Englander’s novel is both comic and bleak, entertaining and heart-wrenching. I picked it up because of the setting in Argentina, without knowing anything else. It tells the story of the Poznan family in 1970s Buenos Aires, at the start of the Dirty War. The Poznans are low on the social totem pole–Jews in a Catholic country, pariahs in the Jewish community. Despite their social standing, Kaddish and Lillian have managed to carve out their own place in society. Their son Pablo (known as “Pato,” or duck) is a typical 19-year-old: rebellious, irresponsible, passionate and vocal without a clear cause. These traits are enough reason for the police to arrest him, one of tens of thousands of “disappeared.” As the Poznans fight for their son’s return, they seek help from anyone who has ever owed them a favor.
This is a brief glimpse into an obscure (to me) community, a fictional account of an outrage that was real to thousands of families, and in the character of Kaddish, a tragic portrait of a desperate outcast. Englander assumes the reader has some familiarity with Argentina’s history, so if that’s not the case, read the book with Wikipedia handy. This is a well-written story about a horrible chapter in history–if that’s what you’re in the mood for, you could do worse.
Read if you enjoyed: In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Álvarez, Death and the Maiden by Ariel Dorfman