Country Focus: Argentina
By Marcelo Figueras
Translated by Frank Wynne
Originally published: Santillana Ediciones Generales, 2003.
My edition: Black Cat, 2010.
Time period: 1976
What goes through the mind of a ten-year-old boy when his and his family’s lives are threatened by a nefarious government? How about escape artist Harry Houdini, the TV show The Invaders in which aliens masquerade as people, and the tactical board game Risk, for starters?
Set during Argentina’s “Dirty War” and featuring a family’s potential “disappearance” as its premise, Kamchatka‘s heavy subjects are made nearly weightless by a child narrator who chooses the nom de guerre “Harry” as a salute to his hero Houdini and who refers to his little brother solely as “The Midget.”
Harry is hilarious, innocent and utterly believable. Although Harry’s personality and reactions to events are far different than young Suleiman’s in Hisham Matar’s In the Country of Men (Libya), the rich characterizations of both boys beg comparison. Author Marcelo Figueras beguiled me with this intelligent, humorous and compassionate novel, his first to be translated into English.
I thought mamá was beautiful. All boys think their mothers are beautiful, but in my defense I have to say that mine had the Searing Smile, a superpower Stan Lee would have paid good money for. Whenever she knew she was in the wrong – like the time I asked her to give me back the birthday money she’d asked me to lend her – she would use the Searing Smile and something inside me would melt and I would suddenly feel too weak to insist. (Actually, she never did give me that money back.) Papá said we were the lucky ones; he said that in the bedroom she used the Searing Smile for sinister purposes but refused to say anything more, leaving the details to our feverish imaginations.