PRISONER WITHOUT A NAME, CELL WITHOUT A NUMBER by Jacobo Timerman
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PRISONER WITHOUT A NAME, CELL WITHOUT A NUMBER

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Timerman, former editor of the independent Buenos Aires newspaper La Opinión and for some years one of the foremost human-rights cases in the world, was arrested without charge by the Argentine military junta in 1977. For 30 months he was held and tortured in clandestine prisons, then put under house arrest after the Argentine Supreme Court ordered his release (following intense international, mostly American, pressure), and finally stripped of his citizenship and sent packing to Israel in 1979. His rage, in this memoir, is only bested by his profound sadness. The idea of utter terrorist anarchy in a modern state, terrorism fought by a government become terrorist itself, Left and Right perfectly aligned, is one that Timerman leaves go after only pointed analysis. What cankers him uncontrollably is the silence, within and without Argentina, that has greeted the recrudescence of a full Nazi state 30 years after that was never supposed to happen again. In prison, in the torture chamber, in the military court, it wasn't Timerman the political gadfly under duress, primarily--it was purely Timerman the Jew. ""One could hate a political prisoner for belonging to the opposite camp, but one could also try to convince him, turn him around, make him understand his error, switch sides, get him to work for you. But how can a Jew be changed? That is hatred: eternal, interminable, perfect, inevitable. Always inevitable."" And: ""It sounds absurd to read that my torturers wanted to know the details of an interview they believed Menachem Begin had held in 1976 in Buenos Aires with the Montenegros guerrillas. It's less absurd when you're being tortured to extract an answer to that question."" The silence and low profile of Argentina's Jews in the face of this Nazism and its now-five-year-old manifestations (repression of all psychiatrists; compulsory Catholic education; huge, blackmailing taxes on Jewish industries) disgusts and horrifies Timerman almost to the point of stammer. But this slender book isn't all descriptive politics. It's an extraordinary addition to prison literature as well. Timerman limns the technique of being a ""blind architect"" who creates an edifice of imaginative withdrawal, to which the greatest danger is a letter, a piece of candy, a kindness, a book--any reminder of the world outside. At the other end of mental defense lies the tempting ""preserved fruit"" of suicide: ""How to modify the rigid endless structure of time if not with the originality of suicide""--which is on an equal footing of violence with that of the torturers (""This self-imposed state of equality functions as a compensatory mechanism,"" as an ""occupation""). Anyone who's ever read Camus' The Rebel will find Timerman on the ramifications of unfreedom a perfectly complementary text--no small achievement. In heated, sometimes striving prose--never too elegantly or dramatically deliberate--is inscribed a Jeremiah-an lament, furious and sad. . .and especially timely now that the US is again cozying up to Argentina.

Pub Date: May 21st, 1981
ISBN: 0299182444
Publisher: Knopf