Hades, Argentina -Author Daniel LoedelIt is a rare book that sticks with us long after we’ve read it and Hades, Argentina (Riverhead Books, January 2021)—our April AFAReads selection, in partnership with the United Nations Association of New York—is one such novel. It reads almost like a dream—or, rather, a nightmare: We open with translator Tomás Orilla traveling back home to Argentina, eight years after hiding out in the United States. But within three pages, it becomes clear that Tomás’s return will stretch far beyond the physical realm. “I must have had at least a hunch that the borders I’d cross on this journey weren’t the standard ones,” he reveals. Following grand South American literary tradition, author Daniel Loedel, whose father is Argentinian, quickly drops in hints of the surrealism to come. The mysterious appearance of Tomás’s first love, Isabel; items connected to his past popping up unexpectedly; and finally and most obviously, his mentor and friend, the Colonel, appearing in the Recoleta Cemetery speaking “as he had in life.” A ghost of sorts, one who will take Tomás on a journey to the Underworld—and offer an opportunity to undo the wrongs of his past. Cover image courtesy of Riverhead Books Hades, Argentina is set in the Buenos Aires of the late 1970s and early ’80s, during Argentina’s so-called Dirty War, the grisly seven years following the military coup that ousted president Isabel Perón. During that time, as many as 30,000 people—dissidents and innocents alike—were held and tortured in detention centers and ultimately, “disappeared,” including those who identified as Monteneros, a left-wing guerilla group. The novel traces the brutal events of those years—in fact, the story was inspired by Loedel’s own half-sister, “a Montenara who was disappeared on January 17, 1978, at the age of twenty-two,” writes Loedel. As we move deeper into Tomas’s dream world, we learn more about his relationship with the Colonel, his love for Isabel, and the choices he made on behalf of them both—choices that led him to infiltrate a detention center, to remain, and to become part of the machine that “disappeared” fellow citizens. It’s a haunting but beautiful book, especially for anyone who has spent time in Buenos Aires. But as the novel builds toward its hopeful-but-tragic conclusion, you’re left wondering: What does it mean to be good? What does it mean to save one life if you sacrifice another? As Tomás asks: What happens to you when you start “seeing the humanity in monsters? To your own humanity? Your own monstrosity?” Author photo by Sylvie Rosokoff Loedel, a book editor, was born and raised in New York—and didn’t set foot in Argentina until 2010, when he moved there at age 22 to explore his roots. While Loedel’s father would share happy memories of his own childhood in the country, he had no interest in returning to Argentina, said Loedel in a January 2021 interview. Hades, Argentina, with its surrealist tone, was a way to understand his family’s past. “I grew up with my half-sister as a ghost in my family,” he said in the interview. “Entering a world of ghosts was a way to access the greater truth of my family’s experience that I couldn’t have accessed in a realist approach.” We’ll be discussing much of the above with the author on April 29 at 4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. ET, in partnership with the United Nations Association of New York. We hope you’ll join us! Register for the webinar—and share your questions.
- How does your understanding of Argentine politics—and America’s ties to them—grow as the novel progresses?
- How does the dreamlike flow of the novel shed light on Tomás’s mental state?
- In what ways does the city of Buenos Aires act as a tertiary character?
- Do you agree with the choices Tomás makes as he takes a job, and remains working, in a detention center?