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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Malena


Malena is the kind of book that it will haunt a reader long after its final page has been turned.  Considering the novel’s subject matter, the violent takeover of Argentina by a military junta in the late 1970s, this is not particularly surprising.  No, the big surprise here is that the book’s author, Edgardo David Holzman, is a first-time author.  Holzman, himself born and educated in Buenos Aires, recreates the horror of those days in a way possible only for someone who understands both the Argentine culture and the depravity of the military thugs who overthrew that country’s government. 

Kevin “Solo” Solórzano is an American interpreter still reeling emotionally from his wife’s impulsive decision to walk out on their marriage.  Now, involved in a nasty custody battle over their two children, and in desperate need of extra income, Solo accepts a short assignment in Buenos Aires.  He will be part of the Organization of American States Human Rights Commission going there to investigate the treatment of political prisoners in Argentine jails.  While there, he hopes to reconnect with Inés, a woman he was romantically involved with fifteen years earlier.

Diego Fioravanti, a captain in the Argentine army (and part-time tango instructor), is facing an emotional crisis of his own.  Diego knows what is really happening to the students, journalists, and others who dare protest the actions of the new Argentine government.  Desperate to escape the country before his lack of enthusiasm for the new regime places him among the ranks of the “disappeared,” Diego is a man on the run.  Coincidentally, he is also in love with the very woman Solo is seeking, and his association with her has brought her to the attention of those searching for him.

Edgardo David Holzman
Solo learns the hard way how dangerous it is for someone as naïve as he is to meddle in the internal affairs of a country where human rights no longer exist.  Only after making inquiries, does he begin to wonder if his attempt to locate specific individuals only guarantees their torture and deaths?  Solo, shocked and sickened by what he sees inside the Argentine prisons, grudgingly comes to the realization that he and the others are there strictly to observe and record what is happening – not to save individual lives.  Astoundingly, despite what they know will happen to them when observers leave the area, prisoners line up to tell their stories.

Fiction based on real-life events, because of how it personalizes history, often has a greater emotional impact on a reader than that of reading a non-fiction account of the same events.  This is certainly the case with Malena.  Knowing that thousands of people “disappeared” during this awful period of Argentina’s history is one thing; pinning names, faces, hopes, and dreams on a dozen of them is entirely another. 

Sadly, what the author describes here is too common during every century.  The torturers and death squads that Holzman describes in Malena are guilty of exactly the same atrocities we learned of in Iraq, Iran, World War II Germany, and countless other places where “dissidents” were seen as a threat to some brutal political regime.  Edgardo David Holzman reminds us what human beings are capable of doing to each other for all the wrong reasons.  You will not forget this book – or those men and women who disappear inside its pages.  This is their story.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher) 
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