~ Posted by Simon Willis, March 14th 2012
Late last year I wrote about the English publication of "Purgatory", the last novel the Argentinian writer Tomás Eloy Martínez wrote before he died in 2010. It tells the story of Emilia Dupuy, and her search for her husband, one of the thousands of desaparecidos—the disappeared—who went missing, most of them tortured and murdered, during Argentina's Dirty War between 1976 and 1983.
In the current New Yorker, Francisco Goldman follows a story which goes even further. In a formidable piece of reporting he writes about the 500 children who were abducted by the military regime. They were the children of parents detained and killed, of women pregnant when they were arrested (and later killed), and of women raped in detention by their captors. These children were then adopted by the families of police officers, military staff and those friendly with the junta. Since then, a group known as the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, grandmothers searching for grandchildren stolen during the dictatorship, have campaigned to uncover the real identities of many appropriated children. Significant advances in testing now enable grandchildren to be identified through the DNA of their grandparents. In August 2011, Goldman writes, the 105th child of disappeared parents—now grown-up, of course—had her true origin revealed.
In a New Yorker podcast Goldman talks about his experience researching this story. He's been reporting from Central and South America since the 1980s and in 2007 he published an acclaimed book, "The Art of Political Murder", about the disappearance of as many of 200,000 people in Guatemala. Looking back now at his experience interviewing relatives, he says, "I thought I understood it, but I didn't. I understood it in the way someone who has not had a real personal experience of it understands it." The year he published that book his wife, Aura, was killed in an accident in Mexico. For the next four years, he wrote and thought about her death, which culminated in a book called "Say Her Name" (2011). Interviewing people in Argentina this time, he says, "I felt very at home, horribly I guess, with a lot of the people involved in this case. I mean, grief that lasts for years is not something I don't understand how to relate to."
Simon Willis is apps editor of Intelligent Life and a former associate editor of Granta