The son of one of Argentina’s thousands of dissidents who vanished and were presumed murdered during the so-called Dirty War uses his fertile memory to bring his lost mother back to life.
The “disappeared”—those deemed left-wing enemies of the vicious military dictatorship that ruled Argentina during the 1970s and early '80s—still haunt the country’s collective memory, especially the surviving family members who don’t know what happened to their absent loved ones. This first novel by López, a poet, actor, and director of the literary group Ciclo Carne Argentina, paints an intensely evocative portrait of one such missing person: a woman whose name is one of the few things her son doesn’t disclose about her from the memories he carries from childhood. As the book’s title implies, it is her physical magnetism that the son most wishes to convey from the beginning: “Her skin was pale and opaque; I could almost say it was bluish, and it had a luster that made it unique, of a natural aristocracy, removed from trivialities.” She was, clearly, a single mother, though it isn’t altogether clear how or why she became single. The son, who likewise isn’t named, doesn’t know much about who and where his father is (though in a dream, he thinks he sees his red hair passing by one Christmas Eve). Otherwise it’s just him and his “beautiful young” mother who do everything together—except at those times when she leaves him with their neighbor and heads off “with a worried expression on her face” for whole evenings. Where she goes and what she does isn’t specified, because the little boy knows nothing except the pleasure he gets whenever they go to the movies or when she allows him to have some candy (which she otherwise forbids) after a bomb scare interrupts his school play. The sweet details of the intimate times between mother and son are delicately woven with shadows of impending menace that, as they're viewed from a child’s perspective, are at best vaguely defined beyond his mother’s odd silences and occasional tearful outbursts. Still, both he and we are kept in the dark as to the nature of her unease, and even the day when the boy’s life changes forever reveals little except physical and emotional ruin. The process of recovering from that ruin, one suspects, culminates with this heartbreaking and moving reverie.
It's been said that memory is a poet—if so, this novel represents some of its most gorgeous and incandescent work.