Thursday, May 23, 2013

Patricio Pron’s “My Father’s Ghost is Climbing in the Rain”

A young man living and working in Germany returns to his native Argentina. His estranged father is in the hospital, unconscious and presumably dying. His mother, brother and sister are there, but the young man knows he is returning not because of an impending death but because he has come to understand he doesn’t know his father, and that means, in many ways, he doesn’t know himself.

There’s little to be done at the hospital, so the young man sits in his childhood home, and finds a stack of folders of reports and newspaper stories on his father’s desk. It was as if his father left them there for the son to find. He begins to read, and finds himself confronting not one by several mysteries. The articles are in chronological order. An older man disappears; a search is mounted; eventually his body his found and suspects arrested. What connection is there to his father?

And then he finds it, and continues reading, finding more connections, and then discovering the connection was not to the dead man but someone else, and the lines of connections start in the 1970s, during the military dictatorship, the time when thousands of people of the wrong political belief disappeared.

My Father’s Ghost is Climbing in the Rain by Patricio Pron defies easy classification as a genre. It is a mystery, but more than that. It is a political novel but deeper than that. It is also history and biography, autobiography and memoir. It defies classification likely because it is a story told the only way a story addressing what it does can be told – swirling all these genres together because The Argentina of the 1970s and its aftermath can only truly be recognized as a swirling of genres. Recognized, but not understood.

The father is a journalist; the son is a writer. The son examines the material in the folders, and considers writing a book.

“…I wonder what he would think, as a journalist and therefore someone who paid much more attention to the truth than I ever did. I’ve never felt comfortable with the truth. I had tried to stonewall it and give it the slip…I wondered, still and again, what my father would think of my writing a story I barely knew; I knew how it ended – it was obvious it ended in a hospital, as almost all stories do – but I didn’t know how it began or what happened in the middle.”

But he knows how it ends, and that is at least something.

Pron, a native of Argentina, lives and works in Madrid as a translator and critic. He’s written four previous novels and three short story collections, and received several writing prizes.

In My Father’s Ghost is Climbing in the Rain, he has written a riveting story. Its factual, straightforward style, relying on short chapters and truncated news reports, moves the story quickly. And when it is done, we ask ourselves if we truly can know how the lives of our fathers shaped our own lives, especially when our fathers, and mothers, are caught up in circumstances that seek to obliterate and disguise memory.

Photograph by Mikaela Dunn via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

1 comment:

Maureen said...

Wonderful, imagistic title.

I've read a lot of journalism about this extraordinary time in Argentina. Often, a novel can open up the truth in a way straight-forward facts do not. I'll add this to my list.