Review: Purgatory

Purgatory
Purgatory by Tomás Eloy Martínez
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I woke up, it occurred to me that the most unbearable loneliness is not being able to be alone.

Emilia has spent the last 30 years of her life looking for her husband, Simón, who had disappeared while on a trip to map obscure Argentinean country. When she finds him, he is exactly the same as the day he vanished, yet she is changed – older, more worn – and she questions if he would still love her, and if she’s in her right mind.

Do not be fooled – this isn’t your paranormal ghost story. The ghost portrayed here is one on of the thousands of “subversives” that the government swept under the rug – torturing, killing, and executing them. But Emilia had never given up hope that she would see her Simón again, though whether he was able to stitch together a new map back to her or if he is in her head is left unclear.

Inserting himself (or the fictional “author” of the piece), Martínez’s statements about the Argentinean government and the country’s inability to integrate its past with its present is sharply contrasted and interwoven with a love story that spans several decades. Slow – ponderous – at times, Purgatory takes the life of Emilia and what ‘has been’ and weaves in here thoughts of ‘what might have been’ to complete a complicated picture of not only one women, but also her family and government and country, into a political statement and a love story bound together like lines on a map where only Martínez’s knows the key.

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