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In Buenos Aires, a ten-year-old boy lives in a world of school lessons and comic books, TV shows, and games of Risk —a world in which men have superpowers and boys can conquer the globe on a rectangle of cardboard.
But in his hometown, the military has just seized power, and amid a climate of increasing terror and intimidation, people begin to disappear without a trace.
But he soon realizes that this will be no ordinary holiday: his parents are known supporters of the opposition, and they are going into hiding. Holed up in a safe house in the remote hills outside the city, the family assumes new identities. The boy names himself Harry after his hero Houdini, and as tensions rise and the uncertain world around him descends into chaos, he spends his days of exile learning the secrets of escape.
Kamchatka is the portrait of a child forced to square fantasy with a reality in which family, politics, history, and even time itself have become more improbable than any fiction. Told from the points of view of Harry as a grown man and as a boy, Kamchatka is an unforgettable story of courage and sacrifice, the tricks of time and memory, and the fragile yet resilient fabric of childhood.
Brilliantly observed, heartrending. Its narration is unconstrained and light, entwining and sympathetic. Read it, and buy yourself a board game of Risk. Engrossing, often funny, and very, very unsettling.
Written in beautiful prose. The language mediates between the two. Kamchatka came to me by chance. Seek it out. A quick read with a tinge of sentimentality and plenty of comic relief. Kamchatka is destined to be a contemporary classic. He kissed me, his stubble scratching my cheek, then climbed into the Citroen.
If you want, I can give you more details. Grandpa used to say God is in the details. We said our goodbyes on the forecourt of a petrol station on Route 3, a few kilometres outside Dorrego in the south of Buenos Aires province. And the Midget, my kid brother, was asleep, sprawled on the back seat of the Citroen. He wriggled his arms, his legs, all the time while he was asleep, as though staking his claim, a king of infinite space. At this moment, I am ten years old.
I look normal enough apart from an unruly tuft of hair that sticks up like an exclamation mark. It is spring. In the southern hemisphere, October days shimmer with golden light and today is no exception; the morning is a palace. The air is filled with fluttering panaderos—dandelion seeds, those daytime stars that in Argentina we call panaderos—or little bakers.
I catch them in my cupped palms and, with a puff of breath, set them free again, urging them on to fertile ground. I can even remember the other people at the petrol station. The petrol pump attendant, a chubby man with a moustache and dark armpits. The driver of the IKA truck, counting a fat wad of banknotes as big as bed sheets on his way to the toilet. The backpacker with the messianic beard, crossing the forecourt as he heads for the open road, his billycans clanking, like tolling bells calling to repentance.
The little girl sets down her skipping rope to go and wet her hair under the tap. She wrings it dry as she walks back, water dripping onto the dusty forecourt. The drops that just a moment earlier spelled out Morse code in the dust vanish as the seconds pass. Obedient to the call of gravity, they trickle down into the mineral particles, snaking through the spaces that exist where there seemed to be none, leaving behind some part of their moisture to give life to these particles even as they lose themselves on their journey towards the molten heart of the planet, the fire where the Earth still looks as it did when it was first formed.
In the end, we always are what we once were. Gracefully, the girl in front of me bends down and, for a minute, I think she is bowing. She starts to skip again, a perfect rhythm, the rope whipping through the air, whup, whup, creating the bubble in which she hovers. Sometimes there are variations in what I remember. Sometimes the numbers on the petrol pump run backwards instead of forwards. Time is weird. That much is obvious. Sometimes I think everything happens at once, which is anything but obvious and even weirder.
I think time is like the dial on a radio. Most people like to settle on a station with a clear signal and no interference. Until quite recently, people believed it was impossible for a universe to fit inside two atoms, but it fits.
Every day, life gives us an intimation of this. Sometimes, as I remember, my voice is that of the ten-year-old boy I was then; sometimes the voice of the seventy-year-old man I am yet to be; sometimes it is my voice, at the age I am now. Who I have been, who I am, who I will be are all in continual conversation, each influencing the other. That my past and my present together determine my future sounds like a fundamental truth, but I suspect that my future joins forces with the present to do the same thing to my past.
Every time I remember, the person I was speaks his lines, performs his actions with increasing confidence, as though with each performance he grows more comfortable with the role, and understands it better. I can feel the warmth of his cheek as I could feel it then.
He kisses me, his stubble rasping against my cheek. My Spanish friends find it unpronounceable. Whenever I say it, they look at me condescendingly, as though they were dealing with some sort of savage. How interesting Moby-Dick would have been narrated by Queequeg. But history is written by the survivors.
At first, it was simply one of the territories waiting to be conquered in Risk , my favourite board game, and the epic sweep of the game rubbed off on the place-name, but to my ears, I swear, the name itself sounds like greatness. I am one of those people who always hunger for things remote, like Ishmael in Moby-Dick.
The magnitude of the adventure is measured by distance: the more distant the peak, the greater the courage needed. In Risk , Argentina—the country where I was born—is on the bottom left of the board, just below the pink lines of the trade winds. In this two-dimensional universe, Kamchatka was the most distant place you could imagine. At the start of our games, nobody ever fought for Kamchatka. The patriotic coveted South America, the ambitious looked to North America, the cultivated set their sights on Europe and the pragmatic set up camp in Africa and Oceania—easy to conquer and even easier to defend.
Kamchatka was in Asia, which was too vast and consequently almost impossible to defend. Kamchatka was left to me; I always had a soft spot for the underdog. To me, Kamchatka boomed like the drums of some secret savage kingdom, calling to make me their king.
At the time I knew nothing about the real Kamchatka, that frozen tongue Russia pokes into the Pacific Ocean, mocking its neighbours. I knew nothing about its eternal snows, its hundred volcanoes; I had never heard of the Mutnovsky glacier or the lakes of acid.
I knew nothing of the wild bears, the fumaroles, the gas that bubbles up on the muddy surface of the thermal springs like pustules on a thousand toads. It was enough for me that Kamchatka was shaped like a scimitar and was utterly inaccessible. A horizon ringed by towering, inaccessible peaks shrouded in sulphurous vapours. Kamchatka is a paradox, a kingdom of extremes, a contradiction in terms. On the Risk board, the apparent distance between Argentina and Kamchatka is misleading.
When these flat dimensions are mapped onto a globe, this journey, which had seemed impossible, suddenly seems simple. There is no need to traverse the known world to get from one to the other. Kamchatka and the Americas are so close, they all but touch. Similarly, the goodbyes we said on the forecourt of the petrol station and the beginnings of my story are superposed extremes, each nested inside the other. October sun melds with April sun, this morning blends with that one.
It is easy for me to forget that one sun is the promise of summer and the other its farewell. In the southern hemisphere, April is a month of extremes. Autumn begins and with it comes the cold. But the flurries of wind do not last and the sun always returns in triumph. The days are still long, some seem to have been stolen from summer.
Ceiling fans begin their last shifts and people escape to the beach for the weekends as they try to outrun winter. April , in all its glory, was just like any other. I had just started sixth grade. I was trying to make sense of timetables, to decipher the lists of books I had to get hold of. But some things were different. The military coup, for a start. Meanwhile all my uncles were disappearing as if by magic. Towards the end of , these uncles gradually began to disappear.
Fewer and fewer of them visited us. It was my first wake. The three or four other rooms were full of angry, single-minded people drinking sugary coffee and smoking like chimneys. I was relieved. I told him I lived near La Boca.
Marcelo Figueras Breaks Down His Book ‘Kamchatka’
Argentina, It is a terrifying time for all with left-wing leanings and thousands disappear, many the victims of extra-judicial executions. A young boy is taken out of school and his family flee to a safe house in the secluded hills outside Buenos Aires. They adopt new identities and the boy names himself Harry after his hero Houdini. In this brilliant coming-of-age novel, Marcelo Figueras does not offer a conventional portrait of Argentina's brutal past. Instead, he focuses on the personal rather than the political, from the perspective of a ten-year-old boy.
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Kamchatka by Marcelo Figueras. Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review 's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge and remind and warn you that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure. The complete review 's Review :. The mother, a scientist at the university who has never been obviously politically active in a way threatening to the new regime, is in less immediate danger and continues working for a while though she is eventually fired , while the father, a lawyer, faces more immediate threats. They manage, however, to create a relatively safe and reassuring environment for the kids, even in these dangerous times, and Kamchatka describes this life-as-normal -- which, of course, inevitably wasn't entirely normal and ultimately couldn't be sustained.