I decided to read this strange, melancholic little book both in Spanish and in the English translation (which was good, though definitely not close toI decided to read this strange, melancholic little book both in Spanish and in the English translation (which was good, though definitely not close to great--it's so hard to translate Arg Spanish!) after a recommendation, and it proved a good idea. I read both almost simultaneously, as I used to do with Simone de B's books, and it made the flights of fancy transitions easier to 'get'--though I suspect that this would be easier still for someone with a much better command of Spanish who'd read it only in Spanish.
What is it about? Nothing, really, and everything--very much a 'Being and Nothingness' allegory, a fluid stream-of-consciousness a la existential mode which nonetheless draws us beyond and into the modern world via its successive emotional/psychological analysis of the material world while we're 'deep in thought'. That, the loss one experiences from the physical world while in a 'dream world' of thoughts and sensations, is the strongest part of the work, which I hesitate to call a novel. This is why, pretty much, I can't give it more than 3 stars: it really is NOT a novel and, for me, loses steam throughout precisely because of that....more
SO I finally get to this book--we saw the movie years ago, before our son was born, at the NYC Latin American Film Festival and I doubt I exaggerate wSO I finally get to this book--we saw the movie years ago, before our son was born, at the NYC Latin American Film Festival and I doubt I exaggerate when I say there was not a dry tear in the theater at the end of it. Not that it was a particularly good movie (just so-so) but the story was seen through the boy's eyes was heartbreaking. Now that I'm mother to a boy soon to be that age, it breaks my heart even more--especially, of course, because it hits so close to home for me.
As to the book itself--again, I tried to read it in both Spanish and English and, again, this helped. But I was still not convinced enough to give it more than 3 stars--maybe another half if that were possible here. The problem is, as always, this Argentine (and Latin American) obsession with fantasy and magic realism. Instead of bringing the story closer, for me it pushes it away--the horror of the Arg military dictatorship, of the disappeared and the murders and the fear, the cracks within relationships as loyalties shifted, the many broken marriages, the betrayals and, above all the fear, all take a back step as we are forced to view it only through the lens of the small boy's fantasy world--Kamchatka. He grows increasingly more attached to the fantasy the further away from ordinary reality--and the more powerful the threats, the worse the fears in his family--becomes. This makes sense, at some level, because that's what many sensitive children do in order to survive turmoil. On the other hand, it's actually a free pass to the reader to NOT experience the full horror of this history.
I remember when I was about 12 and read The Diary of Anna Frank for the first time. What fascinated me, and appalled me, and terrified me (but ultimately made it very, very real) was how clear-sighted Frank was in her descriptions of the horrors--alongside her ordinary everyday experiences like fights with her mother and falling in love. It was this 'realism' that truly brought home the depth of horror.
Instead, I never get this from Kamchatka--or from most novels writing about that dark period in Argentina. Just once I'd like to find a novel that is as unflinching in its illustration of that horror as I know for a fact it was....more