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KAMCHATKA by Marcelo Figueras

KAMCHATKA

By Marcelo Figueras

Pub Date: May 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-7087-3
Publisher: Black Cat/Grove

A rich imaginative life helps a 10-year-old boy deal with the aftermath of Argentina’s 1976 military junta, though American readers not well versed in the political history of the novelist’s homeland might find some of this as perplexing as the narrator does.

Originally published in Spanish in 2003, this novel of very short chapters—few longer than a couple pages—follows the structure of a school day (“First Period: Biology,” “Second Period: Geography” et al.). Yet such order is at odds with the chaos in which a politically active family finds itself following the coup. All sorts of people with whom the lawyer father had been associated were disappearing, and if the family didn’t want to join the ranks of the disappeared, it must abandon its home for a series of mysterious safe houses, and assume a new identity in the process. For the boy and his younger brother (known throughout the narrative only as “the Midget”), there’s a sense of adventure in all this, despite leaving friends and everything familiar behind. An avid reader and superhero fan, the boy rechristens himself Harry (after Harry Houdini) and finds symbolic refuge in the fantasy territory of Kamchatka, from the Risk board game which he plays with his father. “I believe all time occurs simultaneously,” the narrator keeps repeating, the novel’s mantra. And there are times when the narrative becomes unmoored from its chronological bearings, when the perspective is far more philosophically mature than that of a 10-year-old. “I believe that stories do not end, because even when the protagonists are dead, their actions still have an impact on the living. This is why I believe that History is like an ocean into which rivers of individual histories flow…We are bound together in a web that spans all of space—all living creatures are connected in some intimate way: a web large enough to include all those alive today, but also all those of yesterday and tomorrow.”

A novel about the stories we tell ourselves to give shape and meaning to our lives.