Imagining Argentina by Lawrence Thornton
I’ve fallen behind writing reviews of the books I’ve been reading this year, so I thought I’d try to write some shorter reviews just to catch up.
So, Imagining Argentina is one of the books Goodreads has been recommending to me for yonks, because I’ve read a number of other novels set in South American dictatorships in the same period – Of Love and Shadows, Senselessness, The Story of the Night, and most of Carolina De Robertis’ work – and those are all fantastic reads if you’re considering picking up this. This book, obviously, deals with many of the same issues as those: political repression, disappearances, torture. But it also has a bit of a different feel about it. It certainly has some magical realism vibes, with the main character, Carlos Rueda, blessed with some clairvoyance enabling him to reveal the fates of many of Buenos Aires’ disappeared. But it’s also, if I can say it, a little less engaging than the other books I’ve mentioned. The many vignettes within are, I think, emotionally impactful in isolation… but they’re all rather disconnected from each other, so the novel feels a bit disjointed and lacks a compulsive, “must read more!” quality.
I want to be clear that I did like this book, and it’s as good a reminder of the regressive bloodlust of right-wing regimes as anything else. Parts of it have certainly stuck in my mind: there is a subplot where one of the fates Carlos Rueda reveals is that of a boy who “disappeared” in Nazi Germany, which has stuck in my mind, and some of the commentary on how the Argentine regime saw it as their duty to “purify” the country of all “subversive”, left-wing influences before they could leave the way clear for a restoration of democracy. Really, lots of parts. It just wasn’t the kind of book that keeps you reading anxiously to the end.