Saturday, 4 October 2008

Argentina: Dictatorship in English

A intriguing article today from ñ, the magazine of Pagina/12, on books dealing with the dictatorship in English.

Now, I haven't read Imagining Argentina, by Lawrence Thornton, but I have seen the resulting film starring Emma Thompson, and it is truly terrible. It is a ludicrously inaccurate and even offensive take on the story of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, of which Guardian film reviewer Peter Bradshaw said,
Some films are so spectacularly misjudged they make you want to put a brown paper bag over your head, and roll off your cinema seat in a foetal ball of embarrassment and shock.

and I can only agree.

So, it's easy to see why the Argentine article takes a dubious tone on foreigners scribbling about the Southern Cone. I was almost too irritated by superficialities to take in journalist Carlos Gamerro's points, though. He picks on the faulty use of accents on the Spanish in Thomas Pynchon's novel Gravity's Rainbow; fair enough, but why, then, isn't the article itself well-researched enough to spell the name of its sources correctly?! It mangles both the title and the author's name of Marguerite Feitlowitz's A Lexicon of Terror, while blaming this book for containing an inaccuracy repeated in Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine (oh yeah, and Naomi gets an extra accent in her name too). A brief glance at the article revealed at least two more errors in the details of the English books. Incidentally, I own Feitlowitz's book and find it a generally good guide to the dictatorship, although admittedly with an occasionally casual, rather than academic tone. Gamerro also deals with Colm Toibin's novel The Story of the Night, which he finds more to his taste, but grudgingly and damning with faint praise ("Tobin has, at least, the minimal level of intelligence to find himself a plausible point of view; not to try to put himself into the skin of an Argentine").

So, if not these books, then which? I started thinking about which books I would recommend for someone wanting to find out about the Proceso in English. Here's a few ideas:


Rita Arditti's Searching for Life: The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the Disappeared Children of Argentina
This was the first book I ever read on the dictatorship. It covers more than just the story of the Abuelas themselves and is engaging with has a lot of tough details. I wept. Important reading and approved of by the Grandmothers themselves.

Horacio Verbitsky's The Flight: Confessions of an Argentine Dirty Warrior
Translation of El Vuelo by one of Argentina's top investigative journalists. Verbitsky's interviews with naval officer Francisco Scilingo, who admitted to flying planes that dropped living prisoners into the sea to die, created a storm in Argentina on its publication in 1995.

Diana Taylor's Disappearing Acts: Spectacles of Gender and Nationalism in Argentina's "Dirty War"
I think this is a completely fascinating consideration of public space, cultural productions, and the construction of the dictatorship, although I accept that the cultural theory and feminism may not be to everyone's taste.

Laura Alcoba's The Rabbit House: An Argentinian Childhood
A memoir which I reviewed just recently (but, as I stated in the review, I think you would get more out of this if you knew the basic facts about the dictatorship before reading it)


Of novels that I have read personally, I can only think of Elsa Osorio's My Name is Light and Alicia Partnoy's The Little School, although there are certainly more, and I'm not sure that I would unequivocally recommend either one of these.

Any more, to add to either list? Go ahead and comment if so.

The article that triggered my thoughts, of course, is here:
La dictadura contada en ingles (Pagina/12)

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