Puenzo’s first novel to be translated into English follows Dr. Josef Mengele to Patagonia, where, in 1960, he insinuates himself into the household of an unsuspecting family.
After following Enzo, Eva and their children, Tomás and Lilith, through a freak snowstorm to the guesthouse they’re opening, “José,” as he styles himself, settles in to do what he does best. “Poets write what they see, painters paint it, I weigh and measure everything that interests me,” he blandly informs 12-year-old Lilith. The girl’s become his special confidante because she’s physically perfect except for being barely 4 feet tall—an abnormality the good doctor is only too eager to treat with daily injections of growth hormones—and because a recent injury to her Herlitzka, the beloved doll Enzo made her years ago, introduces José to the wonderful world of doll-making and doll repair, which turn out to be not all that different from the Nazi-era experiments on human beings that have made him the world’s most notorious fugitive. As a bonus, Eva is pregnant and so much bigger, to José’s practiced eye, than her estimated delivery date would indicate that he strongly suspects she’s going to have twins, a subject in which he’s always taken a particular clinical interest. Instead of developing most of the characters in depth, Puenzo stays unnervingly close to José, with occasional forays to the minds of Lilith or her father, sustaining an atmosphere of decorous dread that’s threatened only by the arrival of a Mossad operative.
A film adaptation has preceded this English translation, spoiling the novel for film festival attendees, but even for readers who haven't seen the movie, the long-portended climax is an inevitable letdown from Puenzo’s chilling exploration of the banality of evil.