Acclaimed Argentinean poet and novelist Manuela Fingueret details the 1980’s neofascist military dictatorship in Argentina and its dark, painful parallels to the Holocaust through the tales and memories of a mother and daughter in her second novel Daughter of Silence. Translated by Darrell B. Lockhart, Daughter of Silence is a crucial addition to “The Americas” series of contemporary Latin American literature published by Texas Tech University Press, for its exploration of violence, national identity, and survival. Fingueret depicts the tradition of a silent female figure, mute and helpless throughout history, and drastically refutes it with the voice of her narrator Rita, a young Jewish Argentinean and incarcerated Peronist revolutionary. Abused, starved, and rapidly losing her mind, Rita weaves together both her memories and the experiences of her mother, Tinkeleh, a Holocaust survivor.
A poignant portrayal of women, Daughter of Silence illustrates these parallels between the Holocaust and Argentina’s political past, while also exploring the unique dichotomy between being Jewish and living in Latin America, a primarily Catholic nation. According to Lockhart in his introduction to the text, “Argentina is home to the largest Jewish population in Latin America and one of the largest in the world” and the text explores the complexities of a divided national and religious identity. Rita also meditates on the controversial links between the Holocaust and her Jewish identity, and her imprisonment as a Peronist rebel, warning that history is in a constant state of repetition. In a moment of vulnerability Rita details her path to incarceration and its correlation to her mother’s path to the Holocaust, one of marginalization and silence. She counts the strikes against her, her religion, her culture, her politics, and ultimately her sex:
A space for the abused and desperate. Peronism was the ideal place in which to orient those feelings. The Peronism of passion, of mysticism, of marginalization, of prominence. Jew and Peronist. Peronist and Jew. Woman, Jew, and Peronist. A triple provocation. The stories of concentration camps that I tried to decipher between books and whispers among family members became an undeniable obsession. All the barriers that Tinkeleh put in place with her silence made my journey inevitable. (78)
Fingueret’s prose captures Rita’s desperate, winding thoughts as she navigates her imprisonment and clings to her memories to maintain her sanity. In her rapidly declining state, however, she finds solace in piecing together her mother’s unspoken memories of the Holocaust. Whether this imagined world is healthy or another tax on her already damaged mental state is left undiscussed, but Rita uses these imagined memories to connect to her mother and other resilient women, etching their names on her cell walls for inspiration.
Rita’s story is told through fragments, becoming increasingly disorienting as her abuse escalates. In any lesser author’s hands, this disorientation would merely result in a reader’s confusion but Fingueret instead artfully references Rita’s fragile mental state, with the spaces between the text, the silence, telling more of Rita’s struggle than her words alone. Rita herself is insightfully portrayed, surrounded by the impassioned idealism of the Peronists around her, and struggling to connect with a distant, silent mother, she discovers in prison the deeper similarities between herself, Tinkeleh, and generations of other women, forced into the bind of silence and obedience but driven to survive.
The novel ends uncertainly, as Rita is transferred from her prison, defiantly looking at the blank expanse of her future:
I stretch my body across the void. I see a lot, I hear too much, I file and file, thousands of voices, ages, hair colors, professions, addresses: Auschwitz in Buenos Aires. These women console me. They know as well as I do where this train is headed. Did I get off at the wrong station? I have no regrets. (147)
Despite its difficult subject matter, the book concludes with some remnants of hope, as Rita’s resilience stands as a testament to the strength and will to survive of generations of women. The deep unsettling connections allow Fingueret to create a wholly new Argentinean novel, exploring the relationship between Judaism and Latin America, women and their tradition of silence, and ultimately calling for a clearer understanding of the nature of history.
Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .
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