James Waldron 12 December 2011 - 9:00am
The final novel before his death last year, Tomás Eloy Martínez’s Purgatory is another triumph from one of Argentina’s foremost literary and political voices.
Emilia Dupuy is a woman numbed by grief, an Argentinian refugee and cartographer living out her final days in the vain hope of being reconciled with her husband. When she encounters him by chance in a New Jersey bar, 30 years after he disappeared at the hands of the military junta, the scene is set for an intriguing novel that is equal parts stark political warning and philosophising dream.
Through Emilia’s memories, Martínez transports us to Argentina in the 1970s, a surreal world where loved ones disappear without warning and people subsist on a diet of propaganda and rumour. The ‘purgatory’ of the title is a reference to both the state of the country under dictatorship and Emilia’s inability to continue with her life after the loss of her husband.
Neat narrative flourishes abound, from the potted biography of a doomed Argentinian celebrity to the recurrent theme of map-making as a metaphor for the act of writing. At various points Martínez even appears to insert himself directly into the text. While these switches in tone can be occasionally bewildering, they are smoothed over by the author’s effortless prose.
As an examination of the effects of Argentina’s ‘dirty war’, Puragtory is faultless. As Martínez’s final novel it is a timely reminder of the immense talent that both his country, and the world, has lost.