Perla by Carolina De Robertis
Author: Carolina De Robertis
Genre: Fiction (South America / Argentina / University Student / Family Secrets / Dictatorship / Victims of Violence)
Publisher/Publication Date: Knopf (3/27/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: Liked a great deal.
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: An Argentinian college student comes to terms with her military father's involvement in their country's violent past when the specter of one of the victims lives with her.
Do I like the cover?: I adore the cover. Isn't it stunning? One of my favs of 2012 -- so striking. Geraniums feature prominently in this story so their inclusion is fabu, and the half disguised face says everything about our eponymous heroine.
I'm reminded of...: Isabel Allende, Penelope Lively, Fay Weldon
First line: Some things are impossible for the mind to hold alone.
Did... I follow the story easily despite having next to no knowledge of 20th century Argentinian history?: YES. De Robertis provides enough context for the reader to understand what has and is happening and whether you're intimate or unfamiliar with Argentina's 'Dirty War'.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy, stat!
Why did I get this book?: I love Latin American fiction and I'm a sucker for coming-of-age stories.
Review: I wrote in one GoodReads status update that this book "has everything I love in it -- politics, dreamy narrative, violence wrought more prettily than love, complicated characters, deceptive simplicity..."
Set in 2001 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the story follows Perla, a college student who discovers a water-logged specter in her living room. The man is one of the victims of Argentina's war against dissidents and critics, cruelly tortured before his horrible murder.
Perla, now in her early 20s, is coming to grips with the fact that her beloved father, a Naval officer, was likely involved with the dictatorship's decision to torture and kill thousands of people in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The heavy weight of this knowledge, the conflicting feelings she has for her father -- love, shame, adoration, horror -- and her desire to be loved fully for who she is shapes the arc of this story as Perla struggles to embrace fully the truth of who she is.
De Robertis' writing style is fantastic: not only is her narrative very poetic, a little dreamy, and a joy to read, she tells the story in a very give-and-take fashion. The discomfort, horror, and sadness would build until I'd think I couldn't read another page, then De Robertis would back off a little, shift the focus, change the narrative path just a hint, and I'd have some relief. She didn't soften or back pedal, she just gave me some time to be tense and some time to absorb, and that made me race through this book rather than take it slow and cautious. I was particularly taken with De Robertis' articulation of Perla's parents -- they were both familiar and distant, the way a child would view them as she grows into adulthood -- and I found Perla's response to them to be realistic and authentic.
I don't think one needs to be familiar with Argentinian history to appreciate this story; De Robertis offers enough context to understand Perla's turmoil. This is a story about having an adult relationship with one's parents; about acknowledging the secrets in a family that are both accepted and hidden; about restitution and revenge; and ultimately, forgiveness.
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I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Perla to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, ends 6/8. Be sure to check out my interview with Carolina De Robertis for another chance to enter!