Recently, thanks to Battersea Spanish Bookclub (http://www.batterseaspanish.com/bookclub/) I have been motivated to start reading in Spanish again. I don’t want the language to evaporate entirely from my head - after all I spent five years studying it. What a waste that would be.
Therefore I read this book in Spanish, but you can also read it in English and people I trust told me that the translation is pretty good.
It’s an odd one, this book. I am not sure what it wants to be when it grows up. It seems that Patricio Pron wants to add another voice to the discussion of ‘Los Desaparecidos’ and recent Argentinian history. It seems he also wants to pay homage to Argentinian literature or maybe just rebel against it? I honestly don’t know.
The book starts off brilliantly with chapters talking about the Argentinian narrator’s stay in Berlin. They are full of hazy half-memories, things that happened or didn’t happen. There is a certain familiar mood of disconnection with reality – a very similar to the kind you will find in Aridjis’ Book Of Clouds which features a Mexican woman in Berlin. Just what makes those Latin American types lose the plot like that when in Berlin? Is it the cleanliness and orderliness of the city which seemed to have swept its history under the rug?
I really enjoyed this first part – I think it brilliantly portrays this particular kind of uprootedness that I often experience in London. After that, however, the book goes off the rails. The main narrator goes back to Argentina to see his dying father. Half unwillingly he unearths secrets from his parents’ past and confronts his own childhood memories which he had suppressed until now. In theory this should have been brilliant but Pron, in a very self-indulgent, almost-arrogant way (that, I think, only very young authors are prone to use) tries to be experimental but ends being boring. The endless clippings from a local newspaper, badly written, and badly punctuated lose novelty factor early on and end up simply tedious. The readers lose interest in the story of the disappearance and murder of Alberto Burdisso, a rather rather banal story after all (as much as murder can be banal, of course), because the only interesting thing about it is why this story is relevant to the narrator or his father. I heard Pron saying in an interview that when he started writing this book he didn’t know what he was doing and to me it seems he never quite found out.
The final part of the book lacks a certain umph, something to make you go ‘aaaah’ or ‘ooooh’ and compensate for numb state the middle part left you with. Nonetheless, even though Pron lets himself down in many parts, he every now and then produces a paragraph of astonishing beauty and perceptiveness and for that I would think ‘My Fathers' Ghost Is Climbing in the Rain’ is still worth reading. Also Granta has put Pron in their list of 50 Young Spanish Novelists to watch or some such. So I’ll be watching him.