NAMING THE SPIRITS by Lawrence Thornton


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 A solemn, exasperating, overplotted, yet quite moving portrayal of Latin American political repression: a sequel to the author's Imagining Argentina (1987). The disembodied voices of 12 innocent victims, massacred by Argentina's secret police, disclose the ``stories of our last days and nights...unwritten but clamoring to be told.'' These stories are juxtaposed against the interrelated stories of a wounded, traumatized girl, the only survivor of that massacre, and a cross- section of citizens whose lives she enters and variously affects. Among them are a pair of married physicians whose own daughter is one of ``the Disappeared,'' a courageous journalist whose writing stimulates public agitation for justice, a gentle teacher who cannot conceal herself in a protective world of books, and a farm couple who surreptitiously ``adopt'' another family's sons. The dead patiently watch and wait, hoping that ``mystery's daughter'' will recover her own identity and become the witness who will speak their names as well. A magical-realist substratum is contributed by glimpses of celebrated local seer Carlos Rueda (also a character in Imagining Argentina). Thornton strains readers' patience with unconvincing coincidences and writes a frustratingly uneven prose that's sometimes hauntingly limpid, sometimes stiff and labored. But the novel contains many dramatic sequences and particulars, such as the discovery of a killing field when small boys bring home a single earring and the memorable image of a bereaved father who keeps drawing pictures of his missing son in colored chalk on city sidewalks. There's little that's new here, but the material is inherently gripping, and Thornton's gift for inventive detail keeps us reading. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 6th, 1995
ISBN: 0-385-47552-7
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1995


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