Friday, November 02, 2012

Purgatory by Tomás Eloy Martínez (2011)

I'm endeavoring to catch up on my backlog of books from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program before I ask for more (just three more to go!), and the latest one on the pile is the beautifully written novel Purgatory by Tomás Eloy Martínez (2011).

Purgatory is right up my alley -- Latin American fiction with a historical basis and just a hint of that magical realism stuff. This is Martínez's final novel, published before died in 2010, and written in Argentina where he had returned after 30 years in exile. Our main characters are also exiles -- Emilia, the daughter of a powerful man in charge of propaganda under the dictatorship, and Simón, her husband and fellow cartographer, who has been a desaparecido (one of the disappeared) for 30 years.

Emilia has left her homeland, and left behind her decades-long search for her husband, who she refuses to believe was killed by the military, and gone to work in the United States. One day at lunch she sees her lost husband in the restaurant. Oddly enough he looks just like he did the day she last saw him 30 years ago. They leave the restaurant together and she is embarrassed that she has aged into a 60 year old woman, but Simón doesn't seem to mind.

The novel then leisurely moves between Emilia and her friend, an Argentinian writer who is also living in the U.S., and between the present and the past. Things are explained, confused, reworked, and thought through, and Martínez does a masterful job of bringing the reader through Emelia's journey through the non-sequential paths of memory, imagination, and hope.

Very recommended -- this is a well-paced, moving, and enjoyable read.

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