Tuesday, October 07, 2008


Picked up this book by Marcelo Figueras I don't know where. Munich? It's in German, but an English translation exists, too - at a price. Of course it should be available in Spanish.  It's wonderful!

I should have twigged that a book by a guy with a Spanish name, apparently about a remote Siberian region, is not what I might have expected. In fact, it's about Figueras' childhood, in Argentina, during the period of the military coup (1976).

Figueras' parents, a lawyer defending many human rights cases and a university scientist, are, effectively, dissidents and as the military coup approaches, life becomes more and more difficult for them. They and their family have to leave Buenos Aires in a hurry and hide in a cottage at the edge of the city, also changing their identities. The story is told from the viewpoint of 10-year-old Marcelo, who sort of understands, but not entirely. His little brother, known as 'the dwarf', who likes very strict routines, understands even less. After a while normality sets in, Marcelo joins the religious village school (before which he has to cram religion, given that that was never a topic in his family's life). An older boy, Lucas, appears and lives with the family - it seems that he may be part of an underground movement.  The parents eventually return to work, though after a while the mother is sacked.

Figueras describes beautifully the changed situation, as the young boy grasps it - which includes mysterious phonecalls, sometimes having to flee again, relationships with his grandparents, his friends and his brother.  The parents seem to be wonderful, very loving and very engaged in making sure that the children are all right. They drive what sounds like a lime-green 2CV (aaaah, those were the days) - something which perhaps the average lawyer's family might just laugh at.  The mother (the 'Rock') appears to have a talent for everything except housekeeping and especially cooking, the father engages much with his son despite presumably having many troubles of his own. 

In between Figueras drifts through considerations of the history of the earth, astronomy, religion, Houdini (he finds a book on Houdini and tries to emulate him) and other topics. Sometimes these hold up the story line a bit, but perhaps, from his point of view at the time, not much else was happening within the family.  Much of the story focuses on the inner life of this little boy who is quite happy to share it, and discuss it, with his parents and his big friend Lucas.

The book ends not entirely conclusively, rather obliquely in fact - the future of his parents is not entirely clear. (Or perhaps only too clear?).  An afterword would have been nice.

I found it really interesting to read about a country and a period I know very little about. It's also very funny. What has it got to do with Kamchatka? You'll need to read it to find out!