Patricio Pron’s autobiographical novel, My Father’s Ghost Is Climbing in the Rain, takes on Argentina’s legacy of political oppression and struggle, and the more intimate politics of memory and forgetting, from the point of the view of the generation that came after the repression.
You’re Argentinean but you live in Spain. Is this the first book you’ve set in Argentina?
My previous books were based in an unnamed country that resembles Argentina in some way or another. This is the first time I’m writing about Argentina and my personal heritage.
It’s based on your family; in fact you call it a “nonfiction novel,” which might seem like an oxymoron.
Yes. Parts of the book really happened to me and my family, but I say it’s a novel to signal that actual facts are told in a narrative way. The facts I wanted to talk about were true, but at the same time not believable—even to me, one of the protagonists, it was unreal. It was important to me not to hide this, but to speak about it.
The writing and the uncovering of the story sound painful.
It was the most difficult novel I’ve ever written, because I felt responsible to my family and to the other people who were the witnesses of the circumstances.
A chunk of the book is made up of reproductions of newspaper articles.
Yes, and often they’re tiresome. It was tiresome to read all that my father had collected, but I wanted readers to be confronted with the same experience I had, so that they became investigators, researching alongside the narrator.
The sections are numbered, but occasionally there’s a skipped number. Is this a metaphor for the gaps in the story, or did you write sections and then cut them out?
As a reader, which do you prefer? I wanted readers to confront the text as incomplete, unreliable, and to think they, not the author, could reconstruct the next part. Instead of offering answers, I wanted to [ask] questions, which is an important process in a country with as terrible a past as Argentina.
How has the book been received there?
It’s been quite controversial because people didn’t expect a young writer, someone in my generation, to take part in discussing this history. The expectation is that the witnesses and protagonists will write about it, and I wanted to say that we who were children then, the unintended witnesses of the circumstances, also have things to say.
The politics are complex, and perhaps difficult for non-Argentinians to understand.
Left and right don’t apply in Argentina: Peronism contains all discourse across the spectrum. I wrote the book to try to understand what that generation believed in, to think about the fact that my parents and their companions believed in a political ideal and were ready to offer their lives for it.