45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Argentina's Dirty War Gets Its Literary Masterpiece
There have been many literary manifestations born out of Argentina's Dirty War (1976-82). Liliana Heker's Fin de La Historia, El (B) (Spanish Edition) is an excellent novel about two young women who have to come to grips with their oppossing views of the conflict. Juan Gelman wrote some beautiful poetry memorializing his missing son and...
Published on March 4, 2012 by HardyBoy64
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A well told story about matters of the heart
Just so you know where I'm coming from, I'm a guy, a fairly typical guy. I like things that guys tend to like. Baseball. Plain straightforward prose. Stories with big ideas. OK, I deviate from the typical guy likes in that I have a soft spot for opera and musicals. I have, in fact, cried during certain performances of Butterfly and Carmen. But that's not because I have a...
Published on March 15, 2012 by moose_of_many_waters
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45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Argentina's Dirty War Gets Its Literary Masterpiece,
There have been many literary manifestations born out of Argentina's Dirty War (1976-82). Liliana Heker's Fin de La Historia, El (B) (Spanish Edition) is an excellent novel about two young women who have to come to grips with their oppossing views of the conflict. Juan Gelman wrote some beautiful poetry memorializing his missing son and daughter-in-law. Laura Restrapo's DEMASIADOS HEROES (Spanish Edition)explores some interesting aspects of the conflict, but ultimately fails as a memorable portrayal.Purgatorio (Spanish Edition) by Tomás Eloy Martínez also explores questions of survival guilt and memory. Elena Cabrejas's novel Algo Habran Hecho (Spanish Edition) is a moving and quite realistic story of the famous missing French nuns. There have also been some questionable novels that use the Dirty War as a historical backdrop but that completely fail in probing the depths of the historical time period and come across as hollow and meaningless (ie. The Unforgivable).
I list all these other novels because as a student of the Dirty War and its portrayal in literature, I have been waiting for a long time for a novel to come along that might capture the heavy weight of the time period, with all the social implications, and yet demonstrate a poetic vision far from the constraints of realism. While there are many good novels about the time period, I have been waiting for that novel that addresses the brutality of the time period in an artistic way, waiting for that novel that makes me feel the emotion of the time period as well as teach me about it. My wait is over.
PERLA is a gorgeous novel about the very heart of the Dirty War: the missing. The victims of the military dictatorship get a voice, a real hero who speaks out for them. The ghost figure is a homage to the fable-like writing of the magical realism literary style. He is memory, love, pain and anguish encarnate. The protagonist Perla goes through the predictable coming to terms with her identity in the novel, but the beautiful way that Carolina de Robertis dresses up this painful yet powerful enlightenment is what makes this novel true literature. The irony of her name does not go unnoticed, as "La Perla" was one of the most infamous concentration camps of the dictatorship. Like the camp, Perla herself is a place of torture as de Robertis takes the reader through her mental anguish in coming to grips with the truth of who she is. The reader feels her liberation at the end, literally escaping her own internal concentration camp. And like Perla the character, Buenos Aires has to recover from the time period as well. It's as if De Robertis were writing for the desaparecidos as well as for the soul of Buenos Aires, that beautiful city that has seen so much suffering. The prose is so poignant at times that I found myself rereading sentences, as one would reread a poem over and over.
The content is often brutal and there are episodes of sexuality that could have been toned down a bit. One has to remember, however, that the brutality of stealing babies from their mothers is a disturbing figurative rape of the mother's rights and while thematically these strong moments of the novel make perfect sense and there is nothing overtly gratuitous, I do recognize that these harsh themes may not be for all readers.
In my opinion, and I have read many novels about Argentina's Dirty War, Perla is the masterpiece.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Absolute Masterpiece,
If Perla was a theatrical production, I'd jump to my feet, applaud and shout "brava!" This visceral reaction - that something very special has just been experienced - is precisely how I felt upon closing the last page of this spellbinding book.
Where do I even begin? Perhaps with the title: Perla is a college-aged young woman whose father, a Navy Officer, was on the wrong side of the heinous Argentina Dirty Wars. During those wars, many innocent people simply disappeared; they were drugged and thrown out of airplanes, never to be seen again. At the book's beginning, Perla discovers that one of The Disappeared - a ghost, quite literally - has somehow found his way into her home.
There are plot twists to this coupling, surely, but it is not those twists that make this novel stand out. Ms. De Robertis explores something far more vital: what happens when a person we love has been the instrument of pain and suffering? How do we reconcile his heinous acts with the person who loves and nurtures us? What responsibilities do we have to him, to society in general, and most of all, to ourselves? Or, in Perla's own words, how can one move forward when "the crimes of my father-the crimes of the nation, also, crimes to which I had not given words -settled on me, rode my back drooped my shoulders, stuck to me and refused to wipe away."
Perla is forced into a delicate dance of trying to understand her father, extricate herself, potentially be his salvation as her father demands "absolution or amnesia or, at the very least, for continued love." Her inner journey to claim her place in the world - her very identity - leads to birth and a rebirth and connects her with who she is meant to be and who she will become.
In confident prose that reads like elegiac poetry, Ms. De Robertis creates word images that are downright exquisite. I often went back and read lines twice or three times, marveling at their beauty. And when I reached the end, I broke down in sobs, not because of a manufactured sad ending but because the story was so very powerful. I haven't had that reaction since reading Toni Morrison's Beloved. This masterpiece tackles all the big parts of life: love, suffering, redemption, identity, the need of belonging, and how we connect to each other. Although Ms. De Robertis has her own distinct voice, it called to mind the power of Jenny Erpenbeck's works and she is one of the authors I hold in highest regard. If I could give it 10 stars, I gladly would.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perla - the long-awaited phenomenal English-language novel of Argentina's Dirty War,
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Let me begin by stating that reading this book had the same effect on me as visiting places like ESMA (the oft-mentioned clandestine detention center in the novel) or similar memory sites in Chile (which, like Argentina, also suffered under a bloody military dictatorship), such as Villa Grimaldi. I was left with the same emotions that I carried whenever I visited those places, meaning that oftentimes, while reading this book, I would have to take a break, get something to drink, go walk around, etc., because everything about it was just *too much.*
Let me also say that, until now, no book has ever made me break out in sobs in the middle of reading it.
Anyway, PERLA was positively phenomenal and far exceeded the already very high expectations that I had for it (I was already huge fan of de Robertis' debut THE INVISIBLE MOUNTAIN). When I saw that de Robertis was writing a novel about the desaparecidos (the disappeared) of Argentina, I started counting down the days until its release. The phenomenon of the extreme right-wing Cold War-era dictatorships in the Southern Cone (including the dictatorship in Argentina - the "National Reorganization Process") is a subject I've studied for years and, for the longest time, I've been thirsting for a truly excellent English-language novel about this subject. PERLA is it, and far more.
I won't rehash the plot, because that's what the book blurb is for (I also don't want to give away any spoilers, but if you are in any way familiar with the history of the Dirty War, you'll catch onto what Perla's "secret" is very early into the book). Instead I'll list some of the main things I loved about this book. Firstly, everyone was so real (character-wise). There were no cardboard cutouts representing particular viewpoints (when in cases like this, is really easy to do), whether that be the former Naval officer and his wife or the left-wing journalist boyfriend. Rather everyone, no matter who they are, was instead a fleshed-out human being, with both good and bad qualities. On this same note, de Robertis' portrayal of Perla's inner struggle is done very well and in a very realistic fashion.
Another thing I will commend de Robertis on is her portrayal of the oftentimes gut-wrenching scenes from the "mysterious houseguest's" point of view. I believe there is a fine line between staying true to what is historically accurate (and some extremely brutal things definitely happened to people who were made to disappear in Argentina) and gore and torture for the sake of gore and torture (aka "torture porn"). De Robertis, unlike many people, succeeded. I felt these scenes conveyed the true nature of the brutality during that era (as in, they did not soften it to make it more palatable to readers), but at the same time, I felt that she wrote these scenes in a respectful way that didn't want to include violence and gore for, well, the sake of violence and gore. This speaks very strongly of de Robertis' ability as a writer, because only very talented writers can pull this off, I believe. That being said, they were still extremely painful and difficult to read, even for me (and I've read tons of pretty graphic survivors testimonies from this time).
Lastly, I will say that it was so refreshing to read a book on this subject by someone who obviously knows the city of Buenos Aires and this particular period of Argentina's history. Too often, when I read novels about this subject, it is painfully apparent that the author has just skimmed the Wikipedia page on the Dirty War and has relied too heavily on the phenomenon of a repressive government disappearing people (which happened before the National Reorganization Process and continues to happen to this day, i.e. it is not something unique to Argentina) to fuel their story. I applaud de Robertis for her incredible and 110% accurate descriptions of Buenos Aires (I've spent a somewhat significant amount of time there and can attest to practically everything she says). I also loved, loved, LOVED how she included cultural tidbits of the time as well (i.e. she talks about Sui Generis, a popular Simon and Garfunkel-esque band in Argentina during the 1970s), which really shows that she knows what she's talking about.
- I loved the use of water as a reoccurring motif, the fact that the spirit was of the water and the water accompanied him wherever he went. I also loved how the "mysterious houseguest" was consistently thirsty (because one of the side effects of the electric shocks that were used as torture was extreme thirst - only you couldn't drink anything or else your insides would explode) and always wanted Perla to "feed" him water.
- The structure. It is non-linear, but I was absolutely in love with it and felt that it worked well for the story. The structure was actually one of my favorite parts of this book, because it kept you wanting to read, even if, like me, you'd already guessed the "secret" early on.
- At first I had trouble following the narrative as it shifted from Perla's POV to the spirit's POV, but it became easier the more I got engrossed in the story. It wasn't a problem at all after 2-3 chapters or so.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A well told story about matters of the heart,
Just so you know where I'm coming from, I'm a guy, a fairly typical guy. I like things that guys tend to like. Baseball. Plain straightforward prose. Stories with big ideas. OK, I deviate from the typical guy likes in that I have a soft spot for opera and musicals. I have, in fact, cried during certain performances of Butterfly and Carmen. But that's not because I have a soft spot for love stories alone; it's because I have a soft spot for love stories set to music. Throw away the music and I'm back in guy mode watching March Madness on my TV and fretting over my brackets.
Enough background. On to this book. Perla is actually a pretty good novel in terms of construction. It's a step up over a similar book I read recently, Sarah's Key. It's better written. There is a real plot. I thought I might like this book quite a bit because the plot revolves around the stolen children of Argentina's Dirty War, a subject of great interest to me (I have relatives who lived through that war). But ultimately this novel isn't about the Dirty War. It's about matters of the heart, in particular the matters of a heart of a young Argentinean woman. The prose is florid. The plot is pretty much the over-heightened stuff of opera. An operatic treatment of this story just might be the ticket. But without music, stories like this sag for me. I think Perla will sag for most guys, opera-lovers or no.
There is an audience for this book, a solid one. I know just the person I'm going to give this book to next: my mother-in-law. Yes, I like my mother-in-law. I'm not trying to torture her, honest. She loves stories like this, solidly written novels with a female narrator dealing with love in its many dimensions. If you're that type of reader, I'm guessing you'll like this book quite a bit. It's not as good as Ann Patchett at her best (I have a soft spot for Bel Canto), but it is less overwrought than books like this from Ann Packer. Perla is an easy four hour read and the prose flows well.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars De Robertis is a literary genuis; Perla is a masterpiece,
When I first began to read "Perla" by Carolina De Robertis (author of "The invisible Mountain") I knew little about Argentina's horrific military war that began in 1976 in which a dictator was overthrown and hundreds of thousands of people were killed, but after reading this work of fiction i want to know everything I can about it. Agentina's political history is wwell doccumented in art, theatre and literature and this book, "Perla" makes "Evita" seem like "Mary Poppins" and "Starlight Express."
The book centers around a young college student named Perla who is, in no small surprise, a psychology student and the daughter of a Naval Officer from that coup- and a Naval Officer from the wrong side. A stranger, in the most unlikely way, appears in Perla's living room one evening and this begins a string of events- almost all internal for those film makers who will begin to line up - where her journey b egins. There are a plkethora of books about the internal search and discovery: "The Poisonwood Bible", "To Kill A Mockinbird" even "Gone With The Wind' and better yet "The Color Purple." This book is written so beautifully, so elegantly and eloquently that is deserving of both The National Book Award and The Pulitzer Prize. there is the perfect balance of fairy tale magic, the surprise as our perception of characters are alterred (in the same way that Perla's perception is changed) and the mysterious man who appears to her while she is chopping vegetables alone in her home one evening. Every choice of word is carefully chosen, every sentence flows into another and De Robertis is able to write in contrassting words within a single sentence or paragraph so that we're reminded, without her hitting us on the head, the this entire book is about conflict and resolve.
De Robertis writes about the execution of a man at the hands of a preist:
"The priest smiled sadly. God knows this is all for the good of the country.
"The hood went down, the machine began anain and THE LORD IS WITH YOU everything seared with light and O YE OF LITTLE FAITH his skin his skin burst open in gashes of pain and THY WILL BE DONE he screamed and screamed but not to God, God wouldn;t wouldn;t hear him, He was gone, He was on the side of the captors and their will was now His will... God himself was a descaparecido."
Not since William Styron's "Sophie's Choice" have words been placed together so powerfully. "Perla" is one of the finest novels I've read in years; the beauty, the growth and the internal questions that it asks of it's readers are both beautiful and life changing.
So I will study up on this period of South American history. Those of you who don't know already will feel the same; those of you who are students of this war will ingest this novel like the breaking of a fast. This book will win awards. This book will change your life.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars INCREDIBLY MOVING,
When I read the book jacket I was intrigued about the idea of a novel set in Argentina during the time of the "Dirty War" where several thousand people became known as the "disappeared". I was surprised I had never heard about any of this (my world history knowledge is not fabulous) and wanted to learn more. The approach is an unusual one - daughter of career military father left alone in house during vacation meets man who mysteriously appears in her living room dripping wet and naked. Over the course of a few days, the reader begins to learn why he is there, where he came from and the tremendous impact this visitor will have on her life.
Many times during the story I felt the author's style was similar to Paulo Coello, another author I deeply admire. The author has an incredible ability to move readers with her words and capture tremendous emotions. I literally could not stop reading and, as a result, finished the novel late one evening alone in the dining room. Very few books have moved me to tears but the end of this story was so incredibly powerful and moving that it will be one of the few I never forget.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A literary gem and a masterpiece,
Carolina de Robertis' Perla is one of the most beautiful, heartfelt pieces of literature I've read. I know that there are a large number of five-star reviews for this book, but they are well deserved.
Robertis' prose is magnetic. I picked up this book a few days ago, meaning to glance at only a few pages to learn a little about the book before returning to the nonfiction book I was reading. After a few words, I "fell" into the story. I stopped reading the other book (even though I picked it up again after finishing Perla). The book's language drew me in: it's so rich and warm and genuine. Robertis uses the style of "Magic Realism" throughout the novel to tell the story.
The plot? In the middle of a night, Perla, an Argentinian psychology student who has recently broken up with her boyfriend, finds a stranger on her floor while her parents are on vacation. The strange man, who is wet and dripping and appears out of thin air, is actually a ghost-- one of the "disappeared" who was killed during Argentina's "Dirty War" from 1976 to 1983. More than 30,000 people were imprisoned, put into camps, tortured, then murdered. The babies born to the "disappeared" inside these concentration camps were held; the majority were not returned to their true families. Perla and the ghost-stranger have a hidden bond, that is slowly revealed as the story continues.
de Robertis' language and metaphors are poetic, lovely. I adore the "Magic Realism" style, and envy writers like de Robertis and Toni Morrison, who are able to use this style to create true literary masterpieces and works of art through fiction. One aside, de Robertis' book reminded me of a Satoshi Kon anime (Paranoia Agent). I know some literary snobs will cringe at the comparison to an anime. But, Kon (God rest his soul), like de Robertis, created works of art about the psyches of women and others using "Magical Realism". I'm sure if he were alive today, Kon might have approached de Robertis to make an anime about this work. The novelist also makes me want to pick up books by Jorge Luis Borges, too.
Some reviewers have dismissed her style as being "overwritten" and "weird". But, I kindly disagree. It is literature and art, not a regular, run-of-the-mill pop novel. If you don't like literary Magical Realism style books, where everything and anything is possible, and language is florid and lush, then look elsewhere.
In Vine program, we're usually given free, paper-bound evaluation copies of the books to read, as was the case of de Robertis' Perla. I'm a bibliophile who adores books. I love having copies of novels that I love on hand to read again. This work moved me so much, I purchased a copy for my Kindle, and I plan to buy a hard copy for my collection. I also plan to purchase the novelist's other novel, "Invisible Mountain".
I love, love, love this book! Perla is one of those characters, like Trudi Montag from "Stones from the River" who will continue to "live" with me. Yes, I loved "Perla" that much. This is one of my favorite books of all time. Highly, highly recommended.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting exploration of family and identity in Argentina,
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.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathing water,
There is very little, plot-wise, that I can say about this book without spoiling the joys - and sorrows and agonies - of peeling this book apart layer by layer for yourself. The product description tells about as much as you want to know before plunging in for yourself, so I won't try to add more.
Therefore, plunging into this book is a bit like stepping off a high dive blindfolded. You have no idea what you're in for, how far you'll fall, or what you might land on. Will it be a luscious pool of cool refreshing water? Or will it be the dry cold concrete of an empty pool? Or maybe something worse yet? Or maybe all of the above and then some.
Because you are blindfolded, your other senses will be exquisitely heightened. And you will need them, even (especially) the senses we don't recognize and don't have names for. This book will attack your senses, rub them raw. It will also soothe and caress. Or sometimes just grate and irritate. Your mind will have trouble putting all these sensory snippets together into a coherent whole. You will be broken apart, jumbled around, dissolved in liquid, then reassembled again, just not quite the same way.
You will hate this book. The main character, Perla, is so self-absorbed, rambling, repetitive. Her stream-of-consciousness babbling will make you want to cover your ears and tune her out. She is just so, so exasperating! So muddled, blind, stubborn. She's completely unbelievable!
You will love this book. Perla is so wise, so perceptive, so astute, so able to convey so much depth and meaning. She has a profound understanding of human nature and human relationships, the good and the bad. She has run along the razor edge or reality and found truth, a wholeness that most of us never dream of. She's so utterly believable - the one believable thing in an unreal world.
Through her unbelievable believableness, Perla paints an unbelievably believable world filled with impossible, genuine people, from the wet ghost in her living room to her distant, loving, hard and perfect parents. From her own goodgirl self to her wounded, liberated self. From the wounded turtle Lolo to her healer and lover, Gabriel.
This is not a written story. Although we read the words printed on the page, it is clearly a spoken story, told by somebody (Perla, although which one of her, we're not sure) to somebody. There is a reason for this story, but we have to travel many paths and diversions - many seemingly dead end or circular - before we get there. It's like, I want to tell you about something that happened to me, but first I have to tell you about myself, but I don't know myself, so let me tell you about my father and my mother, but I don't know them either, and oh, that reminds me of my aunt, but, wait, first I have to tell you.... These pointless twists and turns are maddening when we're simply trying to put it all together and figure out what it means, but follow them we must. We must for the same reasons we dream or doodle or even breathe - simply because we must, because it is part of the path we are on to find meaning, to exist as whole beings.
You may find this review hopelessly muddled and confused, and I understand if you do. But I lack words to adequately convey the impact of this book, so I'm trying to give you image, impressions, random, fleeting and bizarre though they may be. This book is beyond haunting. It is possessive, demanding, controlling, but ultimately atoning. This book makes you victim, perpetrator, innocent bystander, and activist. I was vaguely aware of the events described in this book, but the book takes you beyond awareness into the cold and bitter realities, and beyond that to redemption.
If you like concrete, understandable, realistic linear narrative plotlines, this book is probably not for you. But if you can tolerate confusion, ambiguity and amorphousness that may lead to transformation, then I can't recommend it highly enough. You will drown in its pages, suffocating, unable to come up for air, until you ultimately learn to breathe water.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Long Term Affects of War,
Perla by Carolina De Robertis is a historical fiction book about Argentina's Dirty War. The author is a daughter to Uruguayan parents, but her grandparents were Argentineans in exile.
Perla, a young woman and a university student, seeks to find answers. The tradition in her family is to not to ask questions, especially about her father's activities during the time known as Argentina's Dirty War. As Perla grows up, she separates her family life from her personal life.
One day, after Perla arrives home she finds a strange man in her living room. The man is soaked and oozes water all the time, surprising even herself, Perla reacts to this "vision" by giving him food and shelter only to realize that he is one of the "disappeared", a victim of the Dirty War, and might hold the key to her past.
I very much enjoyed The Invisible Mountain and when I got the email to ask if I'd like to join the tour for Carolina De Robertis' Perla I jumped at the opportunity. The novel has many aspects one could see it from it is a coming of age story, historical literature and supernatural aspects so prominent in Latin literature.
One thing is for certain, Ms. De Robertis can write, Perla is a beautiful novel about an ugly situation. Even the parts about the horrendous acts the Argentinean government committed against its own people are beautifully written.
"The day the black boots came for him was a pretty day, with bright blue slices of sky between the buildings".
As in many of the books I read, especially about World War II, I always ponder what makes good people do bad things?
Could it be the herd mentality?
The firm belief that you are actually keeping the country together?
That you are the "good guys" in the story?
This type of questions are a part of the story which the author tackles. Ms. De Robertis tell her tale focusing on the long term affects of the war blending history, fiction, shame, honor and magic in an engrossing yarn. The author offers just enough context within the story to appreciate the history which the story revolves around, while certainly not a definitive historical book, it is not meant to be as such, but simply wets the apatite to read some more.
Perla is an elegant, poetic and deceptively simple book which tells of a young woman coming to grip with her own history at the time Argentina comes to grip with its own past.
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