Imagining Argentina is set in the dark days of the late 1970's, when thousands of Argentineans disappeared without a trace into the general's prison cells and torture chambers. When Carlos Ruweda's wife is suddenly taken from him, he discovers a magical gift: In waking dreams, he had clear visions of the fates of "the disappeared." But he cannot "imagine" what has happened to his own wife. Driven to near madness, his mind cannot be taken away: imagination, stories, and the mystical secrets of the human spirit.
This astonishingly proficient and gripping first novel should be required reading for anyone who calls him or herself a responsible citizen. Not only is it masterfully written, with images as sharp as shards of broken glass, but it also carries a message so potent it burns into the conscience. Set in Buenos Aires during the rule of the generals and their brutal policy of abducting and obliterating those who opposed them, the narrative tells of playwright Carlos Rueda, who suddenly finds himself with the power to ``see'' the disappeared ones and their fates. In the tradition of magical realism, by rendering almost palpable the sense of unreality that bizarre events evoke, Thornton makes Carlos's gift entirely convincing. Carlos's power announces itself when his journalist wife Cecilia is abducted; he uses it to bring news of their loved ones to the courageous mothers who march in the Plaza de Mayo in an effort to make the generals acknowledge their missing kin. Thornton conveys the fates of the disappeared in hauntingly credible scenes, at the same time providing a mesmerizing portrait of the xenophobic ideology that allows the generals to commit any brutality in the name of patriotism. In spite of his personal tragedy, which is compounded by two additional bitter blows, Carlos's faith in the power of reason remains strong. ``There are two Argentinas,'' he says,``the regime's travesty of it, and the one we have in our hearts.'' Eventually the pure power of his imagination wins out over the obscene power of the ruling junta; the generals flee and some of the ``disappeareds'' come home. ``It is not often that you see life and fiction take each other by the hand and dance,'' says this novel's narrator. The judge at the trial of the generals cries out: ``Nunca mas!'' Thornton's achievement is to make us see the power inherent in books such as this one, books that carry a message of hope to those who will read, believe, act and survive. (September)