Purgatory: A Novel Paperback – Nov 22 2011
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Praise for The Tango Singer 'At times reminiscent of Paul Auster, The Tango Singer has the makings of a satisfying thriller' Daily Telegraph 'One of Latin America's most celebrated contemporary writers ... The Tango Singer is a work of hallucinatory brilliance' Guardian 'Gloriously mysterious ... a rich and delicious experience ... His writing is satisfyingly sharp and eccentric' Independent on Sunday --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Tomas Eloy Martinez was born in Argentina in 1934. During the military dictatorship, he lived in exile in Venezuela where he wrote his first three books, all of which were republished in Argentina in 1983, in the first months of democracy. He was until his death in January 2010 a professor and director of the Latin American Program at Rutgers University. He was shortlisted for the 2005 International Man Booker Prize. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Emilia Dupuy lives in exile in New Jersey, away from her native Argentina. She's been a cartographer all of her adult life, and understands the metaphorical and changeable nature of maps. The daughter of a wealthy and influential man, she has spent years searching for her husband, who was disappeared shortly after they were married; her father was probably behind the disappearance. In 1970s Argentina, thousands of people were disappeared at the hands of the government, and Eloy Martínez has penned a book that explores the human side of a desaparecido without becoming overtly political - it bears noting that Eloy Martínez himself was Argentinean, and living in exile in New Jersey. The book alternates between Emilia's voice and that of an exiled Argentinean professor, who easily could have been the author.
Emilia refuses to believe her husband is dead, despite witnesses who saw his battered body with a gunshot wound between the eyes. She lives in search of him, until one day she realizes she needs to stay in one place so he can find her. The title of the book is Purgatory, and it is fitting at many levels. Emilia lives in a type of Purgatory, an interstitial place that seems to have no resolution: she is married but has no husband; she lives in exile, in that common state of immigrants who no longer really fit anywhere. She draws her maps to try to find Simón, her husband, on them, but she knows maps can lie very easily. The back cover of the book describes as, in part, a ghost story - and ghosts also inhabit an intermediate state of purgatory. As an additional insult, many no longer believe in purgatory, so the belief itself is disappearing. A game of mirrors, of people and objects on maps that vanish, of unfulfilled love, and of hope in a novel that borders on magical realism without ever quite entering the genre.
And then, one day, Emilia sees her husband in a bar in New Jersey, but this is not the Simón who would be 60 years old, but the 33 year-old who disappeared.
This is a compelling book with multiple levels of meaning. It can be read with no knowledge of Argentina's Dirty War and enjoyed, but knowing even a little 1970s Argentina history will help reveal many of the nuances. Eloy Martínez writing is gifted at revealing the complexities of human emotion; this is perhaps most obvious when the voice switches from Emilia's emotional tone to the professor's much more analytical one. Although they are both lonely exiled people, they approach life very differently. This is not a book to rush through, but one to savor.
If I had to find a problem with the book, it would be the translation. Frank Wynne Is a very well-known and excellent translator, and he captures the essence of the book marvelously. The problem was that I could feel the Spanish trying to shine through, and it made me not want to read the book in English. My advice would be that if you are a Spanish speaker, get the untranslated version. If not, enjoy Purgatory knowing that the translation somehow was able to keep the Spanish tone throughout the novel.
Now living in New Jersey and exhausted by years of searching for Simon, Emilia is surprised to find her husband at a local cafe, looking exactly as he did on the day he disappeared. Is this encounter for real or is Emilia being haunted by her memories and desires? Martinez gives no easy answers to the central mystery, preferring to peel back, layer after layer, each moment that leads to Emilia and Simon's separation and reunion. The novel travels back and forth between the past and the present, with casual cameos from a Nazi pseudo-scientist, Spanish royalty, and even Orson Welles.
Disguised as a spectral romance, "Purgatory" is really a lamentation for the missing and for those left behind. It is a brilliant, bittersweet narrative that keeps a reader up at night long after the last page has been read.
(This review originally appeared in the San Francisco/Sacramento Book Reviews.)
Translation by Frank Wynne
Bloomsbury USA, 273 pgs
Everyone in this novel is loco, at least one taco short of a combo plate. Personally, I have a soft spot for Latino cultures, our neighbors to the south, and Mexico is breaking my heart. I would rather vacation in Peru than in Germany so please don't think I'm prejudiced. Still and all, everyone in this book is insane: the general, the doctor, the mapmaker, the mother, the wife and etc.
Emilia Dupuy's husband Simon Cardoso disappeared in Argentina and has been missing and presumed (or known, depending on who you're talking to) dead for 30 years when she spies him in a restaurant in New Jersey. He has not aged or changed in 30 years, exactly the same. They go back to her place and spend the weekend together. Or maybe they spend the rest of their lives together. Or maybe they don't go back to her place. Maybe Simon is a ghost, or maybe he doesn't exist in any form on any plane.
During the seventies and eighties Argentina suffered from a military dictatorship that had lots in common with the Third Reich and Franco's Spain. Thousands of people were "disappeared." Emilia's father was the chief propagandist for the the general and his regime. In the book the dictator general is referred to as "the Eel" and the appellation is pitch perfect. Simon mouths off one night during dinner and this appears to be the catalyst for everything that comes after.
Emilia and Simon are cartographers and are sent to a remote region to map and are captured by the army, suspected of being subversives. They are separated and interrogated. Emilia is released. What happens after that is murky to say the least. Is Simon released? tortured? executed? There are witnesses who say they witnessed Simon's death or saw his body. Emilia gets anonymous messages claiming he is alive and living in Caracas or Mexico. She spends the rest of her life, as far as we can tell (for not much is actually known), searching for him.
I have had a difficult time deciding what the rating for this book should be. I very much enjoyed the parts in Argentina and the intermittently comedic treatment of the totalitarian regime. I found Emilia's search tedious at times. Mostly this book made me feel impatient. You don't know whether you're coming or going, which way is up? I realize that this is probably what the author intended but geez. It reminded me of the "the big lie" philosophy of the Nazis. Who are you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes?
The author of Purgatory was born in Argentina and was forced to live in exile during the military dictatorship. He has written other internationally acclaimed novels such as The Peron Novel and Santa Evita. Senor Martinez was professor of Latin American studies at Rutgers University until his death in 2010. A quote from page 221 about what is lost with death: "If we could recover the unwritten books, the lost music, if we could set out in search of what never existed and find it, then we should have conquered death."