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A Secret for Julia, by Patricia Sagastizabal.

February 8, 2014

A Secret for Julia, by Patricia Sagastizabal.  Translated by Asa Zatz.  W. W. Norton & Company (2001), Hardcover, 256 pages.



A beautifully written and compelling story about an Argentinian woman striving to deal with memories of her imprisonment by the police state and to protect her daughter by keeping her history a secret.

Patricia Sagastizabal was born in Argentina and lived through its period of dictatorship.  She knew activists who were imprisoned and “disappeared.”  In this book, she explores what it means to have unforgettable memories of torture and abuse.  Her focus is on the impact on a mother and young daughter, individuals seldom depicted in accounts of Latin American police states.  The book is tense and psychological, but never a grim list of unthinkable acts.  The author gives readers a degree of distance as she recounts the heroic struggle of a woman and her daughter.  The result is a complex story told in the present into which the past intrudes.

The narrator of a Secret for Julia is Mercedes Beecher, the daughter of an English father and an Argentine mother.  She is a powerful character, living on the edge of hope and sanity.  Hers is a story of how an individual deals with the memory of evil.  Active as a young woman in the movement against the dictatorship, Mercedes was imprisoned and tortured for two years. Then she was inexplicably released and, already pregnant,  went to England where she slowly made a life for herself.  She returned to college and then went on to get a Ph.D. in philosophy. Her dissertation research involved, significantly, interviewing people about the meaning of hope and freedom.

While Mercedes achieved a measure of public success, panics and painful memories still invaded her and kept her from moving forward emotionally.  Internal conflicts left her numb.  She loved and enjoyed her daughter, at the same, she hated how the girl was a critical link to her past.  Her response was to keep everything that had happened to her a secret from everyone, especially from her daughter.  When Julia became 16, she pressed her mother about the identity of her father. The mother-daughter tension mounted.   And at the same time, a jailer from her prison years appears in London stalking her.

I highly recommend this book to all readers.  It is a fine book, but readers must be willing to get caught up in a story full of pain and grief, and ready to face the existence of cruelty and the difficulty of healing from major trauma.

I am not sure whether Patricia Sagastizabal should be called a woman of color, but her book deals the reality of evil at the hands of an international power structure that can destroy without regard for race.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 14, 2014 12:59 pm

    A powerful and poignant review. I should love to read this book! 🙂

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