Where not to go on your summer vacation. Here is a portrait of a city as a complete basket case: Buenos Aires through the eyes of English journalist France. Having moved to the Latin American capital city in 1993 to work as a freelance reporter, France found the Paris of the South a picture of catastrophe: pollution that asphyxiates, a relentless din, a plague of rats, drivers who “believe a car accident is an act of God, and cannot be avoided.” The telephones don’t work, or the bureaucrats; holes pock the streets; the heat and damp addle and inebriate, making life a misery. Go ahead and choose from the 300 brands of condoms; still, only 8 are safe. Try to get keys replicated or get anything done without a bribe or a connection. Outside the metropolis, the worst-run provinces are little more than fiefdoms. Certainly worst of all—worse than the empty promises of Peronism, the endemic corruption (“honesty had rarely been the best policy in Argentina”), the murderous and sentimental attachment to the Malvinas—were the horrors of the “dirty war” of the 1970s, when gunmen in dark glasses operated with impunity to rid the country of not just Montoneros and political subversives, but “goody-goody” doctors who tended to the poor, writers of idealistic poetry, and, remarked a particularly zealous officer, “finally we shall kill the timid.” The years of bottomless terror, France avers, with plenty of ammunition, have resulted in a culture of silence, bitter and anxious, that throws a pervasive unease over the everyday life of Argentineans. Roll this all together and it ferments into a picture of a country off the rails and barely contained in its understandable fury There are bright spots in this bleak portrait, other than France’s cannily affecting writing: cafÇs and bookshops and friends she loved, there is Borges and the tango, and the knowledge that she can leave.