By the end of this book, I had literally moved in. That is, felt like a part of the family, like my soul was lip-synching to the 10-year-old narrator's story, like I had renounced plot forever in favor of voice and characterization. Yeah. I liked it that much, because although it is set in Argentina in the 70s, the allusions are ones that any American can identify with (Superman, Batman, The Saint, The Invaders, Picnic, The Bridge Over the River Kwai, Goofy, Harry Houdini, and on and on). Yes, you'd think that days of the post-Peron military junta were straight out of Peoria, not Buenos Aires, but whatever. And whenever. It was the kind of book you embrace unabashedly -- like you used to when you were a kid before your inner "literary critic voice" took over, denying you the chance to enjoy books on a more emotional, subjective level.
As for the "story," it's mostly about the kid, who adopts the assumed name of "Harry" (he wants to be an escape artist... get it?), his 5-year-old brother, "The Midget," and his dear parents. They are joined by an 18-year-old (assumed name "Lucas," and we assume his parents have been killed by the military) and they hide away in a safe house in the country outside Buenos Aires.
Here we get into the daily rhythms of life -- how the boys keep finding drowned toads in the brackish waters of a pool; how Harry and Lucas argue night and day over who is stronger, Batman or Superman; how Mom the scientist cannot cook her way out of a Spanish pan. The boys are forced to attend a new school -- a Catholic one run by brothers and fathers -- and the book rolls along with Harry's insightful, humorous, and poignant takes on the world around him.
What should be hell -- life in hiding with an ever-present danger of capture over your head -- becomes a piece of heaven, in a way. Youth will not be denied... not by politics, murders, or intrigue. And, up until the end, the reader doesn't really sense the threat of the military goons who are seeking them and others out, anyway. It's almost as if they live in a time warp, a bubble of defiant tranquility with just a patina of unease about it like the rainbow glow you see on bubbles in the sun.
The title comes from the boy's marathon games of Risk against his dad. The northeastern-most province in the old USSR is called Kamchatka, and it becomes a symbol of sorts by the end of the book. It's a perfect name for the novel, and handling of the symbolism is near-perfect, too.
By the end, you get that sad-happy (happy-sad?) glow to you, that "I- hate-to-say-good-bye-and-move-on-to-another-book" feeling. But good-bye it is and God help the act that has to follow this. It grew on me and ultimately became me by the end. But then, I'm a pessimist with a sentimental core, and if it's drawn out, I don't so much resent it as appreciate how refreshing it feels.
If you're like that, too, I suggest you pick up the dice and march on Kamchatka. It's far away from Argentina but just next door to Imagination. You know the way. Trust me.