The Disappeared by Gloria Whelan

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The Disappeared by Gloria Whelan

As I may have mentioned before, my undergrad degree is in Hispanic Studies.*  One of my first upper-level Spanish classes  was Cultures of Dictatorship,  where we studied the totalitarian regimes in Argentina (1976-1986) and Chile (1973-1990), and the cultural production (film, novels, poetry, etc) that came out of both countries during this time.   It was a difficult but interesting class, and I finished the semester even more interested in this period of history -- which is why I was excited to hear about The Disappeared

But first, a brief history lesson (I'm assuming here that your high school history classes, like mine, probably never got past the Second World War):

You've seen Evita, right?  Well, after Eva Peron died in 1952, her husband, Juan Peron stayed in power in Argentina for a few more years -- then there was a coup, the military took control of the government, Peron was exiled, and he remarried while in exile.  He came back into power in 1973, then promptly died, leaving Isabel, his wife/vice president, in charge.  In 1976, there was another coup, and another military junta took control of the government. 

And thus began the Guerra sucia (Dirty War), in which the government, scared of another uprising, began systematically kidnapping any citizens expected of being subversivos or revolutionaries.  Those kidnapped were taken to secret prisons, tortured, and sometimes killed.  The government refused to give their families any information on their whereabouts, and thus, they came to be known as los desaparecidos or The Disappeared. 

This horrible period in history is the backdrop for Gloria Whelan's The Disappeared.  The novel alternates between two narrators, brother and sister, Eduardo and Sylvia.   A university student, Eduardo begins participating in protests, and is arrested for his activities.  Sylvia, his younger sister, meets a boy whose father is a high-ranking general, and she decides to seduce him in hopes that he might be able to free her brother. 

Whelan's writing is lyrical and poetic, and the novel moves along quickly, but for some reason I never really felt involved in the story.  I felt as if I was watching the story play out on the screen, rather than experiencing it.   I don't think this is the fault of the author, however.  I simply had expectations for the novel that it couldn't match.   I wanted more insight, more of a personal look into a period of history that I'm already pretty familiar with on academic terms -- I wanted to be able to connect with the characters so that I vicariously experience life during the dictatorship -- and The Disappeared did not fulfill those expectations.

However, I would still recommend the novel for teens -- this period of history will most likely be completely unknown to them, and this novel is a good introduction for those who are completely unfamiliar with it.   It is important, I think, that teens realize that that such horrors have happened in the recent past -- and that our government was at least an implicit supporter of these military regimes.**

More information on the Dirty War and los desaparecidos:

These two films are also very interesting:
La Historial Oficial (The Official Story)

*essentially -- cultural studies... in Spanish

**Don't even get me started on Kissinger


TadMack said...

We actually got a little ways past WWII -- and maybe we had more actual world history because we have a lot of Hispanic and Latino peoples in our community (in California).

I'm excited to see that there is a book about it; there's a huge gap in the understanding of many people about Hispanic history and background. There's an attitude of "why don't they all just go back to --" and so many times, it's just not possible. Somehow it's easier for people to accept this of, say, Russians or something...

What a world.

Sara said...

I think we may have gotten slightly past WWII also -- but never made it to Vietnam, or anything after. But that's great that you had more world history; I think I took US History/Government 8 times in 12 years of school!

But yes, I completely agree. I hope it's a start of a trend. Do you know of any other YA novels set in Latin America? I'm drawing a blank at the moment, but this can't be the only one.

(p.s. sorry to take so long to reply. I came home Tuesday to find a tree lying on my power line and the phone line -- i.e. the DSL connection -- cut in half!)

Anonymous said...

great review

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