Mailbox Monday #528

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has it’s own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Leslie, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what I received:

Apprehension and Desire by Ola Wegner, a Kindle freebie.

What if Elizabeth Bennet had agreed to Darcy’s marriage proposal offered to her at Hunsford parsonage, sincerely thinking it was the best thing she could have done in her situation? As his fiancée and later wife, can she fall in love with Fitzwiliam Darcy who is still very much arrogant, rude, and not reformed man? Will she be able to look over her own prejudice and apprehension, and see a worthy man who loves, and desires her?

The Passion According to Carmela by Marcos Aguinis, translated by Carolina De Robertis, a Kindle freebie for World Book Day.

It is a time for upheaval in Cuba: the time to build a new society. Even from her position of privilege, idealistic divorcée Carmela Vasconcelos sees the waves of uprising and is caught up in the excitement. Persuaded by her brother, Lucas, she flees her wealthy home to join Fidel Castro’s rebels.

In the mountainous jungle of the Sierra Maestra, Carmela meets Ignacio Deheza, a charismatic Argentinian socialist fighting on behalf of the insurrection. On the training fields of a revolution, they bond in the cause—and in a blind passion that stirs their blood and soul.

As Carmela, Ignacio, and Lucas navigate increasingly dangerous political waters, their personal fates become inexorably tied with that of their country. But when the rebellion succumbs to corruption and disillusionment, they’ll find their dedication to the movement tested. For Carmela and Ignacio, they’ll soon discover that it’s their commitment to each other—and the choices they must make to survive—that will be the greatest challenge of all.

Go: A Coming of Age Novel by Kazuki Kaneshiro, translated by Takami Nieda, a Kindle freebie for World Book Day.

As a Korean student in a Japanese high school, Sugihara has had to defend himself against all kinds of bullies. But nothing could have prepared him for the heartache he feels when he falls hopelessly in love with a Japanese girl named Sakurai. Immersed in their shared love for classical music and foreign movies, the two gradually grow closer and closer.

One night, after being hit by personal tragedy, Sugihara reveals to Sakurai that he is not Japanese—as his name might indicate.

Torn between a chance at self-discovery that he’s ready to seize and the prejudices of others that he can’t control, Sugihara must decide who he wants to be and where he wants to go next. Will Sakurai be able to confront her own bias and accompany him on his journey?

What did you receive?

Interview with Carolina De Robertis, author of The Gods of Tango

If you’ve missed out on Carolina De Robertis’ books before, you need to check out Perla, which was one of my favorites. She has a new book due out in July, The Gods of Tango.

About the Book from GoodReads:

February 1913: seventeen-year-old Leda, carrying only a small trunk and her father’s cherished violin, leaves her Italian village for a new home, and a new husband, in Argentina. Arriving in Buenos Aires, she discovers that he has been killed, but she remains: living in a tenement, without friends or family, on the brink of destitution. Still, she is seduced by the music that underscores life in the city: tango, born from lower-class immigrant voices, now the illicit, scandalous dance of brothels and cabarets. Leda eventually acts on a long-held desire to master the violin, knowing that she can never play in public as a woman. She cuts off her hair, binds her breasts, and becomes “Dante,” a young man who joins a troupe of tango musicians bent on conquering the salons of high society. Now, gradually, the lines between Leda and Dante begin to blur, and feelings that she has long kept suppressed reveal themselves, jeopardizing not only her musical career, but her life.

Please give Carolina De Robertis a warm welcome.

1. In addition to writing your own fiction, you also translate books. Could you explain a little bit about the process of translating books and share what languages you translate?

I translate Latin American writing from Spanish into English—and I’m incredibly passionate about the world of translation, not only because it’s crucial to ensuring access to international literatures, but also because I find it to be an exhilarating process. There is nothing quite like taking a beautiful piece of writing and striving to render it in a different language. For me, it’s a bit like transposing a piece of music from one instrument to the other, like taking a work written for piano, say, and adapting it for the violin. There are things that the piano can do that the violin can’t do, and vice versa. The same is true for English, Spanish, and the other languages I speak (though not so well!). You have to be true to the original, and yet limber enough to ensure that the piece’s soul will sing out on your new instrument.

2. In The Gods of Tango, Leda finds herself alone in an unfamiliar country, Argentina, did you draw on any of your own personal experiences to flesh out the challenges she faced?

I feel deeply at home in writing the experiences of immigrants, even when their circumstances differ from the ones I’ve known. The way I see it, I was born an immigrant; I left South America in my mother’s womb, and then grew up in three different countries. I have always been an “other;” I don’t know any other way of moving through the world.

When I made my first extended trip to Uruguay and Argentina, my nations of origin, I was sixteen years old, and the experience was a dizzying blend of intense familiarity and desire for something that had long felt far away. And so, I am perennially drawn to writing stories of crossing borders, of belonging and not-belonging, of what it means to hold multiple cultures in your skin.

3. Tango is a very sensual and rhythmic dance, how did that music and dance inspire your writing for the book? And did you listen to such music while writing?

Absolutely! Once I knew that this novel was going to portray the early years of the tango’s evolution, and explore the communities that gave birth to it, it was obvious that I’d have to empaparme del tango, as we’d say in Uruguayan Spanish—drench myself in it. The tango had always been familiar to me, of course; I come from the land of tango, my own grandfather was a tango composer, and the music was present in my childhood home, from tape recordings to my parents’ absent singing to themselves.

In the research for this book, I took private dance lessons with an incredible teacher in Uruguay; studied the violin with a professional tango musician; interviewed tango musicians and dancers about their intimate relationships with the art form; studied a mountain of scholarly texts; and, of course, listened and listened to the music. All of it, from classic giants such as De Caro and Canaro to Piazzolla’s bold innovations, from the immortal Carlos Gardel to the twenty-first century fusions of Gotan Project. Happily, I am listening to tango as I write these very words.

4. Women dressing as men to live the lives they want is a theme in many historical fiction works and there are women in history who have done such things. What about this life inspired your story and how did it take on a life of its own when writing the novel?

I knew that I wanted to write about the wave of migrants that came to Buenos Aires in the early twentieth century, mainly from Europe, and the tremendous impact they had on the culture in their quest to survive. My great-grandmother was part of that wave, leaving her tiny Italian village alone, at the age of 17, to go marry her cousin.

But I also knew that I wanted this book to dive right into the heart of the birth of the tango, which was happening in those very tenements where those immigrants landed, a music born from poor people, working people, blending their cultures and sounds. The tango world was extremely gendered in the 1910s. It was a seedy underworld, the domain of men, where the only women welcome were prostitutes. How would a female character be able to penetrate that world on her own terms?

There was only one answer. An answer that many women have found throughout history—far more women than recorded history shows. Though I can’t prove it, I am absolutely positive that there were plenty of real women in 1910s Buenos Aires doing exactly what Leda did. Sadly, their histories have been lost. That’s what we need fiction for: to dramatically repair the silences of history.

5. Do you tango? And who are your favorite tango dancers?

As I mentioned, the tango is in my culture and in my skin, and I have danced at Buenos Aires milongas with my relatives, and studied the dance. But I’m not much of a natural dancer, myself. What I do have is something of a musician’s ear so I relate to it that way—and, like many ríoplatenses (people from Argentina and Uruguay), I don’t think of the tango as just a dance, but as much more than that: as a music, as a culture, as a way of relating to the world. This is a lens that is missing in the U.S. and beyond; I hope to offer it to readers.

That said, there are many marvelous tango performers, both dancers and musicians, here in the U.S., and I am in awe of what they do.

6. How important do you think it is to highlight the history of Latin American nations both good and bad, and what pieces of that history do you think should be told that haven’t?

Just as with any region of the world, I think it’s crucial to tell the whole truth, however complex or potentially uncomfortable. In The Gods of Tango, I strove to portray both the harsh and beautiful aspects of early tango culture.

There are so very, very many threads of Latin American history that are still undertold, and these, not surprisingly, are the narratives of those whose stories have been historically marginalized, including women, queers, and people of African descent. Very few people know that the tango has African as well as European roots, and that, at the turn of the twentieth century, Buenos Aires was one-third black. It was very important to me to include those voices in this novel. That said, there is still so much more tremendously rich Afro-Argentinean and Afro-Uruguayan history to be told.

7. Finally, how has your journey as an author evolved? Any tricks or tips you’d like to share?

Now that I’m working on my fourth novel, the arc of the whole experience is more familiar, so that, when I feel like I’m walking right into a moonless night without a flashlight and I can’t tell where I’m going next, it’s easier to stay calm and think, oh, look, here’s the part where I’m lost in the dark, that must be progress. There’s no trick, really, except this one open secret: persist, persist, persist.

Mailbox Monday #327

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

1. The Gods of Tango by Carolina de Robertis for review.

February 1913: seventeen-year-old Leda, carrying only a small trunk and her father’s cherished violin, leaves her Italian village for a new home, and a new husband, in Argentina. Arriving in Buenos Aires, she discovers that he has been killed, but she remains: living in a tenement, without friends or family, on the brink of destitution. Still, she is seduced by the music that underscores life in the city: tango, born from lower-class immigrant voices, now the illicit, scandalous dance of brothels and cabarets. Leda eventually acts on a long-held desire to master the violin, knowing that she can never play in public as a woman. She cuts off her hair, binds her breasts, and becomes “Dante,” a young man who joins a troupe of tango musicians bent on conquering the salons of high society. Now, gradually, the lines between Leda and Dante begin to blur, and feelings that she has long kept suppressed reveal themselves, jeopardizing not only her musical career, but her life.

2.  Summer Secrets by Jane Green, a surprise from Tandem Literary.

June, 1998: At twenty seven, Catherine Coombs, also known as Cat, is struggling. She lives in London, works as a journalist, and parties hard. Her lunchtimes consist of several glasses of wine at the bar downstairs in the office, her evenings much the same, swigging the free booze and eating the free food at a different launch or party every night. When she discovers the identity of the father she never knew she had, it sends her into a spiral. She makes mistakes that cost her the budding friendship of the only women who have ever welcomed her. And nothing is ever the same after that.

June, 2014: Cat has finally come to the end of herself. She no longer drinks. She wants to make amends to those she has hurt. Her quest takes her to Nantucket, to the gorgeous summer community where the women she once called family still live. Despite her sins, will they welcome her again? What Cat doesn’t realize is that these women, her real father’s daughters, have secrets of their own. As the past collides with the present, Cat must confront the darkest things in her own life and uncover the depths of someone’s need for revenge.

3.  Uglies by Scott Westerfeld from the library sale.

Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. Not for her license – for turning pretty. In Tally’s world, your sixteenth birthday brings an operation that turns you from a repellent ugly into a stunningly attractive pretty and catapults you into a high-tech paradise where your only job is to have a really great time. In just a few weeks Tally will be there.

But Tally’s new friend Shay isn’t sure she wants to be pretty. She’d rather risk life on the outside. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world and it isn’t very pretty. The authorities offer Tally the worst choice she can imagine: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all.

4.  Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn from the library sale, which is great since its the August Book Club pick.

Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, she must unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past if she wants to get the story—and survive this homecoming.

5.  Dragon Bones by Lisa See from the library sale, which is one I don’t have by this author.

In a magnificent land where myth mixes treacherously with truth, one woman is in charge of telling them apart. Liu Hulan is the Inspector in China’s Ministry of Public Security whose tough style rousts wrongdoers and rubs her superiors the wrong way. Now her latest case finds her trapped between her country’s distant past and her own recent history.

The case starts at a rally for a controversial cult that ends suddenly in bloodshed, and leads to the apparent murder of an American archaeologist, which officials want to keep quiet. And haunting Hulan’s investigation is the possible theft of ancient dragon bones that might alter the history of civilization itself.

Getting to the bottom of ever-spiraling events, Hulan unearths more scandals, confronts more murderers, and revives tragic memories that shake her tormented marriage to its core. In the end, she solves a mystery as big, unruly, and complex as China itself.

6.  The Yellow House by Martin Gayford from the library sale, which is about painters I love.

This chronicle of the two months in 1888 when Paul Gauguin shared a house in France with Vincent Van Gogh describes not only how these two hallowed artists painted and exchanged ideas, but also the texture of their everyday lives. Includes 60 B&W reproductions of the artists’ paintings and drawings from the period.

My daughter got a ton of awesome DVDs at the library sale, including a set of Strawberry Shortcake videos, which she’s been running around the house smelling because they smell just like strawberry shortcake!

She also got a box set of Dora the Explorer books, and some other fun reads.

Sipping Spiders Through a Straw: Campfire Songs for Monsters by Kelly Dipucchio and illustrated by Gris Grimly

A delightfully chilling musical romp through the gross and gory world of campfire songs!

In this howlishly fun collection of campfire songs, little monsters everywhere will love singing along to their favorite campfire tunes which have been altered for optimal gross-out effect by the ghoulish Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by the Master of Creep, Gris Grimly.

Disgusting highlights include “If You’re Scary and You Know It,” “99 Bottles of Blood on the Wall,” and the classic in the making, “Do Your Guts Hang Low?” Gather your creepy, crawly friends and get ready to slither and slink and howl and stink!

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin

Farmer Brown has a problem.

His cows like to type.

All day long he hears

Click, clack, MOO.

Click, clack, MOO.

Clickety, clack, MOO.

But Farmer Brown’s problems REALLY begin when his cows start leaving him notes….

Doreen Cronin’s understated text and Betsy Lewin’s expressive illustrations make the most of this hilarious situation. Come join the fun as a bunch of literate cows turn Farmer Brown’s farm upside down.

Peter Pan Fairy Tale Favorites A Pop-Up Book by John Patience

What did you receive?

The Best of 2013 List…

In Descending Order (links to the reviews included):
  1. Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir by Beth Kephart
  2. The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
  3. Imperfect Spiral by Debbie Levy
  4. Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman
  5. The Time Between by Karen White
  6. Survival Skills: Stories by Jean Ryan
  7. Unexplained Fevers by Jeannine Hall Gailey
  8. Lotería by Mario Alberto Zambrano
  9. Solving the World’s Problems by Robert Lee Brewer
  10. The Scabbard of Her Throat by Bernadette Geyer
  11. The Neruda Case by Roberto Ampuero, translated by Carolina De Robertis
  12. Six Sisters’ Stuff: Family Recipes, Fun Crafts, and So Much More
Here are my honorable mentions for this year, in descending order (links to the reviews included):
  1. The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein
  2. Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent by Beth Kephart
  3. Joyland by Stephen King
  4. Seduction by M.J. Rose
  5. Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen
What books made your list of favorites this year?

The Neruda Case by Roberto Ampuero, Translated by Carolina de Robertis

Source: Riverhead Books, Penguin
Paperback, 374 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Neruda Case by Roberto Ampuero, translated by Carolina de Robertis (see my review of Perla), is set just before the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile when Castro is in power in Cuba and Germany has been cut in half by the wall.  Cuban exile Cayetano Brulé has left Miami with his wife, Maria Paz Angela Undurraga Cox, for her home in Chile, but he continues to feel out of place as no one trusts a Cuban and he cannot find work.  Meanwhile, his wife is increasingly engaged in the reform movement in the country, while at the same time she is pulling away from her husband.  Wandering in a strange country with bad coffee, Cayetano unwittingly bumps into Pablo Neruda at a party in a library and shortly receives an offer he cannot refuse.

“The door was made of knotted wood.  It didn’t open.  He stroked the old bronze knocker, put his hands in the pockets of his fleece jacket, and told himself that all he could do now was wait.  He exhaled wafts of white breath into the overcast winter morning and thought, amused, that it looked as if he were smoking, even though, in this city, there were no more matches or cigarettes.”  (page 12)

Brulé is a man that is transformed by his business relationship with Neruda, who hires him to uncover the truth about his past that haunts him, but this relationship evolves into admiration and a personal connection that transforms Brulé into a confident detective.  Not only is the novel about finding solace, it also is about one man’s journey home.  Neruda was a complex man and legendary, and the author clearly admired the poet and held him in high regard, but the novel also demonstrates that even the most legendary of us have flaws.  It is those flaws that make us who we are, ensuring that those who love us are constantly challenged.  By the time Brulé meets Neruda, he is already a legend and Nobel laureate, and Neruda knows it and revels in his success — so much so that it becomes a crutch for any mean moment or poor decision in his life:  “I did it for my art.”

“‘Because if poetry transports us to the heavens, crime novels plunge you into life the way it really is; they dirty your hands and blacken your face the way coal stains engine stokers on trains in the south, where I was born.'”  (page 24)

“‘The casualties of our good fortune are a terrible thing, Cayetano.  But the road to personal happiness is paved with the pain of others.'”  (page 130)

Ampuero’s novel is a detective novel wrapped up in literary and historical fiction that depicts a turbulent time in Chile’s history, but also a time of idealism on the part of Neruda and President Salvador Allende.  The Neruda Case transports the reader back in time and paints a picture of idealism and its failures, but also its continued promise of hope.  Ampuero’s portrayal of Neruda is as complex as the man himself, and his detective is a man that readers will become emotionally attached to and cheer on in his mission.  One of the best, sweeping novels I’ve read this year.

**On a side note, I was pleased to find that Ampuero lived near Neruda’s home La Sebastiana as a boy and regrets that he never had the courage to knock on the poet’s door.**

About the Author:

Roberto Ampuero is an internationally bestselling, award-winning author. He has published twelve novels in Spanish, and his works have been translated around the world. The Neruda Case is his first novel published in English. Born in Chile, Ampuero is a professor of creative writing at the University of Iowa and currently serves as Chile’s ambassador to Mexico. He lives in Mexico City and Iowa City.


This is my 37th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

Interview with Author Carolina De Robertis

If you missed my review of the latest stunning novel from Carolina De Robertis, Perla, you must read it now and buy the book or vice versa.  The novel is set in Argentina and blends reality with the surreal as a young woman finds her place in the world and learns that politically motivated actions can have very personal consequences.  If you haven’t heard of the Disappeared, you must pick up this book and learn more.

Today, I’ve got an interview with Carolina De Robertis about her book and The Disappeared.  Without further ado, please give her a warm welcome.

Writing about the disappeared of Argentina must be quite a balancing act even after many decades. What inspired you to take on the subject and why choose to tell the story in a way that is at times surreal and very focused through the eyes of Perla?

My interest in the subject first arose from the extensive research I did for my first novel, The Invisible Mountain, which traverses ninety years of Uruguayan history, among them the revolutionary 60s and the dictatorship of the 70s and 80s. Inevitably, in studying those times, I also encountered the realities that unfolded on the other side of the river, in Argentina. It was more than could possibly fit in one novel, and inspired me to “cross the river” for my second novel, to Argentina, where I also have roots and relatives.

The surreal premise of Perla originally came as a vivid image I couldn’t get out of my head, of the disappeared who were thrown into in the river from airplanes, rising back up to visit the living. It wasn’t an intellectual decision. However, looking back, I think I was drawn to this choice because it allowed me to do something I haven’t seen anywhere else in the literature and filmography of the disappeared, which is to give the disappeared a voice of their own, to explore their side of the story in an immediate way. And telling the story through Perla, a military man’s daughter, allowed me to do something else that I hadn’t seen elsewhere, and that seemed urgent to me: to attempt to portray the full humanity of perpetrators of these crimes, without excusing them. Who would more honestly grapple with that difficult humanity than a perpetrator’s beloved daughter?

How much has the political landscape changed between when the disappeared were taken and today? Did that play a role in how you tackled the subject in fiction and were there any lingering concerns about how you portrayed the past in your fiction?

When the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo first started organizing, in the late 70s, to defend the rights of their disappeared adult children, they were putting their lives at risk (and some of them in fact lost their lives as a result). Today, the Mothers have been honored in the Presidential Palace and are widely celebrated as heroines. Argentinean public opinion has come to decry the human rights abuses of the regime. Nevertheless, the wounds of those times are still viscerally alive in Argentinean society, in many ways. So I knew that I’d be touching on a national wound. I could only hope that the potential of art to create beauty and healing out of horror would outstrip the pain of having brought it to the surface.

The character of Perla is very complex in that she has a certain identity that is challenged from an early age given who her father was in the 70s and 80s. Did you have an outline of her character before you began writing her? Were there things about her character that surprised you? How so?

There were many things I knew about Perla when I began to write her into being, including the various layers of secrets that lie in her and in her family. However, I learned a great deal more about her as I wrote. In some ways, she is more vulnerable than I initially thought her to be. In other ways, she’s a great deal stronger than I first painted her. She has a wild streak. She also has a sense of humor that I didn’t see coming, which really emerges in her love affair with Gabriel, and which gives her another level of resilience.

Are there particular books you’d recommend to readers who want to learn more about the disappeared? Which ones and what makes them a must read?

There are many important books, but one of the most eloquent and devastating is Prisoner Without a Name and Cell Without a Number by Jacobo Timerman. Timerman was a respected journalist who was “disappeared” under the dictatorship, and only survived because international pressure forced his release. On his release he wrote this slim, amazing memoir that propels you right into the experience. I’d also recommend the Oscar-winning film The Official Story, which unfolds the world of a mother who begins to suspect her adopted daughter may be a child of the disappeared.

In the acknowledgements, you mention receiving Nunca Más. Upon reading the book, how has your world view changed and do you see your fiction writing as way to reveal to the world the deeper questions that events like the disappearance of Argentinians raise?

A book like Nunca Más, which gathers the testimonies of survivors of atrocity, is bound to shake you and your sense of the world. It forces you to look in the eye some of the tremendous cruelties we human beings are collectively capable of. How can such things happen? And why do they keep happening in so many places across the world? Most importantly, how does a society begin to truly move beyond such a tragedy and affirm the beauty and powerful forms of love that are also part of human experience? I do think that fiction plays a particular role in exploring such questions. Fiction can delve into the long-term, intimate effects of violence, and the complex and often astounding ways that people rebuild their lives. Fiction can open doors to healing, to awakening, and to fresh explorations of the truth. This may sound a bit hyperbolic, but I really do believe this, perhaps because, as a reader, novels have done all these things for me.

Finally, who are some of your favorite authors and poets? Or what are you reading now that you enjoy?

There are so many! Just a few of the authors I constantly turn and return to: Toni Morrison, Virginia Woolf, Gabriel García Márquez, Italo Calvino, Clarice Lispector, Walt Whitman, William Faulkner, Herman Melville, Dostoevsky. As for recent reading, I just finished The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff. It’s a portrait of Einar Wegener, the first person to successfully undergo male-to-female sex change surgery—and a stunning novel, told in the most vibrant, nuanced, and utterly unforgettable voice.

Thanks, Carolina, for answering my questions.

Some Winners…and More


Winner Kathy at Bermudaonion

Winner Beth Hoffman

Congrats to both winners!

In other news, I’ve been interviewed by poet and fiction writer Emma Eden Ramos on her blog. Check it out!

Perla by Carolina De Robertis

Perla by Carolina De Robertis (giveaway following the review) is captivating and intoxicating in its setting, mystery, and the psychological unraveling of the main protagonist, Perla.  She’s growing into a young woman, but her cloistered existence threatens to explode until she begins to release herself in books and in her relationship with Gabriel.

The past haunts everything around her, though she does not know it at first.  She is proud of her family and her father’s naval career and her mother’s quirky penchant for picking up new hobbies and discarding them.  But her pride is suddenly shaken when she learns of the Disappeared, Argentinians who were silently taken from their workplaces and homes in the 1970s and 1980s by the government for allegedly being subversives.  In school she writes a short story that wins a prize and is published in the newspaper, but her story has other unintended consequences.  It opens up hidden fissures in her family, and forces her to rebel and question the father she’s loved with blind devotion.

“He was uninvited moisture.  He had leaked into this house.  I had every reason to find his presence an affront, to be enraged at his invasion, or at least to eject him in calm tones.  Certainly he made me feel combustible, unsafe in my own skin.  But though I didn’t know why, though the feeling shocked me, I did not want him to leave.”  (page 28)

The fluidity with which De Robertis tells the tale is much like the Dali painting, “The Persistence of Memory,” hung in Perla’s childhood home, weaving in and out of reality and shaping a psyche that is struggling with secrets that are too devastating to hold inside.  Perla is a novel about identity and how it is created or comes into being and whether it is alive within us before we are even born.  In accordance with this look at identity, the novel examines the harsh treatment society places on new generations for the transgressions of the past.  Struggling with the truth of her father’s job and how it may have contributed to the disappearance of many Argentinians is enough for Perla to deal with as a young adult, but she also must confront the sneer and the unspoken disgust in the eyes of her classmates and friends when her father’s occupation is revealed.

Retreating into herself and her books, Perla finds a way to cope and becomes strong in a way that even she is unaware of, and when she meets Gabriel, her strength is tested once again.  Can she love her father and still love this man who writes articles condemning the actions of former military and government leaders who now have immunity?  Can she reconcile the two worlds of her life into one and live with herself?  And how can she explain her love for her father amidst the knowledge of what his actions before she was born did to the country and to other families?

De Robertis takes readers on a psychological journey through Perla’s mind as she processes the revelations of her family life and the nation she was born into.  Legacy plays an important role and it is clear that Perla must uncover what that legacy should be as she grows into a woman and leads her own life.  The prose is so enchanting and intoxicating, hours of reading fly by as streets in Buenos Aires become crowded with footfall percussion beats and musical laughter countered with the closed off rooms of Perla’s childhood home and the dark, swirling violet waves of her aunt’s painting.  Water also is a significant image throughout the book as it gives life and sustains it in the womb and in the soil, but it also connects everyone and everything in the story, running underground and supplying the sustenance to the tale.

“Flowers lurked at every turn.  You could not rest your gaze without encountering a geranium, two geraniums, hundreds of geraniums, and you could not walk without the feeling that geraniums were following you close at heel, bright mobs of them, crowding the air at your back.  You could not help feeling vastly outnumbered.” (page 90)

In a few sections when Perla’s mother has taken up gardening as a hobby and begins overpopulating the house with geraniums, it is clear that these flowers are like the bodies of the disappeared blossoming despite the cover up and lurking around every corner, haunting those that took part.  These bodies even when the blossoms fade from lack of care, continue to haunt the house and its inhabitants, prodding Perla’s family to look about them, to question, to uncover the truth beneath the well-manicured soil.

Perla by Carolina De Robertis melds the supernatural with reality in a way that it becomes a testament to all of the disappeared and the children of the disappeared who were restored and not.  It is an examination of an ugly part of Argentinian history in which women, children, and men were taken from their families and homes without warning, tortured, and released from planes above the Atlantic Ocean — erased from existence.  De Robertis does not dwell on the horrors of those times, but on the consequences of those actions and the reverberations felt for generations following the political upheaval that caused them.  She does so with aplomb and breath-taking imagery that transports readers to a South American nation ripe with beauty and dark secrets to explore what it means to have an identity and to be an individual in spite of what your family may have done in the past.  One last note, get the tissues ready!  Another for the 2012 best of list.

Author Carolina De Robertis

About the Author:

Carolina De Robertis is the author of Perla and The Invisible Mountain, which was an international bestseller translated into fifteen languages, the recipient of Italy’s Rhegium Julii Prize, and a Best Book of 2009 according to the San Francisco Chronicle, O, The Oprah Magazine, and BookList. Her writings and literary translations have appeared in Zoetrope: Allstory, Granta, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. She is the translator of Alejandro Zambra’s Bonsai, which was just made into a film, and Roberto Ampuero’s internationally bestselling The Neruda Case, which will be published for the first time in English in July 2012. De Robertis has been awarded a 2012 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

De Robertis grew up in a Uruguayan family that immigrated to England, Switzerland, and California. Prior to completing her first book, she worked in women’s rights organizations for ten years, on issues ranging from rape to immigration. She lives in Oakland, California, where she is currently elbow-deep in writing her third novel, which explores migration, sexual frontiers, and the tango’s Old Guard in early twentieth century South America.  Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and through her Website.

tlc tour host

This is my 37th book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.




To enter for 1 copy of Perla by Carolina De Robertis (US/Canada), leave a comment about what you’d like to learn about the disappeared of Argentina.

Deadline is May 17, 2012, at 11:59PM EST