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Kamchatka Paperback – May 3, 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press, Black Cat (May 3, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802170870
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802170873
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #804,467 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this meandering English-language debut from Figueras, a 10-year-old Argentinean boy's whimsical inner life helps him both explain and digest his family's fate in the aftermath of the 1976 coup. When his parents' leftist activism forces the family into hiding, the boy decides to call himself Harry after his idol, Houdini. Ensconced in a villa outside Buenos Aires, Harry staves off the boredom of being in hiding by playing the board game Risk (his favorite territory being the novel's namesake), working out with the cool 18-year-old activist staying with the family, and fantastical forays into the lives of his various heroes—Superman, Aristotle, Arthur of Avalon—whose stories Harry relates to his own life with uninhibited passion. The reader knows from the first chapter that Harry's family will be torn apart, yet Figueras is intent on leaving out any "grown-up" facts that would explain the ordeal, focusing instead on Harry's reflections on the malleability of memory. Yet because of the narrator's young age, conclusions such as "Time is weird" might feel more astute if they were grounded in a more trenchant narrative. (May)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


—Short-listed for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize
—An O Magazine Summer Reading Pick

"Funny, wistful, and wise . . . [Kamchatka] suggests that our stories do not end, that heroism lies in one's ability to change, and that we all need a place where we can retreat to before we can learn to face the world again." —Tiffany Sun, O Magazine

“[A] generous, affecting novel.”—The New Yorker

“Subtle . . . Brilliantly observed, heartrending.”—Financial Times

“[Figueras] vividly evokes a child's reaction to a world beleaguered by violence. . . . [A] hopeful message about the healing powers of imagination and love.”—The New York Times

“Haunting . . . Warmhearted . . . [Kamchatka] unfolds with disarming simplicity. . . . Bursting with good humor, with a bittersweet, melancholy shadow, Figueras's superb novel amply illustrates that ‘laughing and crying at the same time is something life teaches you without you even noticing.’”—Shelf Awareness

“Interesting and insightful . . . Engrossing, often funny, and very, very unsettling.”—The Brooklyn Rail

Kamchatka is not a nostalgic book. Its narration is unconstrained and light, entwining and sympathetic. . . . Read it, and buy yourself a board game of Risk.”—Bookslut

“Stark and immediate, more moving because it is presented without sentimentality . . . [Written] with wry comedy . . . the tenderness breaks your heart.”—Booklist

“A masterpiece . . . Written in beautiful prose.”—De Telegraaf (Netherlands)

“Interesting and insightful . . . Engrossing, often funny, and very, very unsettling.”—The Brooklyn Rail

“Figueras writes with power and insight about the ways in which a child uses imagination to make sense of terrifying and baffling reality.”—The Times (UK)

“Tender, severe, moving, elegiac.”—El País (Spain)

“Brilliant.”—The Independent

“Like Carlos Eire’s wonderfully buoyant memoir of pre-revolutionary Cuba, Waiting for Snow in Havana, Figueras chooses to capture the drumbeat of history in the small, offbeat details of a boy’s life. . . . Tinged with a doomed innocence that comes shining through Figueras’s irrepressible telling . . . Kamchatka is a colorful, unforgettable vision of a boy’s—and nation’s—attempt to make sense of a descent into darkness and chaos. It is also a moving attempt to recapture the memory of the ‘disappeared’—a trick of fate that allows loved ones to re-appear by writing about them.”—Words Without Borders Magazine

Kamchatka is a superb novel that refracts public, political events through the sensibilities of everyday life. . . . Balances adult understanding and a child’s interests and anxieties. The language mediates between the two. Think not Melville, but the Mark Twain of Huckleberry Finn, yet starring a Huckleberry Finn who has read Melville. . . . Kamchatka came to me by chance. Don’t trust to such luck. Seek it out.”—J. Kates. The Arts Fuse (blog)

“This powerful novel brings to life the atmosphere of desperation following Argentina’s military coup of 1976. . . . A richly drawn, moving and memorable novel, a fine tribute to ‘los desaparecidos,’ Argentina’s ‘disappeared’”—Irish Examiner

“Figueras’s view of military dictatorship strikes a note that lingers for weeks.”—Frankfurter Rundschau (Germany)

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Touching story that is deep and meaningful.
The characters are three-dimensional and the story deeply compelling.
F. Aesthetics This is a wonderfully beautiful tale.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Harkius VINE VOICE on May 19, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a wonderful story. There is something almost dream-like about the enjoyable story, and the child-like innocence of the narrator as he and his family confront the military junta's activities in trying to suppress the college professors and the literate members of society. The perspective is almost unique, because there is a glimmer of the reality shining through his youthful impressions, like a palimpsest of the opression extant in the culture. While the story is not unique, the perspective elevates it beyond any similar tale that I've ever read.

A. Plot
The plot here is rendered in simplistic fashion, since it is told from the perspective of a child who has grown up under Peronist leadership. While it follows the general tropes of a coming-of-age story, it stops short of reaching maturity, leaving us with a story of a beautiful, sad, joyous time in the age of a child.

His parents, a lawyer and a teacher, are clearly within groups targeted by the military junta that overthrew the country in 1976. This story features the family of the narrator, "Harry" and their flight from Buenos Aires to a quinta in the countryside. It also details their lives there. While there, the family take on new names, reflecting their need to hide. The story details what happens to them in their exile.

B. Characters
The narrator, "Harry" is a wonderful character. He is open-minded (mostly), curious, and considerate child. Granted, some of this is likely to be a result of his own reflections about himself as a child, rather than an actual child's behavior, but it was still pleasant not to read about a child who is a miserable little jerk (like his brother, "Simon").
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Leonard Fleisig VINE VOICE on June 7, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The past is neither dead nor past in Marcelo Figueras' beautifully crafted Kamchatka.

The Kamchatka Peninsula is the northeastern-most part of Russia and the old Soviet Union. It is surrounded by the Bering Sea, the Arctic, and the Pacific oceans. It was a cold-forbidding place, one that served as the destination point for thousands of Soviet citizens sent to spend time in the Gulag. It is also one of geographic points of interest in the old military board game Risk. The idea of Kamchatka, as set out in the board game, as a place of exile, and ultimately as a place of refuge forms the emotional core of the book around which the story revolves.

Set in Argentina in 1976, Kamchatka is the story of a young boy and his family. Argentina in 1976 was a dangerous place. The regime of Isabel Peron was ousted in a military coup followed by some extraordinarily repressive measures against suspected opponents of the junta. Thousands of people disappeared and most all of them were murdered. Kamchatka is the story of one family. Kamchatka is told in the form of a memoir written by Harry as he is known to us. Harry was 10 when the story begins. His parents are opponents of the regime and in short order Harry and his family flee from Buenos Aires to a secluded `summer cottage' where they can, hopefully, survive until the troubles are over. The family all take new names, the boy chooses to become Harry in honor of his boyhood hero, Harry Houdini.

The act of memory, of remembering, is critical to the story-line. Early on Figueras writes that sometimes, "as I remember, my voice is that of the ten-year-old boy I was then; sometimes the voice of the seventy-year-old man I am yet to be; sometimes it is my voice, at the age I am now . . . or the age I think I am.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A lucky so-and-so on September 8, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have been interested in Argentina for a long time but do not often find satisfying novels about this country, especially about the dirty war. This novel informs the reader about Argentina's tragic history without being violent or overly detailed. Kamchatka is the story of how history affects one family, told with humor, poetry and pathos. A book like this might easily have veered into sentimentality or sermon, but the author handles it perfectly; leaving us haunted, moved, and having learned a great deal about the history and the wounds of the people of Argentina. I look forward to reading more from this writer!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. on May 15, 2014
Format: Paperback
I read this book in Spanish and it was poorly written. I'm sure the English translation is poorly translated as most translated books do leave things out or are not accurate.

The book does read as though it's a screen-play, and it's no surprise that Marcelo Figueras wrote the script for the film of the same title.

The book tends to gloss over the dirty war in Argentina and people disappearing. I did not really care about any of the characters, and they were not realistic either.

I had to laugh when the author tried bringing the politics of race into the mind of the main character when he was in elementary school as though your average or above average 9 or 10 year old kid would think about this and the author's claim that Argentine Italian people with a dark complexion are not really Caucasian-yet Argentine Germans like the main character and his family are, is racist.
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