In the forecourt of a petrol station outside of Buenos Aires, a father says goodbye to his son: 'Kamchatka,' he whispers softly into his ear. And then they part, forever. Kamchatka is a heartbreaking adventure story. Set in Argentina during the bloody coup d'etat of 1976, it tells an entirely enchanting story of a young boy trying to make sense of a world during a time of extraordinary upheaval.
Marcelo Figueras, born in Buenos Aires in 1962, is a writer and a screenwriter.
In this meandering English-language debut from Figueras, a 10-year-old Argentinean boy's whimsical inner life helps him both explain and digest his family's fate in the aftermath of the 1976 coup. When his parents' leftist activism forces the family into hiding, the boy decides to call himself Harry after his idol, Houdini. Ensconced in a villa outside Buenos Aires, Harry staves off the boredom of being in hiding by playing the board game Risk (his favorite territory being the novel's namesake), working out with the cool 18-year-old activist staying with the family, and fantastical forays into the lives of his various heroes-Superman, Aristotle, Arthur of Avalon-whose stories Harry relates to his own life with uninhibited passion. The reader knows from the first chapter that Harry's family will be torn apart, yet Figueras is intent on leaving out any "grown-up" facts that would explain the ordeal, focusing instead on Harry's reflections on the malleability of memory. Yet because of the narrator's young age, conclusions such as "Time is weird" might feel more astute if they were grounded in a more trenchant narrative. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Bookstores are stocked full of bildungs-romans, stories of exile, and political thrillers. Here, novelist, journalist, and screenwriter Figueras attempts to combine all three. The novel's narrator, a ten-year-old boy in Buenos Aires in 1976, knows and cares very little about the political situation or the dangers that force his family to skip town. Instead, he cares, like any other kid, about the ingredients of childhood-his best friend, Harry Houdini, and comic books. This tension between true danger and the boy's ignorance is fascinating. We learn of his parents' troubles-they are being hunted by the government for supporting the opposition-only through fragments of overheard conversation and our young narrator's educated guesses. The boy doesn't understand the gravity, so he fights for normalcy. Only in retrospect-too late-does he understand what his parents sacrificed for him. VERDICT Overwrought passages and long-winded philosophical asides-the adult narrator looking back-keep the reader from fully entering or caring about the story. In the end, this work doesn't stand out from similarly themed novels like The Kite Runner (more urgent) or Life of Pi (more original).-Stephen Morrow, Ohio Univ., Athens (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.