Kamchatka by Marcelo Figueras

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Kamchatka by Marcelo Figueras

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Elaine Dingsdale
Reviewed by Elaine Dingsdale
Summary: Set in the late 1970s in Buenos Aires, the time of the brutal oppression, and disappearance of many young and talented people, this novel follows the fate of one young family, and their two sons, as they flee persecution and try to protect their - family.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: September 2010
Publisher: Atlantic Books
ISBN: 978 - 1843548263

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Initially I was very excited and interested when The Bookbag was given this novel to review. Set at a time in which I lived in Buenos Aires, I was looking forward to a fictionalised account of these traumatic years - made all the more appealing, as the narrator purported to be the eldest of the family's two sons - 10 year old 'Haroldo' as he comes to be known, having by necessity left his former identity behind. In this respect, I was to be sadly disappointed. The majority of the novel comprises recollections from an adult Haroldo - not quite what the Amazon blurb, nor the précis on the cover, leads the reader to believe! In fairness, the author can't be blamed for this - but I felt mislead by the dust jacket - which may have coloured my enjoyment, and which lead, in part, to the relatively low star rating which I gave the book.

When the author describes life through the eyes of a child, he does so well - and therein lies the strength of the novel. The bewilderment and fear felt by him and his brother ("The Midget") was well depicted - we shared their confusion, their hurt at being uprooted from their home and friends, to be transported into a new lifestyle, completely alien to them both. Rather than the secular school they had previously attended, they had to enrol in a new school - a Catholic one - which necessitated a weekend of intense immersion in the Catholic faith! They try so hard to adapt to their new life, and it is heartbreaking to read of their struggles. There is a beautiful, metaphorical element to this. Toads regularly drown in the swimming pool at the safe house they have been allocated - and the boys construct a "reverse diving board" to help them escape sure death. Haroldo is a great fan of the old board game "Risk", and this takes on a special significance for him - their lives are filled with nothing but risks, and the game of strategy represents this particularly well.

However, when the narrator recounts the tale through adult eyes, it becomes dull, contrived - and really quite boring. His amateurish philosophising sits uneasily alongside the truly moving sections narrated by his boyhood self - and in fact, sometimes become intermingled, which is even worse:

It was not just a matter of feelings (unlike games of Risk, which are interchangeable, Goofy was an anthropomorphic toy, and so the Midget's relationship with it was personal and non-transferable).

The bulk of the adult meanderings revolve around geology, science, and philosophy, and in fact, add little to the overall worth of the book, diluting its emotional content, and slowing down the pace of the narrative. How much better it would have been to have had a shorter book, without all of these weighty digressions. Perhaps I have missed some deeper or hidden meaning in these chapters - apologies to the author if that is the case - but somehow they felt a bit like padding, superfluous to the narrative, and achieving little other than the reader's admiration at how erudite the 10 year old Haroldo grew up to be!

The novel concludes as we would expect, but with many loose ends in the narrative which remained unanswered - rather like the political situation in Argentina itself, during these traumatic years. There are few characters other than immediate family, which adds to the feeling of oppression and fear - nobody can be trusted, danger lurks at every corner.

So - very mixed feeling on this book - when it soared, it did so incredibly well - but when it floundered along in theorising and philosophy, it sadly lost its way. Fortunately, the layout of the novel became quickly apparent, so the heavier chapters could easily be skim read, knowing, that we would return to Haroldo's tale soon.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then try The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

Buy Kamchatka by Marcelo Figueras at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Kamchatka by Marcelo Figueras at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Kamchatka by Marcelo Figueras at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Kamchatka by Marcelo Figueras at Amazon.com.


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