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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Marcelo Figueras

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To purchase Kamchatka

Title: Kamchatka
Author: Marcelo Figueras
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 309 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Kamchatka - US
Kamchatka - US (Spanish)
Kamchatka - UK
Kamchatka - Canada
Kamchatka - India
Kamchatka - France
Kamtschatka - Deutschland
  • Spanish title: Kamchatka
  • Translated by Frank Wynne
  • Kamchatka was originally a film, released in 2002 and directed by Marcelo Piñeyro

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Our Assessment:

B+ : charmingly told

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 28/9/2006 Kolja Mensing
The Independent . 24/9/2010 Lucy Popescu
Irish Examiner . 30/7/2011 Val Nola
The New Yorker . 13/6/2011 .
The NY Times Book Rev. B 3/7/2011 Hirsh Sawhney

  From the Reviews:
  • "Der zwischen kindlicher Sorglosigkeit und erwachsener Melancholie angelegte Tonfall führt sicher über die perspektivischen, inhaltlichen und chronologischen Brüche hinweg -- und das, obwohl Übersetzerin und Lektorat dem fleißig entgegenarbeiten." - Kolja Mensing, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "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" - Lucy Popescu, The Independent

  • "The result is a claustrophobic tale which exhibits real affection for its characters. A fine English language debut for Figueras -- ably facilitated by Frank Wynneís translation -- Kamchatka is that rare novel with meaningful things to say about growing up." - Val Nolan, Irish Examiner

  • "The author, an Argentine screenwriter, vividly evokes a childís reaction to a world beleaguered by violence. But he hasnít devoted enough attention to plotting or the development of secondary characters, and the novelís whimsical tangents often distract from its hopeful message about the healing powers of imagination and love." - Hirsh Sawhney, The New York Times Book Review

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.

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The complete review's Review:

       The narrator of Kamchatka is an adult, but his account is almost entirely of the world when he was ten years old, in Argentina in 1976, after Isabel Perón was overthrown and the military junta intensified its 'Dirty War'. His parents take the family partially undercover, moving to a new house and assuming new names there: the narrator chooses 'Harry', after escape artist Harry Houdini, while his five-year-old brother calls himself 'Simón', after TV's The Saint, Simon Templar -- though the narrator continues to refer to him as 'the Midget'.
       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). Harry now sees and points out how his parents tried to maintain a normal life for the children, and the small deceptions and tricks they employed, but the narrative for the most part offers his younger self's more naïve perspective.
       Harry is a big fan of Risk, a board-game that pits armies against each other in an attempt to achieve world domination; one of the regions on the world-map board -- the most distant from Argentina -- is that of Kamchatka, at the eastern edge of Siberia, and it is this place, both symbolic and real, that Harry retreats to. The novel opens with Harry recounting that the last thing his father said to him was "Kamchatka", and he mentions repeatedly that he would go on to spend much time there -- a separation from his family and from all the horrors of Argentina.
       Day-to-day life in the new home for the boys is relatively comfortable, with only undertones of the threat that hangs so close -- the Midget's continued bedwetting, Harry's claustrophiliac retreats into tight, enclosed spaces. The parents have their weaknesses -- the mother is a terrible cook and housekeeper, and has poor taste in movies -- but they manage to give the children a sense of security and normalcy. Still, when for example the boys are sent back to school (but a different one than they used to attend), all that weighs on Harry does become somewhat more apparent: he misses his old friends and doesn't want to make new ones here, and is pleased to be assigned the task of wheeling the school's display-skeleton back and forth, a task that he can do by himself, away from the others, and leaves him with only the skeleton for company.
       There are clever small touches throughout the book, too, such as the plank the boys attach to the swimming pool, affording the toads that constantly fall in and otherwise can't get out a way back to freedom an escape route -- if they can find it .....
       Most impressive is the voice, as the narrative, in its many short chapters, is resonant and immensely appealing, Figueras (and translator Wynne) showing a nice touch in capturing the boy's perspective (muted slightly, as it is, coming through the restrained use of adult Harry's more knowing point of view). But in maintaining the child's perspective Figueras also keeps the horrors largely at bay, the reader -- like Harry -- made to feel almost too safe in a world that was very ugly.
       Charming, and an interesting look at Argentina in 1976, Kamchatka nevertheless winds up feeling just a bit too slight.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 August 2011

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Kamchatka: Reviews: Kamchatka - the movie: Marcelo Figueras: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentine author Marcelo Figueras was born in 1962.

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© 2011-2021 the complete review

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