The Memory Stones tells the story of a family fractured by the Junta in Argentina’s Dirty War. I knew someone who was a reporter, who worked who Jacobo Timerman and had terrifying stories of the war to share. Those stories drew me to Caroline Brothers’ novel that begins with the coup and continues forward to the end of the century.
In the Dirty War, some 8,000 people disappeared in Argentina, many of them young, college-students. During that time, some 500 children were born to those prisoners without names in cells without numbers (to borrow from Jacobo Timerman, the most famous of those prisoners). Those children were taken, adopted by people in the military or sent to other countries. They disappeared and only now, with DNA testing, are people finding these lost children of the war, reuniting them with their grandparents usually, since most of their parents were murdered by the Junta.
This is the story of Osvaldo, who drew the ire of the junta by sketching a cartoon caricature that a friend published in his paper. It was early days and they had no idea that this coup would become a killing machine. He fled into exile, but his wife stayed behind. Their daughter was missing and they assumed the Junta would settle down. It never did and his daughter was never found.
The story is so much about Yolanda, his wife, and her determination to search and find Graciela, their daughter. It is about his struggle for information from outside Argentina, the helplessness of being in exile, the loss and separation from his wife and daughter. It’s also about the reality that the fixed anxiety over the missing daughter makes the safe and sound and living in Miami daughter feel like chopped liver.
Yolanda learns that Graciela was pregnant and her approximate due date. Clues and small snippets of information are collected. Life goes on, tragic, hopeful, quotidian, dramatic, just life. This novel, of grandparents seeking their granddaughter, hoping for truth about their daughter, for looking to build a new life after such a massive fracture, is fascinating, intriguing and sometimes heartbreaking.
I cried far too much through The Memory Stones. I cried when Yolanda sees a girl playing in a school yard and thinks it is possible she is her granddaughter, though mostly through intuition and hope, not based on evidence. I cried when Brothers devoted a short chapter to the letter Yolanda wrote to her parents, following it as it fell on the floor, was thrown outside, blew about in the wind, was rained on, run over and disappeared in running ink and pulp. I actually thought to myself, “You are crying over a piece of paper.” Yes, I really did cry over a piece of paper. Paper that represented an at-the-buzzer shot toward the basket of hope. And that is the miracle of The Memory Stones, that despite all the reasons for despair, hope kept pushing it way to the surface, flourishing, fed by memory and love.
The writing in The Memory Stones is beautiful with rich imagery and wonderful meandering interstices like the story of the letter. It is written by someone who loves life, beauty, and the promises of love and family. There is no prurient attention to the gruesome and the hateful. While there are stories told from the prisons and by people who were held by the Junta and tortured, they are told out of a need for truth, not out of fascination. This is a heartbreaking story, over and over and over again, but like the best of stories, there are moments of grace, joy and hope that more than compensate for the sorrow.
I received an e-galley of The Memory Stones from the publisher through NetGalley.