Child’s Eye View of the Dirty War

A BEAUTIFUL YOUNG WOMAN
By Julián López
Translated by Samuel Rutter
147 pp. Melville House. Paper, $15.99.

Julián López’s debut novel, “A Beautiful Young Woman” (translated from the Spanish by Samuel Rutter), begins as a rapturous portrait of a young woman in 1970s Argentina as seen through the eyes of her son, remembering back to when he was 7. His evocation of her is poetic, but ringed by menace: A military dictatorship rules the country, the school day is disrupted by bomb threats, and the mysterious phone calls she keeps taking in a neighbor’s apartment suggest her involvement in a resistance movement. Given the violent ends met by so many who opposed the junta, the sense of dread surrounding mother and son grows with each chapter.

López’s book can be seen as a kind of counterpart to Patricio Pron’s 2011 novel, “My Fathers’ Ghost Is Climbing in the Rain,” in which a son uncovers his father’s role in a leftist group during the same dark period in Argentina’s history. But where Pron is forensic in his approach, López is sensual. The narrator’s descriptions of his mother are longing, even erotic at times, and the most moving passages describe his small, often futile attempts at intimacy, like taking a breath after she walks by “as a way of embracing her.”

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