cover image Voices from Silence

Voices from Silence

Douglas Unger, Author St. Martin's Press $21.95 (286p) ISBN 978-0-312-13204-0

In a season that will also see the publication of Lawrence Thornton's Naming the Spirits, here is another understated yet powerful novel that focuses on Argentina's fascist military dictatorship (1976-1983), under which thousands were arrested, tortured, kidnapped or murdered by right-wing death squads. Fifteen years ago, American citizen Diego lived with an Argentine family as an exchange student. In the mid-1980s, he has returned to Argentina's fragile democracy to investigate the disappearance of two of the family's three sons, both members of the underground resistance; the third son has also returned, from exile in Paris. Through the Benevento family's personal tragedy, the enormity of the junta's crimes unfolds. Both Mama and Papa were arrested illegally and spent months in detention camps; their house was later burned to the ground by paramilitary goons. The story line oscillates between Diego's detective-like inquiry into the disappearance of Alejo and Miguel Benevento, both murdered by the government, and his reportage on the trial of Argentina's former military leaders, at which Papa reveals details of his sons' torture and execution. Unger's (The Turkey War) writing is low-keyed yet taut; through Diego, he serves as witness and conscience, fashioning an eloquent testament against human-rights abuses. Where Naming the Spirits (Forecasts, May 29) uses magical realism to convey this period of Argentine history, Unger takes pains to realistically describe the minutiae of daily life and the specific circumstances of the regime's reign of terror. Reading both books is a moving experience. (Aug.)