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Book Review Poignant memories of personal and political resistance in the era of Argentine's ‘disappeared’

by Julian Fuks
(Charco Press, £12.99)

IN ARGENTINA there were at least 500 children among the 30,000 “disappeared” who were kidnapped by the government or born in detention during the military dictatorship that ran the country from 1976 to 1983.

Most of these children were given to military families, while some ended up being illegally adopted by civilians, but, thanks to the tireless work of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo (Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo), 128 of those children have been found and informed of their real identities to date.

Resistance, by the award-winning Brazilian writer Julian Fuks, beautifully translated by Daniel Hahn, is an outstanding and powerful book that not only deals with the important issue of such illegal acts during Argentinian “dirty war.” It also focuses on personal and national memory, belonging, the different forms of exile and the enduring bond of brotherhood.

Fuks, himself the son of Argentinian political emigres in Sao Paulo, has protagonist Sebastian telling the story of his elder brother, an adopted son who struggles to make sense of his own identity, self-worth and his ultimate place in a family unit displaced by violence and genocide.

“My brother is adopted, but I can’t say and don’t want to say that my brother is adopted,” the novel begins, as Sebastian tries to come to terms with his relationship with his sibling, his slow alienation from the family and the bursts of violence as he retreats more and more into his own world.

He also tells the story of his parents, psychoanalysts involved with revolutionary groups in the struggle against the military dictatorship in the '70s, forced to leave Argentina as the brutality and terror of the military regime closes around them. They finally decide to leave after many friends are “disappeared” by the military and manage to build a new life in Brazil.

“It’s necessary to learn how to resist. Not going, not staying, but learning how to resist. I think about those lines of poetry my father could not have thought of, lines unwritten at the time, lines he was lacking. I think about my father at the last secret meeting he was to attend, quiet among the rowdy militants, abstracted from the hubbub of voices,” Sebastian writes, recounting the political life of his parents.

“Resist: how much of resisting is the fearless acceptance of misfortune, compromising with everyday destruction, tolerating the ruin of those close to you?” he poignantly adds.

This is a very moving portrayal of a family trying to survive under extreme circumstances and the novel brilliantly unravels the complexities of belonging, of parental political exile and the emotional ties with a brother who refuses to give in.

Fuks demonstrates a remarkable lyrical beauty as a writer and story-teller who is not only interested in how to tell a very personal story truthfully but also how to make sense of a difficult and disturbing past that has shaped him and all around him.


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