After 19-year-old Graciela Ferrero and her fiance are "disappeared" by Argentina's military junta in the summer of 1976 during a coup, her parents, Osvaldo and Yolanda, devote their lives to finding her—or, failing that, the baby with whom they learn she was pregnant.
To add to the parents' anguish, Osvaldo, a distinguished physician, has been forced to flee to Paris to avoid reprisals for the editorial cartoons he contributed to a local magazine. With their married older daughter, Julieta, living in Miami, safe but distant, the family couldn't be more divided. Plenty of bad news awaits, but Osvaldo and Yolanda's hopes for finding their granddaughter, Ana, refuse to fade even as the years go by. With no knowledge of her origins—or the meaning of the identifying crosses Graciela shrewdly etched behind her ear with a needle—she has been raised by a loving family with its own hidden truths. While in the military, her adoptive father was guilty of atrocities. Brothers, who as a journalist spent time in Latin America, is at her best capturing the pitched atmosphere of Buenos Aires as the coup unfolds. "It's as if something has interfered with the barometer, pressure added to the air we breathe," says Osvaldo, by then accustomed to the "pop-pop of gunshots" in the middle of the night and pots and saucepans rattling as tanks roll through town. As solid as the storytelling is, though, and as much as the events resonate with today's political upheavals, the novel is too controlled and conventional to have the kind of nervy impact it should—or avoid being dwarfed by actual events. It's almost too pleasurable a read.
Australian native Brothers' epic about an Argentine family torn apart by the 1976 military coup is enjoyable as it goes but lacks the creative spark or sense of risk to stand apart.