Ahhh…this is a tough one. I think this is a really important book to read, but I have to say that it is somewhat difficult, perhaps too difficult for some book clubs. When I say “difficult,” I am not referring to the structure or the plot or the story; I am thinking of the scenes of torture that are essential to our understanding of what the book is about.
The story takes place in Argentina during the “dirty war”–from about 1976 through 1983–when a military junta, after ousting Isabella Peron, gripped the country in a state of prolonged terror. Anyone who opposed the regime, anyone suspected of subversion, anyone related to those who opposed the regime–basically tens of thousands of people–were taken, or “disappeared,” in the middle of the night. No explanation. The kidnapped were tortured and killed. Yet the regime denied anything of the sort was going on.
In this novel, Carlos runs a theater group for children, but when people start disappearing, he seems to have a magical ability to imagine what has happened to them. Worried relatives seek his knowledge and he soon develops a following. The narrator of the story cannot explain how Carlos does this and is skeptical, swinging from suspended disbelief to cynicism, much like the reader of the novel. Yet, the narrator (and this reader at least) ends up firmly in the camp of those who believe in Carlos’ imagination–and its power to defeat the terror.
I would love it if your book club would read Imagining Argentina because I’d like to hear your thoughts on it. It’s a very beautifully written novel (in spite of the scenes of torture) whose message I’m not sure I understood. It seems like it was saying that we must imagine our way beyond the banal, beyond the evil. And by doing so we will transcend it. We can do this through art, through story-telling, through spirituality or other means, but it is very important that we do it. That we remember and tell what happened.
Let me know if your book club reads it and what everyone thinks. And if you’re not sure your book club should read it, why don’t you read it first–because every individual should–that’s for sure.