Wednesday, January 5, 2011
The year is 1976, the place is Buenos Aires, and there is a family on the run from the military now in power. A ten-year-old boy is telling this story, but not really—it is the ten-year-old remembered by a later self looking back, by a man who writes, early in these pages:
Every day, life gives us an intimation of this. We sense that, inside us, every 'we' we once were (and will be?) coexists: the innocent self-absorbed child, the sensual young man generous to a fault, the adult, feet planted firmly on the ground yet still clinging to his illusions, and finally we are the old man who knows that gold is just another metal; as his eyesight fails he has acquired visionSo that we meet the family as the boy recalls his family—the sensationally imperfect and wholly loving mother who abruptly pulls her children from school; the father who joins them at a safe house outside the city; the brother Midget; the comrade Lucas; the surviving grandparents. It's just a family and they're just living—trying to keep the toads from committing suicide in the pool, playing killer games of Risk at night, mixing up their chocolate milk, watching nostalgic movies, and staying, always, one step ahead of those who hope to disappear them. You know how this story ends within the very first line of the book: "The last thing papa said to me, the last word from his lips, was 'Kamchatka.'" But Figueras writes with such excellent authority that we are soon hoping against hope (as a ten year old boy hopes against hope) that fate will spare this family, that Houdini magic will keep them safe.
How can I share, in this small space, the brilliant texture of this book—the biology, history, and language lessons that Figueras weaves in through devastatingly beautiful domestic scenes, the big riffs on life, the insistence on love? I felt as if I were watching some of my favorite movies of all time, "My Father's Glory" and "My Mother's Castle." I wanted to stop time, but I can't stop time, and even so, it took me several days to read to the end.
Kamchatka was first published in 2003; its author is both a screenwriter and a novelist, and indeed this book appeared on the silver screen some nine years ago. Black Cat is bringing the book out sometime this spring for American audiences.
You're going to thank them for that.