Edgardo David Holzman has written a fascinating yet, appropriately, disturbing debut novel, Malena, with which he explores Argentina’s Dirty War (1976-1983) and how it impacted lives outside of that nation as well. Setting his book in 1979, three years after the fall of the Peronist government, Holtzman uses facts from human rights reports as well as his own life experiences to write this book which he has called a “book of conscience.”
The author explains in the email interview we conducted why he chose to write about these hard facts in a book of fiction and in what ways he is similar to the protagonist, Kevin Solorzano (called Solo for short). Both Solo and Holtzman have worked as translators, for example.
Another character is Diego, who is in the Argentina army but is trying to get out because he is increasingly becoming aware of what the military is doing, much of which he has moral objections to. This character gives the reader a chance to see what life in Argentina might have been like from the eyes of someone in the military. Both Diego and Solo are vying for the love of the same woman.
Prior to reading book from Nortia Press and its promotional materials my limited knowledge about the Dirty War came from Sting’s song about the mothers of the disappeared, “They Dance Alone,” from Amnesty International, and other sources. An estimated 30,0000 people, during this period of sate terrorism, accused of being “subversives,” were secretly kidnapped, tortured, and killed by authorities, according to the book’s promotional materials.
I had heard bits and pieces about the terrible actions during this war, including the report that some pregnant women who had been arrested had their babies taken away and given to well connected political families. These and other topics related to the Dirty War have been explored in books and films including Apartment Zero,The Official Story and The Secret In Their Eyes.
Holtzman, who lives in Philadelphia, was born in Buenos Aires in 1947 and grew up in Latin America and Southeast Asia. He moved to the United States at age 24. He has worked for a number of organizations as an attorney and translator. His work in human rights in the 1970s led him to the historical record behind the Dirty War. Many of the book’s stories can be traced back to the official report on human rights abuses issued in 1984, according to the book’s publisher. That report by the Argentine National Commission on the Disappeared, Never Again, has been the model for truth commissions in other countries.
While Malena deals with difficult, awful topics it does so in a fascinating and engaging way. The book’s title is the name of a popular tango. The tango is danced several times in the book—Diego is praised for his tango skills– and like a good dance this book has many twists and turns. I recommend reading it as you think you too will find it both educational and entertaining, always a good combination.
One part of the Dirty War that I was unaware of concerned the Catholic Church’s role in all of this. So let’s start the interview by talking about that. In response to my emails about the church’s involvement, the author provided several links with great background on all of this.
While I knew about some parts of the Dirty War I was unaware of the religious overtones, both the anti- semitism and the role of the Catholic Church. Has the Catholic Church ever apologized for its involvement?