Saturday, September 25, 2010

No Place for Heroes by Laura Restrepo (2009)

I got a copy of No Place for Heroes by Laura Restrepo (2009, English translation 2010) through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program awhile ago, but I had put off reading it because the description on the back was so dumb sounding. I figured the time had come for me to take my hits and, surprisingly, the book was pretty great!

Lorenza is a Columbian woman who joined the socialist party in Madrid as a young woman and then went to Buenos Aires to fight in the underground against the dictatorship in the late 1970s. She meets and moves in with a local leader of the movement, Ramón, and the two of them have a son, Mateo. When Mateo is a few years old, and after several close calls with the police, Lorenza and Ramón move to Columbia and cut off their ties with the movement. Lorenza throws herself into her work as a journalist, but Ramón is increasingly depressed and the two end up separating. When Ramón kidnaps Mateo in order to regain Lorenza's love and their former relationship, Lorenza is willing to sacrifice anything to get her son back.

Fast forwarding a dozen years or so, Lorenza and a teenage Mateo are back in Bueons Aires because Mateo wants to meet his father, a man he hasn't seen since he was three years old and hardly remembers. The city, now released from the dictatorship, brings back memories of her political youth and Lorenza spends hours telling Mateo stories of his father and their time together in the movement. Mateo, in typical teenager fashion, interrupts constantly, sometimes hungering for more stories of his father and other times getting frustrated with his mother and shutting her out. They find Ramón's number in the phone book, but Mateo can't get the courage up to call it. As they search for clues to Ramón's past, and Mateo tries to figure out why his father has never tried to look for him, Lorenza leads us back through the death of her father, she and Ramón's early life together, the excitement and terror of life under the dictatorship, and Mateo's kidnapping.

This is a nicely structured and well-written novel that managed to cover motherhood, teenagerness, social struggle, and past loves equally well. The descriptions of Buenos Aires are lovingly done without being oppressive, and it is no wonder that Restrepo can conjure these feelings and descriptions since much of Lorenza's history comes from Restrepo's own life. Definitely worth a read, especially if you are a fan of Latin American literature. Just don't judge this one by the back cover...

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