Friday, May 25, 2012

Perla by Carolina De Robertis

Title: Perla
Author: Carolina De Robertis

Genre: Fiction (South America / Argentina / University Student / Family Secrets / Dictatorship / Victims of Violence)
Publisher/Publication Date: Knopf (3/27/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked a great deal.
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: An Argentinian college student comes to terms with her military father's involvement in their country's violent past when the specter of one of the victims lives with her.

Do I like the cover?: I adore the cover. Isn't it stunning? One of my favs of 2012 -- so striking. Geraniums feature prominently in this story so their inclusion is fabu, and the half disguised face says everything about our eponymous heroine.

I'm reminded of...: Isabel Allende, Penelope Lively, Fay Weldon

First line: Some things are impossible for the mind to hold alone.

Did... I follow the story easily despite having next to no knowledge of 20th century Argentinian history?: YES. De Robertis provides enough context for the reader to understand what has and is happening and whether you're intimate or unfamiliar with Argentina's 'Dirty War'.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy, stat!

Why did I get this book?: I love Latin American fiction and I'm a sucker for coming-of-age stories.

Review: I wrote in one GoodReads status update that this book "has everything I love in it -- politics, dreamy narrative, violence wrought more prettily than love, complicated characters, deceptive simplicity..."

Set in 2001 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the story follows Perla, a college student who discovers a water-logged specter in her living room. The man is one of the victims of Argentina's war against dissidents and critics, cruelly tortured before his horrible murder.

Perla, now in her early 20s, is coming to grips with the fact that her beloved father, a Naval officer, was likely involved with the dictatorship's decision to torture and kill thousands of people in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The heavy weight of this knowledge, the conflicting feelings she has for her father -- love, shame, adoration, horror -- and her desire to be loved fully for who she is shapes the arc of this story as Perla struggles to embrace fully the truth of who she is.

De Robertis' writing style is fantastic: not only is her narrative very poetic, a little dreamy, and a joy to read, she tells the story in a very give-and-take fashion. The discomfort, horror, and sadness would build until I'd think I couldn't read another page, then De Robertis would back off a little, shift the focus, change the narrative path just a hint, and I'd have some relief. She didn't soften or back pedal, she just gave me some time to be tense and some time to absorb, and that made me race through this book rather than take it slow and cautious. I was particularly taken with De Robertis' articulation of Perla's parents -- they were both familiar and distant, the way a child would view them as she grows into adulthood -- and I found Perla's response to them to be realistic and authentic.

I don't think one needs to be familiar with Argentinian history to appreciate this story; De Robertis offers enough context to understand Perla's turmoil. This is a story about having an adult relationship with one's parents; about acknowledging the secrets in a family that are both accepted and hidden; about restitution and revenge; and ultimately, forgiveness.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Perla to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, ends 6/8. Be sure to check out my interview with Carolina De Robertis for another chance to enter!

24 comments:

  1. I'm glad to know that readers don't need lots of background knowledge of the Dirty War in order to understand this book - that makes it much more accessible to most readers.

    Thanks for being on the tour Audra!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This really is quite accessible -- while set squarely in post '80s Argentina, it's still very universal in the themes. Such a marvelously good book!

      Delete
  2. I've only read two or three reviews of this book but all of them have made the book sound excellent. Thanks for the giveaway!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My review doesn't do this book justice!

      Delete
  3. I do like the cover, simple, yet pretty. And the book sure sounds good to

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I really love the cover -- I'd love it as a print. So pretty!

      Delete
  4. Haven't read anything set in Buenos Aires and don't know that much about the country. This sounds very fascinating! And the cover is so pretty.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll be honest, I don't know much about Argentina either, but like I said, the author did so well with making the story accessible. Wonderful read -- so engrossing.

      Delete
  5. Dear Audra -- Thank you for this kind and insightful review of my book. I'm thrilled to hear that you enjoyed it as much as you did. And I find your thoughts on the book's themes most resonant. Thanks above all for your passion for books and your commitment to writing about them.

    @ bermudaonion: I'm glad the book is sounding intriguing to you. If you do end up reading it, feel free to drop me a line on your experience!
    @ Blodeuedd: I'm so glad you like the cover too, and that the book sounds like something worth reaching for.
    @ Elysium: great that you're intrigued - I know that for me, as a reader, I personally enjoy being able to enter parts of the world I wouldn't otherwise know, through the magic of fiction.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ms. De Robertis -- thank you so much for stopping by! I so appreciate it! Yours is the kind of book that makes me just adore reading -- a life escape, for sure, eye-opening and moving. Good luck with your book's release!

      Delete
  6. I love the sound of this book and the cover is gorgeous!
    mamabunny13 at gmail dot com

    ReplyDelete
  7. I'm so glad you enjoyed this one. This is one of my favorites this year...and I handed my copy to Anna to read because she must read it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wasn't it marvelous? So imaginative, sad, lovely, moving ... mmmm. So my kind of read!

      Delete
  8. Read very few books iwth this kind of setting! Sounds good. Don't count me in though as I am overseas.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do wish I could offer it internationally -- this is a book I think would have universal appeal.

      Delete
  9. This sounds excellent. I just got back from a month-long honeymoon in Argentina, and found the tumultuous history of the country absolutely fascinating.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Stephanie -- I'm so envious!! You'd probably really enjoy this book, then -- it's so very centered in Argentina (but is super accessible to those unfamiliar with the country).

      Delete
  10. I don't really know much about Argentina or the war, but you make this book sound so inviting, and really dramatic in a rich and evocative way. It seems like just my kind of read, so I will be looking for it. I love the way you describe the emotional shifts that the book elicited in you, and the fact that the author was skilled in handling her material. Fabulous review on this one Audra!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Heather, you always make my day with your kind comments! Really, this book felt very universal in the way Perla went through her life, and it is a testament to De Robertis' skill that a novice or expert could appreciate the novel's arc.

      Delete
  11. This sounds fantastic! I'm hoping I win the giveaway so Serena doesn't have to pry the book out of my hands to get it back when I'm done! ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. :) I so appreciate that feeling!

      Delete
  12. I love love this cover. I hadn't heard of this til I saw you add it on Pinterest, but this looks so good! I don't think I have ever read a book set in Argentina, so that's another plus in this one's favor. I also lost myself in your wiki link for a while - the 'Dirty War' is something I'd never heard of before.

    Thanks for the review and info, Audra! This loos good and your review, as always, is lovely.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know, this book is loaded with awesome, straight off with the fantastic cover. It's a treat -- I suspect you'll really enjoy this one -- it has a kind of paranormal element to it that keeps it from being a typical post-war narrative, so to speak, and I really enjoyed the magical realism-ish-ness of it!

      Delete
  13. I liked this one too and agree it was accessible. I thought it was so smart to let Perla's ignorance guide the reader's (presumed) ignorance. It was a wonderful voyage of joint discovery, but I am curious how readers who were familiar with the time would feel about the novel!

    ReplyDelete