Reviewed by Robert Goodman.
By Daniel Loedel, Hachette, $32.99.
Debut author Daniel Loedel dedicates his first novel Hades, Argentina to his sister. In the Acknowledgements he explains that his half sister Isabel Loedel Maiztegui was a Montonera who disappeared on January 17 1978, aged 22, and that the novel “could not have been written without her sacrifice”. Loedel himself is was born in America ten years after her half-sister’s death and this book is part of his journey to make sense of her life. And Hades, Argentina is itself a novel about sacrifice, about how far we might go for love and revolution and what can happen when those two ‘ideals’ collide.
When the book opens it is 1986, Tomás Orilla has returned to his native Argentina after having been essentially in exile for ten years. In 1976 he was assisted to flee the country by a man who he called ‘The Colonel’, becoming part of the Argentinian exile community, and while he ended up in America creating a new life for himself his experiences never left him and scars they gave him run deep. On his return, to see the dying mother of his old lover, Tomás reconnects briefly with Isabel and then with the Colonel who forces him to confront and understand his past by taking him on a journey into hell. It is here the novels slightly magical realist leanings start to show and readers might start to question whether anyone Tomás has met to that point has been real.
The journey that Tomás goes on into his past, which is the story of his revolution, is harrowing. After the military takes over an start torturing and killing their opponents, Isabel encourages Tomás, though his existing connection with the Colonel, to go to work for one of the torture operations as a way of getting information to the Montoneras. This book should be covered in trigger warnings. Loedel captures both the torture activities that Tomás is involved with and the banality of his co-workers, who believe they are doing their bit to fight communism, extremely well. As Tomás himself observes:
How much worse could things get, really? We’d had the Ezeiza massacre back in ’73, the death squads had been operative since ’75. What had been our de facto reality had merely become an officially recognized one. And I’d grown relatively numb to it, or believed I had. Repression is sneaky that way: you get used to a little and chances are you’ll get used to more.
But all of this makes Hades, Argentina is a tough book to read. As with other repressive regimes, it is important that we are continually reminded of the depravity that comes with some political ideologies so that the same things do not happen again. The book itself considers the question of free will and how people get caught up with those ideologies. Hades, Argentina is an important book and a well written one that asks some tough questions but its graphic nature may not be for everyone.
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