On Foreign Ground

The author of ON FOREIGN GROUND, who adopted the pseudonym of Eduardo Quiroga, left his native Argentina to live in Paris. The Paris he describes, where his narrator meets Sarah, is a fragile world of beauty, poetry, and culture. In contrast, the Buenos Aires of Enrique Molina’s experience grows progressively more threatening and nightmarish, as his oldest brother disappears and then dies in a prison, his sister flees to Brazil after witnessing a death squad drag her internationally renowned psychology professor away by the hair, his grandmother dies from the effort of joining the Mothers of Plaza del Mayo protest, and he himself goes through the motions of being a journalist who may not report what he sees.

Writing to Sarah from the misery of his flooded soldier’s tent, he tries to tell her about the disintegration of his family, his friends, and his own youth; it is the sort of telling that brings two people intimately close to each other. Yet Enrique’s world is by no means limited to the strictly personal. He is, on the one hand, drawn to the universal beauty of poetry and painting; on the other hand, he is inescapably caught in the current events of his native land.

Short and lyrically beautiful, Quiroga’s novel is also painful to read. His secondary characters--the grandmother, an anarchist waiter, a friend named Monkey--are fascinating, and the narrator’s gentle expressions of love are charming, inevitably making the revelations of brutality, of tragic death and useless destruction, all the more emotionally devastating.