Patricio Pron - a purposefully fragmented mystery narrative, unconstrained by the conventions of that or any other genre. Told “in whispers and with laughter and with tears,” it is a complex look at the legacy and mandate of social struggle in Argentina
Patricio Pron, My Fathers' Ghost Is Climbing in the Rain: A Novel, Trans. by Mara Faye Lethem, Vintage, 2014.
“Pron’s novel haunts me. [It] turned my heart upside down. . . . [He] is brilliant on the topic of growing up in the aftermath of heroic collapse.” —Marcela Valdes
“Startlingly brilliant. . . . As the book progresses Pron’s intense and exquisitely described interiority of the early parts slowly falls prey to the pull of a personal, communal, and national history that ever more firmly stakes it claims on the narrator.” —The Daily Beast
“A riveting story, elegantly translated.” —Counterpunch
“Radiant and wrenching. You’ll never see Argentina—or fathers or sons or the human soul—the same way again. . . . A sublime accomplishment.” —Carolina De Robertis
“Hugely rewarding—and deeply unsettling.” —New York Journal of Books
“This is a brilliant, unforgettable novel. I was so entertained by Patricio Pron’s inventive, poetic, deranging sentences that I found myself thinking of Lewis Carroll.” —Francisco Goldman
“A modern masterpiece written with beauty and purpose—this is a novel about everything that most matters in the world.” —Deborah Levy
“With subtle intelligence, poetic insight, and exquisite style, My Fathers’ Ghost Is Climbing in the Rain confirms Pron’s position as one of the finest novelists writing in Spanish today.”
“From a major new voice in Spanish literature, this novel should grant Pron a much-deserved readership in the English-speaking world. . . . A melancholy and chilling work of postmodernism, examining family, memory, and what collective fear does to a society.” —Booklist
Back home in Argentina to attend to his ill father, a young writer discovers the file his father kept on a recent disappearance and probable murder in his hometown. As he goes through the file, the son discovers not only the sordid details of the crime, but also its victim’s connections to Argentina’s Dirty War—during the ’70s when rightist generals disappeared members of the opposition. Although the novel’s second section consists largely of descriptions (repetitive and ungrammatical) of the attack on the hapless Alberto Burdisso, the book is fundamentally about memory and the consequences of its repression. When the writer—a stand-in for the author, whose father’s addenda to the text can be found on Pron’s blog—realizes that his journalist father was actively involved in the politics of that era, he recalls his childhood, filled with lots of hiding and precautions. The more the son learns, the more he remembers, and the resulting novel looks a great deal like the one he imagines his father writing: “Brief, composed of fragments, with holes where my father couldn’t or didn’t want to remember something.” In the face of denial and forgetting, Pron has stitched the experiences of the activists, their survivors, and those who came later into a narrative that ties the individual to collective memory and a family’s history to a nation’s.—Publishers Weekly
He comes to realize that every Argentine born in 1975 “are the consolation prizes our parents gave themselves after failing to pull off the revolution.” Children provide a revolutionary with the cover of a conventional life, serving as protection at checkpoints. Pron’s idea is that those very children ironically inherited a mandate to continue the struggle, but have realized, either consciously or not, that the mandate of social transformation “turned out to be unsuited to the times we grew up in, times of pride and frivolousness and defeat.” This is a sentiment universally relatable for everyone in their thirties or fortes, no matter if your parents fought for Peron in Argentina, Allende in Chile, May ’68 in Paris, or took part in the Hippie generation’s revolution of Love in the U.S. All of us belong to a generation that was defeated before it had a chance to fight, and thus turned to drinking or drugs or a million ways to waste time instead of fighting for social justice, for what is important.
Structured into four sections, each broken down into micro-chapters (another cross-cultural, increasingly common, habit—one hopes for reasons other than making it easier to read), Pron sets out to understand how this collective victimhood works, how the silences of history, failures of memory, and personal losses, all become disappearances. The narrator is a drug-addled young man who has lived eight years out of his home country before returning to Argentina to be with his family during his father’s seemingly impending death, which suddenly, strangely, doesn’t happen. Once there, he begins the process of uncovering and recovery: of his self, the why of his memory loss that precedes the drugs; of his father; of the country’s victims, and how that victimhood infects everything it contacts. The heart and bulk—but unfortunately for the success of the book, not the soul—of this investigation lies in a collection of news reports and photos he finds in his father’s study, all pertaining to a man’s disappearance. Reading through, analyzing, the narrator wants to solve both the mystery of the disappearance and of his father’s obsession with it. Though it occurred after Argentina’s dictatorship, and so does not belong to the vast numbers of “the disappeared,” he becomes another victim because of that haunting past. This is that infection of collective victimhood, and what Pron wants to brave against.
The narrator eventually uncovers that the man’s sister was not only one of the disappeared, but was led by his father into political activism. The attempt to recover her by recovering her brother, this transference, has moved onto the narrator himself, now trying to prevent his own and his father’s disappearances. We see again that collective victimhood, swallowing anyone it can. The way this ghost of history and violence stalks through the novel is compelling, and at Pron’s most convicted and skillful, you can feel its encroachment. It is unfortunate that Pron suffers from uncertainty about how to move with a project he is obviously deeply invested in. Because he is dealing with history, both of the country and of his family, with the blend of fiction and non-fiction, there is uncertainty. It is not the uncertainty of the reader, or of a writer questioning how to blend the two, but the uncertainty of a writer unsure if he should. It’s one thing to blend fact and fiction to stare down a culture’s identity, and another to devote a work to questioning the morality of blending the two—but to be unable to choose and not center the complication itself, to want both, weakens to the work.
The collection of newspaper scraps, indented as long quotations and written in reportage style in a claim to non-fiction, make up the significant portion of the My Fathers’ Ghost and this too is unfortunate. They are not only less interesting to read—in fact boring, repetitive, at times—they don’t cut to the quick of Pron’s themes and concerns, precisely because verisimilitude lurks over them. Though they are a necessary core for the novel’s structure, Pron thrives, both in style and substance, in the rest of the book, where fiction takes over.
This structure, of a confused young writer obsessed with a crime and pouring over the evidence, any detail—the number of inhabitants of a town, latitude and longitude coordinates, etc.—possibly mattering, the failure of police, a haunting sense of lurking violence, all point to influences, most pointedly detective novels, and, endorsed by Pron himself, Bolaño. The influence of Bolaño is strong, but Pron is talented enough not to let it dominate. There is no singular moment that is a recognizably specific Bolaño moment or a sense of mimicry, and it is likely the honest comfort with this influence that allows it to work naturally, and for differences, even responses, to spring up. For all of the ways that Bolaño’s characters swing between obsession and detachment, they aren’t usually detached from their obsessions. Pron’s narrator is and moves his investigation through a near fugue state, his obsession separate from him. He only follows, hoping the fugue will clear.
On the other hand, the connection with crime stories is, surprisingly, given Bolaño’s openness to the genre, one the narrator, and seemingly Pron, rejects, even as it swallows him and the novel: “the resolution of most detective stories is condescending, no matter how ruthless the plotting, so that the reader, once the loose ends are tied up and the guilty finally punished, can return to the real world with the convictions that crimes get solved and remain locked between the covers of a book.” This of course is true not of most crime stories, but only of the simplest, the laziest—the type seen in television procedurals. Not only that, but the fight against this mode of the genre, the celebration of the lost detective with no answers, has been ongoing for decades at least, so there is nothing interesting in openly acknowledging it as if it were new and it becomes a claim to complications that aren’t there.
In the end, the novel becomes, for a large middle section, too dependent on a strategy that is neither interesting, nor something that Pron or the narrator seem to believe in. As much as there is little belief in the form, Pron shows a lack of trust in his own clarity, or in the reader. The numbered micro-chapters are not fully sequential. In the first of the novel’s four parts, numerous numbers are skipped, to show the narrator’s fractured memory, but we see this already, and are told it. Later, in the throes of his investigation, the narrator falls ill, and feverish, the numbers skip again, or repeat or backtrack, but again, we know he is losing clarity, and there is no specific reason for each interruption of order.
Yet it should again be emphasized, clarified, anticipated in future books, that when Pron moves away from blocking out his narrative around these newspaper clippings, when he focuses on fiction that’s based on non-fiction rather than non-fiction playing itself off as fiction, My Fathers’ Ghost is Climbing in the Rain gets deepest into its own questions, and finds multitudes. Pron’s narrator wonders how to take on the national identity of Argentine when he has seen the symbols of that identity abused, used “so many times in circumstances beyond our control, circumstances that we didn’t have anything to do with and didn’t want to have anything to do with.” This feeling is so overwhelming that he includes a World Cup1 victory in the same sentence as a war. He wants to be able to embrace an Argentinean identity at the same time as a writer’s identity, while “That a writer could be Argentine and living is a fairly recent discovery.”
The explorations of such questions, some of which fall away as the focus tightens on the newspaper clippings, are more crafted, more affecting when Pron gives his writing free reign, unburdened by the sense of obligation to the idea of “how it actually happened.” In an early passage, Pron’s narrator ponders his relationship with his parents, trying to find how to compare, describe it, and comes to: “Children are policemen of their parents, but I don’t like policemen. They’ve never gotten along well with my family.” In one moment, the focus is his direct relationship with his parents, in the next a simile goes awry and takes him in a dangerous, fearful direction, plunging to the past. The obliqueness, the potential strangeness of fiction, gives reason both to read deeply, and to invest in Pron’s mission of uncovering Argentinean history—personal, familial, and political: a childhood game of killing frogs becomes both the child’s version of unknowingly participating in the violence of his country and the adult’s attempt to reconcile; the fever dreams give us images such as a transparent fish, with a “fistful of autonomous organs with no center of command,” which we cannot do anything but associate with our narrator.
My Fathers’ Ghost is an effort to tell a story that has previously been passed over in silence, while knowing that this secret knowledge is not one of power or liberation, but one that comes with danger and suffering: “You don’t ever want to know certain things, because what you know belongs to you, and there are certain things you never want to own.” Pron’s desire is to fill the silence, not with noise but with clarity and truths. Near the end, the narrator reminds of us inheritance, “My father had started to search for his lost friend and I, without meaning to, had also started shortly afterward to search for my father.”
This inheritance is not only of a search for what has been lost, but also a complicated relationship between the lost, what happens when the lost is found, and the consequences of expression. When talking with his sister, the narrator attempts to gently mock their father for always going out to start the car alone instead of waiting for the kids. The mocking ends when his sister reveals the truth, and the debt that the son owes the father: “journalists were getting killed by car bombs; he went out alone every day to start the car to protect us.” Added to this debt, which came into existence only with revelation, is the narrator’s belief that his choice must be “the truth” or “a compassionate lie,” with the latter being one of escapism and blindness. There is also, and it is glimpsed at times here, a form of lie, fiction, that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the truth. That power is compromised in My Father’s Ghost, a compromise established in Pron’s decision to give his parents veto power over his book. Those glimpses into a deeper soul for the book give one hope that Pron’s next work will be more decisive, expand on seedlings planted here, and for an American reader, give hope that a young American writer can speak to the silences that have overlaid the American atrocities of the last decade.
Much of My Fathers' Ghost is Climbing in the Rain (the title taken from a Dylan Thomas poem) is fact-based, and the first-person narrator's biography (and that of his family) closely resembles that of author Patricio Pron. It's a shame: Pron shows considerable creative flair and solid writing chops, but rather than taking full flight in fiction he grounds his story entirely in actual occurrences and, 'important' though this story may be, the use of real people and events here limits Pron and his story(telling).
One of the first things the narrator makes clear in the book's opening section is that he is not well-tethered to the past. He has made himself rootless -- describing preferring to crash on other people's couches, rather than having his own place, not for financial reasons but simply out of personal preference -- and notes that he has almost no memory of the entire first decade of the new millennium:
my consumption of certain drugs made me almost completely lose my memory, so that what I remember of those eight years -- at least what I remember of some ninety-five months of those eight years -- is pretty vague and sketchy
My Fathers' Ghost is Climbing in the Rain is a novel of memory and remembering, of reclaiming the past (and of determining identity). Worried about losing his own memory, the narrator has even compiled a list to: "hold on to a couple of things I wanted to keep" -- a useful little life-summary covering less than four pages.
The narrator is adrift, but a family crisis shakes him out of this. His father is in hospital, very ill, and so the narrator returns to his native Argentina after a long absence to be with his family. Once there, he finds a folder with newspaper articles, notes, fliers and other material, labeled 'Burdisso', dealing with the (real) 2008 disappearance of one Alberto José Burdisso. The long second section of My Fathers' Ghost is Climbing in the Rain presents much of this material dealing with this case -- the disappearance of the man, the search for him, and then the inquiry into what happened to him, and why.
There are, of course, echoes of Argentina's terrible history of the 'disappeared' here -- including, in the reports, observations such as: "Nobody knows anything. Nobody saw anything, nobody heard anything" (with the narrator trying also to interpret the material, trying to read into it all the many motives behind the phrasings and information, and the general atmosphere the situation had led to). As it also turns out, the missing man had a sister -- who was 'disappeared' in 1977.
For the narrator this folder leads to a journey into the past -- not so much his own (though that is addressed as well), and not only the recent one covered by most of the material in the folder, but rather that of his father. As he realizes:
My father had started to search for his lost friend and I, without meaning to, had also started shortly afterward to search for my father. This was our lot as Argentines.
At the beginning of the novel, the narrator had stated:
Children are detectives of their parents, who cast them out into the world so that one day the children will return and tell them their story so that they themselves can understand it.
That's rather an over -simplification and -generalization, but clearly his return to home and homeland -- and the finding of the material his father had collected -- gives him the necessary push to delve into his family's history, including what his parents did in the 1970s.
The narrator sees the material his father collected as possibly: "the materials for the novel my father had wanted to write and never did", and My Fathers' Ghost is Climbing in the Rain is a very creative re-working of this material, enhanced by Pron's own embellishments -- numbered chapters out of sequence; dream-episodes; a variety of family history, as well as the present-day perspective.
It's all quite well done, and some of the writing is splendid. Much is too obvious or simplistic -- it takes a lot to pull off a claim like: "Children are detectives of their parents", and Pron doesn't come anywhere close -- and presumably much is too personal for Pron to write with the necessary (or at least preferable) distance. One hopes that he got this out of his system, allowing him to turn true fiction (rather than this fact-based sort of stuff).
My Fathers' Ghost is Climbing in the Rain is a nice show of obvious talent, and certainly of some interest -- but, ultimately, limited by its grounding in fact. - M.A.Orthofer
A young man living and working in Germany returns to his native Argentina. His estranged father is in the hospital, unconscious and presumably dying. His mother, brother and sister are there, but the young man knows he is returning not because of an impending death but because he has come to understand he doesn’t know his father, and that means, in many ways, he doesn’t know himself.
efiance of a tradition easily evolves into one of its own. In Latin America, the famed Boom generation, which in the early ’60s catapulted the continent’s literature into the global consciousness, has spawned a legacy of resistance. Sometimes it was a coordinated effort, complete with a manifesto: the ’90s witnessed the Crack and McOndo movements, both of which asserted their independence from magical realism and other Boom-era legacies. Other times, the resistance established itself through one author’s originality, as was the case with the sui generis Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño. Now, a few younger writers have begun exploring something newly distinct: how memories of traumatic periods can shape the perspectives of a generation.1
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Throughout his novel, Vásquez doesn’t just suggest the way a younger generation also had a prison built for it by the same drug lord; he also demonstrates how that generation tries to escape it.
Patricio is a journalist who has an uneasy relationship with the truth. Entire years are missing from Patricio's memory, so it's fitting that some chapter numbers are missing from My Father's Ghost -- chapters skipped over, like the chapters of the narrator's life -- while other chapter numbers are out of sequence or repeated, presumably reflecting Patricio's scattered thoughts. Patricio blames the gaps in his life on the medications his psychiatrist was dispensing, drugs that made him feel like he was "floating in a pool without ever seeing its bottom but not being able to reach the surface." The reader soon discovers, however, that Patricio's memory loss is a form of self-protection. Patricio grew up in Argentina, "a country called fear with a flag that was a face filled with dread." The terrors of life during Argentina's rule by a military dictatorship are best forgotten, but the novel is about Patricio's compulsion to remember.
After eight years in Germany, Patricio returns to Argentina to say goodbye to his father, who is languishing in a hospital bed. In his father's study, he finds a folder labeled Alberto Burdisso. Its contents describe a simple-minded man who has disappeared from El Trébol, the city where Patricio spent part of his childhood. Burdisso had been awarded reparations for his sister's disappearance three decades earlier, money that led to his death. As Patricio reads through the file's contents, he learns that the city he believed to be idyllic is in fact sordid, sullied, and sad.
Patricio takes us through the file, document by document. His investigation of the file becomes an attempt to find his father "in his last thoughts." In this, Patricio is like other Argentinians of his generation, solving their parents' pasts like detectives, "and what we were going to find out would seem like a mystery novel we wished we'd never bought." Yet literature is a "pale reflection" of, and cannot do justice to, the beliefs and ideals of his father's generation. In real life, unlike novels -- and particularly in Argentina during the 1970s -- mysteries go unsolved, crimes go unpunished, and the world outside the book is not "guided by the same principles of justice as the tale told inside."
Not surprisingly, in searching for his father Patricio begins to find himself. He comes to realize a truth: "You don't ever want to know certain things because what you know belongs to you, and there are certain things you never want to own." At the same time, he becomes convinced that he needs to tell the story of his father's generation because their ghost "was going to keep climbing in the rain until it took the heavens by storm."
All of this is an excellent premise for a novel. Patricio Pron nearly pulls it off, but in the end, the excellent story he tells is just too slim to attain such a lofty goal. What we learn about the father is fragmentary (intentionally so, given the novel's structure) and superficial. The narrator tells us that "what my parents and their comrades had done didn't deserve to be forgotten," but we learn very little about their struggle. At the same time, Patricio shares few of his recovered memories with the reader. The novel ultimately reads like a preface to a greater story that needs to be told, but it isn't told here.
That isn't to say that I disliked the story Pron tells. There are some stunning sentences in My Father's Ghost, the kind that make you pause and reread them two or three times. Not all of My Father's Ghost works (a series of brief chapters that describe Patricio's fever dreams add nothing to the story), but through most of the novel, Pron's intense prose is riveting. Viewed as a slice of life, the beginning of a journey yet to be completed, this small novel is quite rewarding. - www.tzerisland.com/bookblog/2013/5/22/my-fathers-ghost-is-climbing-in-the-rain-by-patricio-pron.html
As I flew toward my father ,toward something I didn’t know but which was disgusting and frightening and sad ,I wanted to remember what I could about my life with him .There wasn’t much .
So My fathers’ ghost is climbing in the rain is a book about families and There past in Argentina .The story focus on a son who has found out his father is dying, back home in Argentina the son is a writer the father was a builder ,so he returns to Argentina from Germany .Father and son have a strained relationship and have grown distant over time .The son returns to his parents house and while looking round finds documents ,maps clipping regard an incident in the past ,that his father was obsessed with an incident and the one man and a girl .This leads the son on a journey ,Patricio finds out about his parents past and what happened in 1977 the height of the time called the dirty war in Argentina . Patricio the son is unaware of what his parents did during this time and via this journey into the past he discovers more than he expected and maybe ends up closer to his father .A journey though a man death in 2008 back to a girl who “disappeared” by the junta and what was a father search for justice . Pron handles the past of Argentina with subtle tones through a family story .
Patricio returning home to his dying father .
The folder was thirty by twenty-two centimetres ,made of a very lightweight cardboard in a pale yellow colour .It was two centimetres thick and enclosed by two elastic bands that once been white but at this point had a slight brown tone :one of the bands held the folder from top to bottom and the other along its width which made them form a cross ; more specifically a Latin cross
Pron manages to fit nicely in my thoughts on Argentinian fiction ,between a number of other Argentinian writers I ve read in recent years. The father and son relationship could be a grown up version of the narrator in Marcelo Figueras Kamchatka which I reviewed here set during the time ,one could imagine Patricio as a grown version of Harry the narrator of that book .Carlos Gamerro is another writer which springs to mind both his books I have under review here , are crimeesque without being crime more as in this case as one man’s quest for the truth is like a master detective searching for the smoking gun , in Carlos Gamerro case , what happened in the dirty war in Open secret and during the Falklands in The islands ,also a wider sense in spanish language writing to look back on past events recent books by Lhosa ,Marquez ,Cercas and Goytisolo have all looked at the recent past with honest eyes and breadth like My fathers ‘ ghost is climbing in the rain does .Pron book evokes the past in the present and is wonderfully held together in English by the translator Lethem .We also see how father and sons can be distant over time but when the layers are peeled away are one and the same .
Patricio finds his father collection of clippings and things .
Hvae you a favourite book from Argentina ? - winstonsdad.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/my-fathers-ghost-is-climbing-in-the-rain-by-patricio-pron/
My Father’s Ghost Is Climbing in the Rain draws you in and holds your attention like a crime novel, and it certainly has its share of crime. But this absorbing new work by Argentine writer Patricio Prons is too complex to fit into any ready-made genre.
Largely autobiographical, the story revolves around a young Argentine writer living in Germany, estranged from his native country. Lost in a drug-induced oblivion, he is a drifter bereft of purpose and possessions. His memories of childhood are a fog — a family of plastic dolls from which the father was missing, a car accident that nobody wanted to talk about. However, his alienation begins to dissipate when, upon learning that his father is dying, he flies home to be by his side.
Now that the older man lies unconscious in the hospital, his memories irretrievably buried in his mind, the writer realizes that he hardly knows him and will perhaps never learn the truth about his earlier life. A journalist and a political activist in his younger years, the father, like the protagonist — and the entire country — has avoided talking about the past. However, while rummaging through his parents’ house, the writer finds a cache of documents — newspaper articles, photos, notes — that thrust before him his father’s past political commitment.
The documents report the murder of a certain Alberto José Burdisso, a janitor from the provincial town of El Trébol. Burdisso received reparations from the government for the death of his sister Alicia during Argentina’s “dirty war,” the period of state terrorism perpetrated by a military junta from the 1960s until the early 1980s. His murder seems to have resulted from a mundane scheme to cheat him out of his money. But why, the protagonist wonders, would his father be interested in the case?
The key turns out to be Alicia, whose story reveals the father’s role in the resistance against the military junta. The writer realizes that, in a sense, he and his siblings were actually “covers” for their parents, for as the junta tightened its grip, resisters had to blend into the social landscape to avoid being killed, and children conferred an air of ordinariness on a couple. With his father’s death, the story of his heroic struggle against tyranny will be lost. The father had always wanted to tell the story in a novel, and now his son will take up the task.
But it cannot be a genre novel because such novels require a pre-established structure, with pieces that fit nicely together and lead to a logical conclusion. Instead, this would be “a narrative in the shape of an enormous frieze or. . . of an intimate personal story that held something back.” That is the story we are now reading, in which memory and forgetting are engaged in a constant tug-of-war, and the account isn’t quite coherent.
The writer does not endorse his father’s cause. He recognizes that the brand of Peronism that his parents defended was deeply flawed and would never have led to the socialist utopia they envisioned. Instead, he celebrates the spirit of the men and women who defied the dictatorship and continued to struggle in spite of the storm that threatened to engulf them. Even after his father dies, that spirit or “ghost” will continue to climb in the rain.
Pron tells his story deftly, teasing the reader with enigmatic remarks that demand explanations that never come, or else come much later. For example, at the beginning of the book the narrator comments offhandedly, “I don’t like policemen. They’ve never gotten along with my family.” But it is not until the end that the reader begins to grasp the full meaning of that statement.
Pron conveys his protagonist’s struggle to remember and piece together past events through a disjointed narrative that skips from topic to topic without transitions. Fragments of memories sometimes reveal key information that will become relevant much later. For example, at one point the protagonist recalls his father cutting a puzzle up into tiny pieces to make it almost impossible for him to put together. The message the father is trying to convey is clear: The world is an incoherent and unintelligible place. Sometimes Pron skips or repeats a chapter number to further stress life’s incongruity: things just don’t follow a logical pattern. The elusiveness of truth is his overarching theme.
My Father’s Ghost Is Climbing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted novel, rich in metaphors and not devoid of humor despite its troubling subject. Pron paints a vivid picture of the aftermath of Argentina’s tortured recent history, of a family and an entire nation in denial about the horrors of the past. But if the father’s generation is reluctant to face its failures, the younger generation must seek and face the truth. At the end of the novel the protagonist throws away his pills. He will no longer see Argentina through a drug-induced haze. He and his contemporaries can no longer remain indifferent to the past. - Bárbara Mujica