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REVIEWING

Too Smart for His Own Good
Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention


by Manning Marable

Viking | 2011 | 594 pages

Reviewed by Fred Beauford


Manning Marable

  “To be a Negro living in America, and to be consciously aware, is to be in a state of constant outrage.”  James Baldwin

   As I look back on the history of this country, no one fit’s Baldwin’s observation better than Malcolm Little (aka Malcolm X).

As he slowly emerges in Manning Marable’s sometimes overwhelming, richly researched, 594 page book, he is an often perplexing combination of incredibly high intelligence, abject ignorance, a profound awareness and an unbending anger at America’s mistreatment of blacks; all of which guide him, and tears him apart, leading him to become one of the most famous of Americans, the angry, revenge seeking  Malcolm X.

   The seeds for this transformation, which Professor Marable outlines with considerable skill and scholarship--were planted early.

     Both of Malcolm’s parents were dedicated followers of the Jamaican immigrant, Marcus Garvey. Professor Marable points out that Garvey and his followers believed that “Racial separation…was essential…people of African descent were all part of a transnational “nation.” A global race with a common destiny.”

   This was during the time that one of the greatest human migrations in modern history was set into motion, as blacks started fleeing the fascist south, first in small trickles, and then in droves, in search of the democracy they had heard so much about.

   Also, something just as motivating and whose importance continues until this day, was buried deep in Malcolm’s parents’ psyche, as well as most African Americans:

Who am I? Who was I before I was dragged unwillingly to this horrendous place called America?

   Newly formed black communities in the urban north, in cities like Detroit, New York’s Harlem, Cleveland and Chicago, were rife with exploitative religious charlatans and deeply sincere individuals like Garvey, all with the same compelling answer to the confused blacks trying mightily to find an answer to the two tormenting, overwhelming questions that constantly haunted them: you are not who the slave master said you were and here is who you really are.

   Malcolm’s father, Earl Little, and his second wife Louise, Malcolm’s mother, threw themselves into Garvey’s organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).

***

    Malcolm’s mother grew up in St. Andrew, Grenada. His dark-skinned, American born father lived most of his life in the Great Lakes region, the Midwest and even Canada, where he first met Malcolm’s mother.

     “Unlike Earl,” writes Marable, “she had received an excellent Anglican elementary-level education, becoming a capable writer as well as fluent in French…had a fair complexion and dark, flowing hair; in everyday encounters she was often mistaken for white.”

   Despite such strong differences in background and physical appearances, what united them was a passionate commitment to Garvey’s famous dictum: “Up you mighty race. You can be what you will!”

Misfortune soon overwhelmed Malcolm’s family, however, and the bare outline of what happened next has been well documented, with additional, tantalizing and controversial nuggets sprinkled throughout the narrative of Professor Marable’s biography.

After the suspicious death of his father, his mother confined to a mental hospital, foster homes, crime, jail; and ultimately, the Nation of Islam, led by Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm Little finally becomes Malcolm X.  

It was here, as a young, uneducated man in his twenties, that his barely noticed towering intellect, and his inner self-discipline, came to center stage. As an organizer, public speaker and debater, Malcolm X excelled and began to attract much attention, including local police, as well as the Feds, and he soon began to be watched wherever he went.

Although he knew the FBI was on his tail, this did nothing to deter him, and he kept up a punishing schedule, traveling to Los Angeles, to Detroit, to Chicago, and to Boston, all the while serving as the Minster of the Harlem temple.

Marable points out that, “Although Malcolm usually spoke at Muslim temples (later changed to mosque after growing heat from orthodox Muslin). his audiences increasingly consisted of both Muslim and non-Muslim blacks. In his language and style, Malcolm reached out to recruit black Christians to his cause.”

His growing popularity “generated a financial windfall for the Nation. Between five hundred and one thousand African Americans were joining almost every month…much of the new revenue went into commercial ventures…the economic success of these ventures may have been responsible for Elijah Muhammad’s decision to stop mentioning some of the original tenets of Wallace D. Fard’s Islam—in particular the bizarre Yacub’s history—and give greater emphasis to the Garveyite thesis that a self-sustainable, all-black capitalist economy was a viable strategy,” writes Professor Marable.

Malcolm X was blessed with a trademark “bitter wit,” and was a powerful public speaker ( How many books I have read that pointed out that the real history of us humans is how we react to the spoken word. It seems that the speech is mightier than the pen, or the sword ).

Media and universities, including Howard, Cornell and Harvard soon sought him out to speak before students and faculty, or provide a quote. This interest was fueled by the very real drama of the growing Civil Rights Movement in the south.

They all knew by now, that Malcolm was a great orator, and a provocative and confident lecturer.

Combined with the television screen suddenly being filled with brilliant black thinkers like James Baldwin, Bayard Ruskin, and now this guy who called himself Malcolm X, it provided an interesting, intellectual public face to the African American struggle, with more than merely black clerics from the south having visibility and the only voice.

It is easy to see, in the 20/20 hindsight of history, why he was in such demand.

Malcolm X would perhaps turn over in his grave at my reference to his being an intellectual, but how else to account for the rapid learning experiences he had to face and master, time after time?

Herb Boyd points out, in his insightful review of the book in the Amsterdam News, that “It wasn’t a reinvention; rather an evolution.”

***

You hardcore eggheads out there reading this, please hold your nose, and forgive me, but reading this book brought back to mind an old Star Trek episode. In it, Captain Kirk is put on a strange planet, the likes of which he had rarely encountered, with a far greater physical reptilian adversary, by forces unknown.

The unknowns explained to both of them that everything they needed to defeat one another was right in front of them.

Captain Kirk, as well as Malcolm X, were both forced to quickly make use of whatever they found immediately around them; and their intelligence, and quick thinking were their main weapons against their opponents.

Kirk survived because of his intensive back knowledge, and even sternly lectured the powerful unknowns who had placed him there in the first place.

For Malcolm X, we all know what happened next. He did not survive, because he had little back knowledge when he embarked upon a journey that made him one of the most recognizable names to come out of the long struggle for freedom for African Americans.

He had to learn everything he needed to rise to such heights, as he went along in his remarkable journey.

His early ignorance, in spite of his being smart, ultimately caused jealousy and hatred and leading him down and trapped in a world that finally caught up with him, and bit him.

To me, this explains Malcolm X, and why, in the end, he just may have been too smart for his own good.

***

Another note concerning Malcolm X: Gene Roberts, the undercover NYPD officer that had infiltrated his organization and tried to revive him after he was shot down before his wife and children, was once a friend of mine, and one of the few black students at Olinville Junior High, and grew up near me in the Gunhill Houses.

***

Professor Manning Marable, a longtime member of the faculty of Columbia University, died the same day that his book, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention was released.

We all must go sometime, but I can’t think of a better way to do it. This is a great book.



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REVIEWING

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit:
The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Impostor

by Mark Seal


Viking | 2011 | 320 pages | $26.96

Reviewed by Michael Carey


mark seal

Mark Seal, a veteran journalist with several works of nonfiction on his resume, has embellished and elaborated his article, “The Man in the Rockefeller Suit” (Vanity Fair,January 2009) in his latest book, The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Impostor.

Through over 200 interviews, Seal constructs a story of the enigmatic man known most famously as Clark Rockefeller.

From his humble beginnings as Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, the son of an artist in Bergen, Germany, to his life as the royal Christopher Mountbatten Chichester, in San Marino, CA and beyond, the man most widely known as Clark Rockefeller, honed his skills of manipulation.

Lies seem to surround him to the point of confusion. As I learned, through Seal’s in-depth investigating, about the webs he wove inside and around each persona that he created and assumed, I found it more unbelievable that Clark was able to live as he did for so long. The incredible puzzle the author attempts to piece together is only half of this book’s draw, however.

“You’re involved in a voyage of discovery,” he said of his mission to capture the riddle of Clark Rockefeller on paper. “You don’t know where it’s going to end. To some extent you pose to yourself and to various people you interview what might be a reality, and then you test for that, and as time goes on a vision is becoming clearer and clearer. So something that’s really very imaginary and fictional gains greater and greater materiality… I think all Americans are our own inventions. That’s part of the allure of this country. And in some ways one has to see Clark as an archetypal immigrant who constructs a new life and new persona, free of the constraints of the country he left behind.”

This quote of Patrick Hickok’s in The Man in the Rockefeller Suit was meant to explain and defend Clark Rockefeller. In a sense he is asking, “Who wouldn’t, or hasn’t, done the same thing?” A very intriguing question the author raises indicating the first signs of empathy for the man he is tracking. That’s when it hit me that this book is more than the story of Clark Rockefeller. It is also Mark Seal’s extraordinary adventure in discovering this man. From Germany to Connecticut, California to New York, New Hampshire to Boston, Seal traced the clues and tracked down the people whom had known Clark in his various identities and believed, or doubted, the outrageous claims they heard from his dubious mouth.

For those interested in only the facts of Clark Rockefeller, I would recommend the Vanity Fair article. For readers that want to go on a “voyage of discovery,” including the latest updates, read the book. The mysteries and questions surrounding this man are still on the table, as the amount of detail that is only known for certain about Clark Rockefeller allows the reader to form their own opinions and conspiracy theories. So if you feel for the impostor who has his daughter and income taken from him and is pushed to the edge, or if you are interested in a murder mystery, The Man in the Rockefeller Suit will have something for you.



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REVIEWING

The Girl in the Garden

by Kamala Nair


Grand Central Publishing | June 2011 | 320 pages | $24.99

Reviewed by Sally Cobau


Kamala Nair

The Girl in the Garden is a lush, lovely first novel by Kamala Nair. Set in the southern tip of India, the story is a part fairy tale, and part coming-of-age novel that combines elements of myth and gothic romance, in a combination that is deliciously compelling. It is a taut book that still manages to have many overlapping stories and mysteries. The threads of these stories are beautifully woven by Nair, who traces the past, while rendering the present.

Rakhee Singh is the heroine of The Girl in the Garden. Her story begins in Minnesota where she feels like a misfit with her dark skin, thick glasses, and toothpick-skinny legs. As many pre-teens—she is eleven—she longs to fit in. At the same time, she is drawn to and curious about her "exotic" mother's past.

Her mother, Chitri, has never revealed why she left India and came to the United States. Rakhee is both intrigued and disgusted by the flashes of the unfamiliar side of her mother that she witnesses from time to time. While her mother remains mysterious, her father—a scientist also from India—remains as steadfast as a sturdy oak. To complicate matters, Chitri suffers from depression, although Rakhee doesn't know how to define the fits of excruciating sadness her mother endures.

What makes a narration compelling? Why are we drawn to or turned off (to put it bluntly) by a particular voice or style? My father finishes most books he starts; I used to be that way until I discovered that it was acceptable (by my standards) to judge a book by the first couple of pages. You should see the stacks I leave behind at Barnes & Noble. Every once in a while, though, there is a book that ensnares me from the very beginning. I believe it has to do with the elusive pact between author and reader, claiming, "This is important, here is a story. Listen."

I felt this with The Girl in the Garden. The first lines of The Girl in the Garden are, "By the time you read this I will be flying over the Atlantic on my way to India. You will have woken up alone and found the diamond ring I left on the bedside table, and beneath it, this stack of papers you now hold…"

Although these lines are by no means flashy, I am immediately interested in the story. Why is this person flying away? What is the stack of papers she refers to? I—a person who has read voraciously for years, a reader who can be jaded, and a reader who doesn't read what she doesn't like anymore—was drawn in as if I were a child engaged in a fairy tale.

This book so reminded me of Jane Eyre that I had to revisit one of my favorite books and see how it opened. The first lines of Jane Eyre are: "There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning… I was glad of it. I never liked long walks…" This opening also may seem mundane to a certain extent—after all, the narrator is just talking about walking, but much is conveyed within these first sentences. For example, we surmise that the heroine is stubborn—"I was glad of it. I never liked long walks."

We also get a hint of the societal constraints that will be pressed upon Jane. As in Jane Eyre, The Girl in the Garden mixes realism with fairy tales. Jane Eyre houses a mad woman in the attic; in The Girl in the Garden a lonesome girl is hidden for a variety of reasons from the world in a lush garden, cut off from society. Both Jane and Rahkee are eventually confronted by the knowledge of this victim. Both must choose how to free the female victim and in doing so, free themselves.

But I get ahead of myself. Back to our girlish heroine with her dog Merlin and the simple pleasures she enjoys (she is an artist) back in Minnesota. When her mother receives a mysterious letter from India, Rahkee's world is turned inside out. Her mother forces her daughter to accompany her to India.

Kamala Nair beautifully describes Rahkee's arrival in India, beginning with her mother's transformation: "In the bathroom Amma changed into a buttercup-yellow sari and painted a red raindrop on her forehead with a bottle that she produced from her purse… I loved seeing that transformation, from my regular mother who took out the trash each morning with a bulky coat flung over her nightgown to this wondrous creature. From the moment she put on the sari and released her hair from its bun so that it streamed down her back in a lustrous river, she appeared younger and more natural."

This observation begs a central question in the novel—How well do we know the ones we love? It also makes Rahkee realize that her mother has loved more people than herself and her father. By examining the lost potential in her mother, Rahkee gains strength. Rahkee herself ends up acting with spectacular bravery and heart.

The ancestral home itself is called Ashoka—meaning "without grief" in Sanskrit, though the house is actually full of sadness (Rahkee will slowly uncover why). The house is also the grandest one in the village because her grandfather was an unparalleled doctor who built a hospital for the locals. In the house lives Rahkee's aged grandmother, her two aunts, an uncle, and two cousins whom she will become close to. Also omnipresent is the strange, creepy Dev, with his stuttering and power over the family. Rahkee cannot understand why the ugly man has a hold of the family and why they treat him with such respect, though it is apparent they despise him. And then there is Prem, the dignified man who sent the letters. It is soon apparent that Rahkee's mother may still be in love with him.

I mentioned earlier the hidden girl in her garden castle, hidden away much like the familiar fairy tale of Rapunzel. The girl is hidden behind the house in the woods. Rahkee's cousins have been forbidden to ever enter the forest—their mother has told them fairy tales about witches who live in the woods. The girls don't dare set foot in the woods. But Rahkee—perhaps because she has grown up in America—isn't as obedient. One day she leaves her cousins behind to explore. In one marvelous scene she chases a dragonfly with a string attached to it—the work of the "girl in the garden."

When she finally meets the girl in the garden, it is love at first sight between the two of them, though Rahkee knows she could be severely punished by her aunt for disobeying her. Although the girl's world is a paradise, she is also secluded and unhappy, though she doesn't realize she is unhappy. Rahkee risks everything to visit her new friend.

One thing I liked about this book was the fact that the adults were not always to be trusted. We like to think of the adults around us as providing security. In this book—like in a fairy tale such as the wicked stepmother in Hansel and Gretel—the adults often act selfishly. Toward the end of the book, when things start to break down because of Rahkee's forthrightness, the adults actually start to behave almost criminally. Rahkee is scared for her life as she tries to free the girl from the tyranny of grownups. Yet all along the adults think they are acting "for her own good."

If this all sounds rather vague, it is purposely, for I could not bear to give away the mysteries in this book. In fact, there are so many mysteries twisting around that it is hard to keep track of them all. At times I felt This is too much!, but really it is more fun to read a book with these surprising twists and turns than a more docile novel. As my fiction writing teacher used to say, "This needs one more twist." Just as you think you know where the book is heading there's another curve in the narrative. The only quibble I have with the book is the pacing—sometimes things happen almost too fast. When Rahkee becomes friends with the girl in the garden, it is an instant infatuation. But then again, the book is more fairy tale than realistic fiction.

In spite of its outlandish nature, Nair does a wonderful job with "realistic" points in the book. In one chapter, Nair menstruates for the first time. The embarrassment and pride that ensues on Rahkee's part is dead-on. The book is chaotic in the sense that is filled with shocking revelations, suicide, death, and psychotic behavior, but there are some moments of respite within the heavily plotted story. One afternoon Rahkee lies by the bank of the river and falls asleep. As dusk comes, she is awoken and nearly forgets who she is as she stumbles from dreamtime into real time. In Nair's shimmering, brave novel, she elegantly blurs the distinction between the two.



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REVIEWING

Southern Exposure


Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

by Tom Franklin


William Morrow | 274 pages | $24.99

Reviewed by Loretta H. Campbell


Thomas Franklin

What is more courageous, vulnerable, or deadly than a Southern white man? Maybe the answer is a southern black man.  Author Tom Franklin, (Smonk, and Hell at the Breech), himself a white southerner, speaks to these questions in this novel. His work exemplifies the inner workings and connections of blacks and whites via the fictional town of Chabot, Mississippi.

The novel's title, taken from the nursery rhyme that teaches children how to spell Mississippi, is a metaphor for the two men who alternately narrate the story. Both of them are physically and emotionally misshapen by tragedy. Franklin deftly works the novel using flashbacks from the 1970s and the present.

32, the black narrator, is the victim of de facto segregation and a product of the Civil Rights Movement. A baseball scholarship got him into college, and the number of his uniform became his nickname. However, he had to flee the South to attend college. When the novel opens, he has returned and become the town's constable.

Larry Ott, the white narrator, is a victim of his abusive father and equally abusive neighbors. Larry is a trained mechanic and the owner of Ottomotive Repair.

His business is basically dead. For the last 25 years, he has been ostracized from the community because they suspect he is a rapist and a murderer. From the beginning of the novel, the reader suspects the townspeople are ignorant of the truth about him. He survives by selling off parcels of land left to him by his parents.

He still owns enough property to keep chickens. After bidding them a hearty good morning every day, he feeds them. "Each morning he latched an interior door and, weather permitting, used the tractor to pull the cage into the field, onto a different square of grass, so the chickens got fresh food--insects, vegetation--and the droppings they left didn't spoil the grass but fertilized it...."

He is so kind and considerate that it's clear that he's hiding something.

Sadly, Chabot is a town where people accept their suspicions as truth. The local drug dealer is shot to death, and Larry is shot soon after.  While he is fighting for his life, 32 is investigating the crimes. Both of these victims were 32's secret friends, the author reveals. 32 smoked dope with the drug dealer, and he and Larry were close friends as boys.

They meet when Larry is being driven to school by his father. "The pair of them was standing at the bend in the road by the store, a tall, thin black woman and her son, about Larry's age, a rabbit of a boy he'd seen at school, a new kid."

To please his son, Larry's father gives the black woman and her son a ride. It turns out the boys are the same age even though Ott acts much older.  Loners and lonely, they become friends unbeknownst to their parents.

The friendship ends when Larry's father brutality turns the boys against each other and deprives both of them of much needed companionship.

On the surface, this novel appears to be a coming of age memoir. It's more.  Franklin is examining the complex relationships of power between whites and blacks in the South. He demonstrates how the balance of power is shifting as more blacks are involved in policy making. One example is 32, who fled the South because of racism and now jails racists.

Franklin equates racism with psychosis. The white men in the novel are racist, homophobic, and alcoholic. They browbeat, beat, or do worse things to their children. The elder Ott and his friends own numerous guns and knives. As outlined in the book, the weapons are seldom used for hunting or fishing. Guns are owned simply because they're guns.

When Larry tells a new friend that he (Larry) doesn't have a gun, the reaction is complete disbelief. "Ain't you got a gun?" Larry shook his head and Wallace sat there with his mouth open, as if he were unable to fathom gunlessness."

However, the power paradigm is not shifting most of the black men in Chabot. While the white men are pathological, the black men are largely absent. 32's father is dead, he's told. The author makes it clear that this is a metaphor for illegitimacy. The only other black man of note is the drug dealer who is dispatched early in the book.

Black men are not dangerous here, but they are endangered ciphers. 32 mentions how the lawyers are white, but the clients (in criminal courts) are black. Unemployment, incarceration, sub-standard education is the new racism, as Franklin outlines it. As in the case of the old racism, most of those who suffer are poor, both blacks and whites.

Franklin is also a master of imagery and language. Here he describes wind chimes that belonged to Larry's mother, "...the chime sounded like a skeleton playing a guitar, and for a time they sat together on the porch and watched the sun scald the sky red and the trees black."

The image of dying fits the town and the life Larry has known. The town, like the wind chime, resembles bones. The one major company in Chabot is a lumber business that is literally reducing the town to rubble. Larry lies in the hospital dreaming about what the town was like when he was a boy and what it has become now that he is a man.

As a man, he dares to hope, despite the obstacles people put in front of him. 32 also develops an inner resource that leads him to important discoveries about past crimes. He and Larry save each other's lives.

In some regards, Franklin makes these two symbols of the new hope of the South. He has been described as the heir to the classic Southern writers, Faulkner, Welty, and O'Connor. He may be. Although those authors deserve their props, Franklin has captured a South they couldn't or wouldn't. He exposes the myth of white entitlement as the source of the problem.

Paradoxically, Larry is the only man in the novel who is entitled to something that he never gets--justice.  Yet he is strong enough to do without it.



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REVIEWING

Kamchatka

by Marcelo Figueras


Black Cat (Grove/Atlantic, Inc.) | 2003 and 2011 (English translation) | 309 pages

Reviewed by Janet Garber


marcelo Figueras

Desparecidos

A 10 year old boy with a Tintinesque shock of hair standing straight up from his hairline, playing Hangman in class when he’s supposed to be watching an educational film, suddenly is yanked out of school midday by his mother and shuttled with his 5 year old brother to a ramshackle “safe” house, hours outside Buenos Aires.  Mama urges the boys to think of this stay as an island vacation.

Their father, who’s joined them, says, that like Batman, they’re going to assume new names and guard their secret identities.  They enroll in a Catholic school and start going to mass, but otherwise do not venture far from their “island.”  The boy, although very bright, chooses not to let in too much reality, instead immersing himself fully in childhood activities: reading and rereading a book about an escape artist, Harry Houdini, watching The Saint and The Invaders on TV, poring over Superman comics, coming to the rescue of drowning frogs, and facing off at Risk with his father who consistently wins by locating his forces on Kamchatka, the most remote and inaccessible spot on the board, and “the place from where you fought back.”

Yes, it’s 1976, there’s a military coup in Argentina, and 30,000 people over the next seven years are about to be kidnapped, tortured and “disappeared.”  Mama, a physics professor, heads up the trade union; Papa, a lawyer, defends political prisoners – both lose their jobs, but pop in and out of the safe house on mysterious and presumably dangerous errands.  The boy’s “uncles” vanish – one dies and the boy is astute enough to realize one doesn’t ordinarily die of natural causes at age 30.

The boy, who assumes the name Harry, practices holding his breath under water, learning sailors’ knots and how to wriggle free of them, and embarks on a physical fitness routine with a teenage lodger/babysitter.  Harry chooses to remain in a state of ignorance, but can’t help musing about lessons to be learned from biology, geology, language, astronomy and history – or perhaps this is just his older self looking back and reflecting on the events as he tells his story. He believes all time is happening at once, so his revisiting these events as an adult lets him edit certain scenes and add adult ruminations. We only know as much as the boy about the outside world, although we intuit a bit more.  We quickly understand why his gaze returns again and again to this period of his life.

For Harry’s family is a loving one, affectionate and protective.  His parents do their utmost to preserve some normalcy for the children as they struggle to survive.  His baby brother is more nervous and excitable and care is taken by all to soften the blows for him. The story focuses on the details of their daily rituals and the rhythms of their lives as exiles in their own country.

Harry’s grandparents play a pivotal role. They do not sympathize with their son’s choices in life, and they end up taking the boys in when the parents flee; the grandmother, a self-absorbed society lady, is transformed into one of the “abuelitas” of the Plaza de Mayo. She spends years circling the square, demanding to know what has become of her lost children.

Figueras’ decision to tell this tale in an oblique manner, filtered through a child’s half-understood consciousness and a grown man’s imperfect recollections, is what gives this book its power.  He knows we can look up the details of the Dirty War for ourselves.  He wants us to feel viscerally, as he does, that the personal is political, even though, scientifically, maybe we shouldn’t take it personally.  The pain and loss is palpable, though understated, and interspersed with children’s imaginative games, are Mama’s humorous and failed efforts at cooking milanesas (or anything palatable for that matter) as well as Harry’s friend’s mom’s, and Papa’s attentiveness and warmth.  Long before the end, we guess the outcome will not be a happy one, but Harry tells us that he’s hidden out in Kamchatka for years and now is ready to return – to life.  This act of remembrance is his memorial to all that has been lost, his wonderful vibrant family, and to the sheer feat of survival.  It’s finally safe to leave Kamchatka – he’s sorted out all the pieces of his past and understood “the meaning of all things: Man's need to create language to describe it, geography to describe his place within it, biology to remind him that he is a newcomer in this universe, and history because everything is written in the sky. . . intimate and extravagant stories, love and loss, the miniature and the epic" (p.264).

Marcelo Figueras lived through this epoch, smelling the fear in the streets, but not directly suffering any losses.  He now lives in Barcelona where he is a novelist, screenwriter and journalist.  For another take on the toll of the military coup on families, track down the movie, The Official Story (1985), with Norma Aleandro as the wife of an officer who learns her adopted baby was stolen from one of the desparecidos.  Or listen to the haunting melody, Abuelita, by Richard Shindell:

In a crowd, I don´t know which way to turn
I´m afraid I might not see you go by
But if I did, would I find the strength to speak?
And would you want to hear what a stranger would tell you?

That Soledad was your mother´s name
She fell in love with my Juan Luis
They may be gone
But I am still your Abuelita.


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