Lost in a Map: Purgatorio, from Tomás Eloy Martinez


I absolutely loved this new book by Tomás Eloy Martinez. I had previously read El vuelo de la reina, so when I got the chance to download this one, I jumped on it. It has everything I usually like in South American literature: a political theme, some whimsy, changing perspectives on reality, some magic (or is it madness?). While the story is extremely sad, it also demonstrate how extremely resilient human beings can be.

This novel tells the story of an Argentinian cartographer, whose father is very close to the Argentinian dictatorship, but whose cartographer husband nevertheless disappears during one of the working trips to map a little traveled road in the country side. She spends most of her life searching for him, despite evidence that he had been shot shortly after disappearing.

Durante el juicio a los comandantes de la dictadura tres personas declararon que habían visto el cuerpo de Simón en un patio de la jefatura de policía de Tucumán, con señales de tortura y un agujero de bala entre los ojos. Emilia estaba en Caracas y no supo si creer la noticia o no. Los testigos parecían serios, pero sus versiones era distintas.

 She eventually finds him in New Jersey when she is 73. The absurdity of the encounter is that he has not aged a day while she is quite obviously an old woman.

Desde hacía años, cada acto de la vida de Emilia era una preparación para el momento en que volvería a ver a Simón.

In fact, Simón is always in her thoughts and in her life, as spectral presence that always seems to reassure her in spite of the irreality of it.

The author uses the metaphors of maps to talk about versions of reality.

Los mapas le habían ensañado a desorientar la lógica de la naturaleza, a crear illusiones allí donde más invencible parecía la realidad. 

It is no coincidence if two of the main characters are cartographers. The frequent descriptions of the work of cartographers, the challenges of projections and representation, form part of the structure that carries Emilia’s story. She even likes to map imaginary cities.

There are so many novels set in this period in history. The exploration of the depth of human cruelty that they repeatedly carry out will most likely never completely exorcise the evil out of the Argentinian collective mind. One wishes that this kind of history would never repeat itself but there are still far too many (current) examples of it. It is somewhat paradoxical that it does become the trigger for so much human creativity as we see in writers like Martinez.


Martinez, Tomás Eloy. Purgatorio. [2008] 2010 ebook edition, Santillana Ediciones, Madrid.



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