“Someone once said that my generation would be the rear guard of the young people in the 1970s who’d fought a war and lost it, and I also thought about that mandate and how to carry it out, and I thought a good way would be to one day write about everything that had happened to my parents and me and hope that others would feel compelled to start their own inquires into a time that still hasn’t ended for some of us” - Patricio Pron - My Fathers’ Ghost Is Climbing In The Rain.
Many novels have been written about Argentina’s “Dirty War” in the 1970s. Patricio Pron’s My Fathers’ Ghost Is Climbing In The Rain is the newest generation’s offering, from a writer born at the tail end of the madness. What separates this novel from all the others is how deeply personal it feels. It is a book that the reader feels the author needed to write. This novel is less about the “Dirty War” itself than it is a testimony from someone from the generation that followed those who were actively engaged in the resistance against the military regime - where many things still remain a mystery.
And that’s how this novel is approached - as a mystery. Not in the sense of a noir or detective novel, but in the sense that there are still things for the now grown up Patricio to understand about his parents and what they were involved in and how it affected him. The narrator - with the same name as the author - is now living in Germany, suffering from memory lapses due to the medication he is on. He receives the news that his father is dying and he returns to Argentina to be by his side. Once returning home, his memory lapses begin to fade and little by little, the memories of his childhood and family life begin to reemerge. When he discovers a file in his father’s den pertaining to the disappearance of a local man - and how that local man was the brother of a woman who had been “disappeared” during the “Dirty War”, he begins to wonder what his father’s connection is to this man - and to this man’s sister.
This is when the lines between novel and memoir become blurred and the mystery deepens and Patricio begins to uncover the secrets of his family and their involvement in the resistance.
The narrative is not straightforward and is often punctuated with memory lapses and dreams, as well as ruminations on childhood and the events that his generation had tried to forget. There’s something very Bolaño-esque about the feel of this novel, which is what makes it the powerful one it is. But Pron most certainly has his own voice and sensibility here and the more he learns, the more touching the story becomes. While other novels about this topic tend to be more “political” this one is far more personal and it is more an exploration of how his own generation is still effected by the events of the previous one and asks the crucial question about what their role is in the years that followed. It is also a window into how the events of those days effected its children, who would one day grow up and have to wrestle with a lot of unanswered questions, sometimes within their own families.
A highly recommended read: for those interested in this moment of history in Latin America and especially for those who love original and daring writing.