – seek passion and vitality on their travels to Argentina, while in The Buenos Aires Broken Hearts Club by Jessica Morrison, serial life-planner Cassandra Moore seeks spontaneity in this bewitching city when her life in Seattle falls apart.
And finally, we turn to the tango. There’s bound to be some tango in the two novels above, but here are two other books in which it plays a central role.
Tomas Eloy Martinez is back with us for The Tango Singer in which a New York graduate student (a bloke this time!) travels to Buenos Aires in search of an elusive, unrecorded tango singer, giving us a fantastic tour of the city in the process. And in Wolfram Fleischhauer’s Fatal Tango, a dancer turns dangerous, kidnapping and torturing the father of his dancing partner.
By now, I’m hoping you have been thoroughly enticed by the city of Buenos Aires and the fascinating history of Argentina. Try one of these novels or the many more over at Packabook’s Argentina shelf, and I’ll see you in a sultry dance club somewhere…
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