Rodolfo Walsh’s Last Case by Elsa Drucaroff – Corylus Books blogtour

Translated by Slava Faybysh

Argentinian author Drucaroff has taken a documented event in 1976 which occurred during truly turbulent political times in the country and run with it to create a work of fiction imagining the circumstances leading up to Rodolfo Walsh’s death after the murder of his daughter Vicki by the junta in power. It has the feeling of a true crime novel, for at its heart that’s what it is, but given literary licence to expand on the facts to tell the story, Drucaroff has written a dramatic account that still feels very real indeed.

Rodolfo Walsh was an investigative journalist and author, best known for his 1957 book Operation Massacre which was a true crime novel, so it’s only fair that the last days of his life get the same treatment! He was also heavily involved with the guerilla group Montoneros, acting as a head of intelligence and going by the nom de guerre ‘Esteban’. His daughter was also in Montoneros, codenamed ‘Hilda’. After a short prologue introducing Pablo and Mariana’s baptism into Mononeros operation several years earlier, the couple are with the fifty-something Rodolfo and his younger wife Lila as a report comes through on the radio of a violent confrontation the day before. The date is 30 September 1976.

‘Approximately 150 men, armed with rifles, a light tank and a helicopter opened fire on the house. Although there was no official word on the operation, unidentified witnesses confirmed that five people inside the house responded to the attack, including four men and one woman, presumably members of the Mononeros Organization.’
At ‘four men and one woman,’ Walsh raises his head a little. His eyes show fear behind his glasses. […]
‘Although the Army did not release the identities of the five militants, reports suggest that the names of the men were Beltrán, Coronel, Molina and Salame. As for the woman, It was María Victoria Walsh…’ (p7)

At this moment life changes for Rodolfo. He needs to discover what happened to his daughter and he’s soon getting reports suggesting that she may be alive but wounded and imprisoned. He is going to do everything to get her back. Someone else heard the broadcast, retired Colonel König. He and Rodolfo had crossed paths some years earlier, and Rodolfo had immortalised the encounter in a short story of which the Colonel was rather proud. Having a daughter of a similar age, he manages to get in contact with Rodolfo via coded messages left at the bar where they used to play chess, and promises to see what he can find out, if Rodolfo will let him know if his own daughter is ever in danger. There’s something about the retired Colonel that is likeable, honourable now he’s in his sixties and retired, distanced from the no doubt dastardly deeds of his former career.

This is not the case for General Oddone, who does know what happened, and is on Montoneros’ trail, stopping at nothing to rid the capital of these guerillas. What he doesn’t know though is that he has a mole in his organization…

Each of the chapters follows the events of one day. Within the chapter, a series of vignettes ranging from one paragraph to several pages in length drive the action, as we constantly chop and change POVs between key characters. One chapter, for the 4th October, comprises 42 pages with 55 vignettes, each labelled in Roman numerals – up to LV. The writing is all in the present tense, and everything is very immediate, in the moment, and knowing that this was unfolding in real time made it intense and dramatic, but also with the changing third person perspectives there was a feel of reportage – for after all, Rodolfo was an investigate journalist. I admit, I did get confused sometimes as to who was speaking about whom due to all the Mononeros members having noms de guerre, and them being used interchangeably in the text, but you always know which side is talking, so that is but a small matter.

Drucaroff and her translator have made a real story from the few facts known and the ‘Letter to My Friends‘ Walsh wrote shortly before his own murder at the end of the year. We see how the intellectuals and disaffected workers banded together to fight the brutal regime that had overthrown the constitutional government earlier that year at great personal cost. A compelling read indeed.

Source: Review copy – Thank you! Corylus books, flapped paperback original, 138 pages.

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4 thoughts on “Rodolfo Walsh’s Last Case by Elsa Drucaroff – Corylus Books blogtour

  1. A Life in Books says:

    This sounds excellent. I’ve recently given up watching Exterior Night which does something similar with the Aldo Moro case but whereas this one sounds well done, the TV series is leaden.

  2. Calmgrove says:

    Oh, this sounds wonderfully captivating as an example of creative nonfiction succeeding in the political thriller genre. Not a period of Argentine history I know much about apart from vague memories of occasional news items in the 70s.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Me neither re Argentinian politics (beyond Evita, that is!). Having visited various Wiki-pages to help write my review, it certainly was very turbulent indeed. This novel captured that well.

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