Posted by: koolwine | April 29, 2012

Argentina: Kamchatka

Kamchatka by Marcelo Figueras A ten-year-old boy struggles to adjust to life as a fugitive when the Argentine military junta threatens to add his family to the ranks of “the disappeared.”

Country Focus: Argentina

By Marcelo Figueras
Translated by Frank Wynne
Originally published: Santillana Ediciones Generales, 2003.
My edition: Black Cat, 2010.
309 pgs.

Genre: Fiction
Time period:


World Lit Up Rating:
(On a scale of 1-5, with 1 book = turned off and 5 books = lit up)

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.



Keep Reading!


  1. We’re traveling through South America and our first stop is Argentina and I’ve been looking for some inspiring “local” reading. So glad I’ve come across your blog. Such a great idea! 😀


    • What a fantastic way to start to your summer! Figueras hails from Buenos Aires so he definitely counts as a local. You already know that I recommend Kamchatka…another book/author you may want to take a look at is Santa Evita by Tomas Eloy Martinez, which, as you may guess, is about the much mythologized Eva Peron. If Kamchatka hadn’t fallen into my lap first, I would have picked this one to represent Argentina. Now it will have to wait until the end of my project!


  2. This seems really intense. Thanks for sharing.


    • You’re welcome. If Figueras picks up a few extra American readers, that would do me proud!


  3. Wow — the premise sounds captivating! Thanks for the recommendation…


    • Even though this Harry isn’t a wizard, he put me under his spell!


  4. Sounds well worth reading. Thanks for the recommendation, and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!


    • Quotes like the following really endeared me to Kamchatka and Figueras:
      “Tall and thin, Grandma had a natural elegance. She looked like a number one standing beside the chubby zero that was Grandpa; together they formed the binary system on which my entire universe was based.”


  5. It’s been a while since I read the book, but just like you, I liked it a lot.


    • I’m hoping that more of his books will be translated!


  6. Gran Libro!!!


    • De acuerdo!


  7. Nicely chosen quote. What a drawing, concise review – I’ll definitely look out for the book now. Thanks for sharing!


    • Thanks for visiting World Lit Up…am glad to point readers toward Figueras!


  8. […] Argentina: Kamchatka by Marcelo Figueros […]


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