In 1976, Tomas is a medical student in Buenos Aires, where he's moved in hopes of reuniting with Isabel, a childhood crush. As the oppressive regime's thuggish milicos begin to disappear more and more people like her, she presents Tomas with a way to prove himself. But what exactly is he proving, and at what cost to them both? Years later a summons arrives for him where he now lives in New York. But it isn't a homecoming that awaits him so much as an odyssey into the past, an encounter with the ghosts that lurk there, and a reckoning with the fatal gap between who he's become and who he once aspired to be.
"Married to an American and living in New York, Tomás Orilla has been trying to escape his past for 10 years. But a phone call informing him that his beloved Pichuca is dying brings him back to Buenos Aires. Inexorably drawn to the city that hollowed him out, Tomás is visited by ghosts from his past, literally. Flashbacks abound. Blinded by love for the volatile Isabel Aroztegui, Tomás, a medical student, had been drawn into the guerilla political group, the Montoneros, to which Isabel belongs. She convinces Tomás that he needs to work at a local detention center, the infamous ESMA, so that he can deliver intelligence from within enemy lines. Here, Tomás witnesses and tacitly endorses the torture that was meted out to Argentina's disappeared during the country's Dirty Wars. He ends up as a puppet, manipulated by Isabel and the torturers. Loedel borrows from his family's history--Isabel is modeled after his half-sister--to weave a haunting story about repression and the vulnerability of youth. With touches of magical realism, the debut swings back and forth between the netherworld populated by Tomás' nemeses and his lived reality. A devastating reminder of the tragic costs of politics made personal."
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Publisher's Weekly Review:
"An Argentinian American unspools his dark memories of the Dirty War in Loedel's mesmerizing debut. Tomás Orilla, a naive medical student, was drawn into Argentina's dangerous political miasma in 1976 to impress his first love, the left-wing activist Isabel. The reader first meets Tomás in 1986 in New York City, where Tomás had fled 10 years earlier with a forged passport. Now married to an American woman, he shares with her a conveniently selective version of his story ("the full, fleshed-out story still wasn't one I was eager to examine, much less hand over"). Tomás returns to Buenos Aires after receiving a call from Isabel's mother, who is terminally ill with cancer. There, he encounters what appears to be the ghost of a former mentor who takes him to a crypt underneath an old detention center, where he relives a series of horrifying events, some of which he was party to in the lead-up to a difficult choice he made for his own survival. The theme of ghosts is bent a few ways--ghosts appear in memories, the crypt, and on the street--and it becomes an apt, poignant descriptor for the people who were disappeared and the agony of their loved ones who had to carry on without knowing what happened to them. Loedel's unflinching look at human frailty adds a revelatory new chapter to South American Cold War literature. (Jan.)"
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