Naming the Spirits

Lawrence Thornton, Author Doubleday Books $22.95 (257p) ISBN 978-0-385-47552-5
Thornton burst upon the literary scene in 1987 with his incandescent novel, Imagining Argentina, a surreal evocation of the people who were disappeared by the totalitarian military regime during Argentina's ``Dirty War.'' While this sequel does not have the incantatory power of the first book, it builds an atmosphere of quiet horror that eventually elicits a visceral response. Here, he strives to dramatize the psychic wounds that remain in a population whose new, nominally democratic government issued a blanket amnesty to those who had committed wholesale murder. He animates this general amnesia in the character of the traumatized teenager called only ``the girl.'' In the first--totally gripping--chapter, she becomes the sole survivor of a death-squad massacre. When she awakens after being shot in the head, she is unable to remember even her own name, much less those of the 11 others who were slaughtered. It is the spirits of these dead who narrate the book in a collective ``we''--a device that is initially somewhat heavyhanded. The girl is taken in and cared for by the occupants of an apartment building in Buenos Aires, some of whom have links to Carlos Ruedas, the seer in Imagining Argentina. The stories of many lives are interwoven here; they include those of the girl's benefactors and of a former government functionary and his wife, who have stolen the sons of a murdered couple and are raising them without any insight into the enormity of their crime. In addition, some of the spirits tell why they were killed. The novel has a dreamy, elegiac quality--Thornton himself refers to a section of the narrative as ``a place where the action slows down'' --and the cumulative effect of the many voices is not truly felt until close to the end. This novel's very restraint contributes to its resonance, however, as Thornton again demonstrates his ability to personalize the dimensions of political mass murder. ABA giveaway. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/31/1995
Release date: 08/01/1995
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 257 pages - 978-0-553-37840-5
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