A son returns from self-exile and comes to terms with his father’s past, and his own, during the military dictatorship in Argentina; the fifth, largely autobiographical novel and American debut from this Argentine writer.
It’s 2008. The author’s alter ego, whom we’ll call P., has spent the last eight years in Germany at a university, obliterating his past with huge quantities of pills. Now, at age 33, he returns to Argentina on word that his father, known as Chacho, is in the hospital, dying. P. reunites with his mother and siblings, but his mental fog only lifts as he reads through folders on his father’s desk. They contain journalistic reports of a man’s 2008 disappearance in Chacho’s hometown. The man, Alberto Burdisso, was a 60-year-old maintenance worker at the athletic club and a former schoolmate of Chacho's, whose interest in the case becomes clear with the mention of Burdisso’s sister, Alicia. Chacho had been a journalist and a teacher of journalism; also a Peronist and leftist. He had taught Alicia and gotten her involved in politics. When she was “disappeared” by the junta in 1977, Chacho felt responsible for her fate. Alberto’s own fate was sealed when the state gave him a sizable sum: reparations for his sister’s murder. The money attracted the attention of lowlifes, who threw Alberto down a well, where he died. P. recognizes there’s a symmetry between his father’s search for justice for Alberto and his own search for Chacho’s political identity. His father had been a target of the junta. When his sister reminds P. that their father self-sacrificingly searched their car for bombs before driving them to school, that opens the floodgates of memory. No more pills. P. now has a moral imperative to see that his parents’ struggle against the dictatorship must not be forgotten.
The concrete details of Alberto’s case resonate more than P.’s abstract spiritual odyssey.