I enjoyed this book, which tells a compelling story of a young woman in early-21st-century Argentina struggling with the repercussions of the “dirty war” (the military government’s campaign against so-called subversives in the early 70s and late 80s), her father’s participation in it and her own identity.
This is a short book, but its scope is narrow enough that the story it tells is complete. The plot is compelling, and doesn’t depend for suspense on its major secret as I’d thought it might--anyone who knows anything about modern Argentine history is likely to guess the secret after reading the blurb, but the book anticipates that. The focus is really on the title character, how her father’s past has affected her life and relationships, and how her understanding of who she is changes throughout the book--I won’t go into any more detail than that. But there’s a good balance between the internal (a lot of the book’s action is internal) and external events like character interactions, which keep the book from bogging down too much in Perla’s head.
The characters feel authentic, and the dialogue is pitch-perfect--throughout, I could envision real people having these conversations, which is not a common experience for me. Even the minor characters are utterly believable, and De Robertis does a great job of exploring the complexities of the characters’ relationships, particularly among family members. The setting is also well done--I spent about six months in Buenos Aires around the time of the story’s “present day” and the descriptions of the city are much as I remember it. There are some short but brutal scenes from the dirty war, presenting an impressionistic approach to history--more about imagery than hard facts like names and dates.
The novel is certainly well-written, but in some places (generally in the shorter segments from Perla’s guest’s point-of-view) seemed a bit overwritten, with multi-page paragraphs bursting with figurative language. Those who prefer florid prose will appreciate that more than I did. But I do think the book is written in such a way as to appeal both to historical fiction aficionados and lovers of contemporary family stories--although it might sound like the latter, I’m solidly in the former group and thoroughly enjoyed it.
My verdict, then: absolutely a good book, with surprising depth and authenticity. And the ending is perfect. I would have been happy to read more about Perla, which is a good thing, but rarely have I read such an excellent last page.