PURGATORY by Tomás Eloy Martínez


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For his last novel, the Argentinian writer (1934–2010) constructed a maze, at the heart of which is a woman who refuses to give her husband up for dead.

An Argentinian woman, dismissing eyewitness accounts of her husband’s execution by the military dictatorship, embarks on a 30-year search for him and is rewarded by his reappearance. Emilia Dupuy and Simón Cardoso, both cartography students, meet in Buenos Aires. They are instant soul mates, marrying in 1976, soon after the military coup. Emilia’s father is the publisher of a political magazine and the coup’s most able propagandist. The new president dines at the Dupuy mansion. Simón criticizes the use of torture. Dupuy is furious; his son-in-law must be punished. The young couple are sent to a remote town on a mapping assignment. Both are arrested. Emilia is released; Simón is never seen again. He has joined “the disappeared,” the regime’s notorious hallmark. Emilia sets off on a wild goose chase that takes her to Rio, Caracas and Mexico City, after having been viciously humiliated by Dupuy, a true monster, while caring for her senile mother; she eventually settles in a New Jersey town, working as a cartographer. Enter a new character, one of Emilia’s Jersey neighbors, a professor and novelist, evidently Martínez himself. In a postmodern twist, she is the protagonist in his novel in progress. The author’s interest in her life story somehow sparks Simón’s return, providing a happy ending for the reunited lovers. These events are embedded in a metaphysical density: mapping and disappearing are the novel’s two poles. The operatic quality of Argentinian life is given its full due, while the overreaching of the fascists receives a priceless putdown when Orson Welles meets Dupuy in Los Angeles. Ultimately, Martínez counteracts the black magic of the “disappearances” with his own novelist’s magic: the resurrection of one of the victims. 

Justice of sorts is done in this absorbing finale of a distinguished career.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-60819-711-8
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2011


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