4 out of 5: Kamchatka, a novel by Marcelo Figueras, is a fictional first-person remembrance of childhood in Argentina during the Dirty War (1976-1983), a time of political instability and government-sponsored violence when thousands of civilians were “disappeared.” The story begins when the narrator, then a ten-year-old boy, is uprooted from his comfortable life in Buenos Aries and forced to go into hiding in the country with his activist parents and younger brother.
Kamchatka is a realistic imagining of a child’s experience of political turmoil. The potential dangers take the form of vague references in overheard conversations and other oblique manifestations. In general, the narrator spends most of his time describing his (often humorous) exploits with his younger brother, his attempts to emulate Harry Houdini’s daring escapes, and his love of Superman. The overall effect is that of a happy childhood occasionally marred by darker overtones (e.g., the unexpected and unexplained death of a young family friend and the need to assume fake names). The narrator’s voice is charmingly naïve and optimistic except for those instances where his adult persona intrudes on his childhood experiences with over-long lectures on academic topics like astronomy or the changing concept of fatherhood over time. Kamchatka would have been better without these digressions, but the novel still succeeds as a tribute to the resilience of children and the strength of family, even in the most difficult circumstances.