An Argentinian-American’s traumatic childhood intrudes on his adulthood in Hojraj’s debut novel.
In 1979, 10-year-old Daniel Hoffman travels from the U.S. to visit family in Buenos Aires. Daniel’s father died in Argentina’s Dirty War three years earlier, leaving behind the close, colorful clan Daniel grows to know better during his summer holiday. Daniel pinballs among his abuela; her four sisters; his lovable, rascally uncle; his aunt, who’s “the wisest woman Danny had ever met and would ever know”; and her seamy husband. The war that killed Daniel’s father has entered a new phase, filled with stories of “ ‘the disappeared,’ whose numbers were growing, as were the stories of men in Ford Falcons breaking down doors in the middle of the night to drag away more and more young people.” Despite this atmosphere, Daniel has plenty of good times—exploring the city, hanging out with his uncle, feasting on matambres, provoletas, and empanadas—but not all his memories are pleasant. Twenty years later, Daniel still suffers from the trauma he experienced that summer. As a young internist at New York hospital, he’s subject to migraines and paranoia, living in a “sparsely furnished room,” and spending all of his free time counseling sex-hungry octogenarians, plastic surgery victims, and sexually transmitted diseases cases. He gradually becomes involved with the intriguing Dr. Priya Patel, whose “Guajarati accent played music with each word.” But his troubled dreams and unsettling memories put their happiness in jeopardy. “At each stage in my life,” Daniel explains to her, “I keep feeling like there’s something missing and it’s just around the corner. It’s like turning on the radio only to catch the last few seconds of your favorite song.” Hojraj writes knowingly about Buenos Aires, the feel of the streets, the taste of the food, and the way its people talk, work, and play. He is equally persuasive in his descriptions of life as a harried internist. Readers curious about either subject are encouraged to pick up a copy of this novel, but be sure to keep two bookmarks on hand for the endnotes translating Argentinian phrases and customs (though said notes might more helpfully have been converted to footnote form, making flipping unnecessary).
A thoughtful, realistic look at two very different times and places and the mind of a young man balanced between them.