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Departing at Dawn: A Novel of Argentina's Dirty War Paperback – August 1, 2009


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: The Feminist Press at CUNY; Tra edition (August 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1558616039
  • ISBN-13: 978-1558616035
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #180,923 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This quiet, powerful novel from Argentinian author Lisé is told by a young woman caught up in the country's March 1976 coup d'etat. As General Videla's thugs prepare to overturn the government of General Peron's widow, 20-year-old medical student Berta witnesses her Peronist lover thrown off a balcony. Fearing for her safety as the province of Tucuman succumbs to chaos, Berta flees to her mother's sister, then to the family's hardscrabble farm at Olpa to live with her uncle. Nearly two years pass at this idyllic outpost, with time spent among a happily mixed community descended from original Spaniards and native Indians, where Berta uses her medical training to aid the local, aging midwife, before danger encroaches again. Avoiding ponderous political allegory with graceful writing, lawyer and professor Lisé sketches Berta's quest for autonomy and self against the vivid, violent backdrop of a country seeking the same: Argentina was like an unfinished poem somebody was keeping in a bottle, for later. (Aug.)
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Review

"The provincial heartland that is depicted is deeply endearing…The author offers no apologies or heroes, only humble beings whose portraits are remarkably true-to-life, who show their solidarity in difficult times and suffer the consequences Such a wide lens means that all kinds of readers will recognize themselves somewhere in this compelling narrative."—Artenauta

"Gloria Lisé describes a terrifying period in her nation's history with a touch that is light yet penetrating. A powerful portrait of Argentinians caught up in traumas that have haunted the country ever since."—La Bloga

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Cecil Bothwell VINE VOICE on September 30, 2009
Format: Paperback
Well written historical fiction can better inform our understanding of the world's workings than simple history, and Gloria Lisé has cast a clear and gripping light on Argentina's recent history. The "dirty war" claimed 30,000 lives in a period of government-sponsored terror and the cross-fire between Peronist factions. Lisé's novel follows the life of a young woman, herself effectively non-political, who becomes a target by association with an activist lover.

The novel is comprised of vignettes, some tracing Berta's experience and flight, others relating family ties and cultural history, bits revealed in personal letters and verses from song or poetry, and still others in personal musing or quiet observation. A med-school student, the protagonist's hard won progress through college and university is cut short when she sees her lover thrown to his death from a balcony, killed not by the opposition but by his former allies who decide his path of compromise is betrayal. Soon Berta is hunted, not by her lover's killers, but by government forces who believe she has absconded with money her lover may or may not have hidden at the time of his death.

Altogether the story is compelling and believable, showing how the innocent can be drawn into the whirlpool of political chaos, their lives changed forever or sacrificed in the name of causes to which they have no allegience. And withal it will help those unfamiliar with recent Latin American history gain a clearer understanding of the militaristic juntas and revolutions that shaped the 20th century.

Translator Alice Weldon deserves credit as well, for her sensitivity to the unspoken cultural information so necessary to real understanding. Words and phrases have meanings and references that are not immediately apparent, and parsing those subtler shadings and loads can either deepen our experience or block it. Weldon has succeeded admirably in her task.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By demerson19 on September 22, 2009
Format: Paperback
In an extremely well crafted first novel, Gloria Lisé has put a human face on the story of 30,000 "disappeared" people who lost their lives from 1976-1983 in Argentina. The military government which took over Isabel Peron's country proceeded to eliminate anyone felt to be a threat to their position. A lawyer and professor, Lisé must have been tempted to add yet another non-fiction account to a historical tragedy, but in this finely tuned work of fiction she manages to show the impact the government's hunting of dissenters has on one family and as a result show the human toll that numbers cannot reflect.

We follow the incidents surrounding Berta, a young woman studying to be a doctor who watches her lover thrown to his death from a balcony. A union organizer, he was rumored to have money set aside and government officials think Berta may have it and she is forced to flee her family and city to go to relatives she barely knows in the country. Where Lisé avoids another hero/heroine surviving the chaos of the times is by placing her main character in a serene, slow-paced setting. While all around her the country reels, in her ancestral home she finds safety and at times peace.

But of course, no family is without history either, and here Berta learns more of where she has come from and how she fits in her own tradition. She does not escape her own tainted past as she meets the Indians her family has forced into a small area of existence. She sees other current concerns as she travels with the Armenian midwife and learns of the miracle of birth in an area with little access to medicine. She learns of the personal failings and misfortunes of her own family, placing her own struggles in perspective.

Lisé's style is sparse, clean, and confident.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jim on December 11, 2010
Format: Paperback
Argentina's coup of March, 1976 begins the first page of this historical novel, and we witness Atilio Sandoval a leftist being thrown from a balcony and shattering on the pavement. The life of Berta his lover and a 20 year old medical student suddenly changes.

The following dawn Berta is on her way out of Tucuman, Argentina while the country is departing from democracy into a brutal regime run by a dictatorship of three generals. This is story as much about Argentina as it is about Berta's trip. We learn about Argentina's repeated coups-five of them since 1930-followed by brief periods of democracy followed by another coup. The 1976 coup was the most brutal and repressive of them. To escape, Berta begins a journey to physical safety and in the process rediscovers family roots. Her inner journey leads her to question Argetine society and culture. She hopes escape until the violence subsides but learns that the brutality only increases and she has become a personal target of the military.

We learn about the 30,000 Disappeared, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the repression and the fear of Argentines, the many political organizations that balkanized Argetine politics and in some ways triggered the coup.

I was interested in this subject, because I dance Argentine tango as a social dance and I wanted to learn more about Argetina's history. During the period of this coup, tango milongas were repressed. Tango dancers were culturally associated with Peronists. When the presidency of the widow Isabel Peron was overthrown, gatherings of dancers were forbidden, and they were arrested if they gathered for milongas.

This novel left me with a sense of the catastrophe that the coup represented for all of Argentina.
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